Friday, January 10th 2014
I’m really starting to see myself living in a place like Xela. I woke up early and went to central park and was blown away by the beautiful scenery, very kind people, and rich culture. After breakfast, we took a tour led by Jenny and Jonathan of their lovely city.
The afternoon session began with a review of migration and Guatemala globalization. Neo-liberism as we live in it today is built on the backs of the workers, which can be traced back historically. As privatization came into play, “private” became more desirable than “public”. Then Deregulation made the market free which furthered an individualistic approach to work. Latin American has historically had a stronger sense of community, but as NAFTA was passed in 94, the exploitation from U.S. and Canada flowed into Latin American countries. Specifically, Guatemala faced an exponential growth in migration, not because people wanted to, but because it was their only choice. One thing that was reiterated by our speakers (Usvaldo and Israel) is that migrants don’t want to leave their culture, family, language, and home; instead, they are forced out by their dire economic situation. As the presentation continued some very appalling statistics were brought to my attention:
95% of women suffer abuse in migration.
women will often take birth control before migrating because they can almost expect to be assaulted
everyday 300 migrants travel north (which isn’t appalling as it is scary to think that many of those people could be exploited, killed, or abused in their quest for a better life)
Both Usvaldo and Israel tried multiple times to cross the border, and although their stories are similar in some regards, they differ as well. Although the statistic on migration and Latin/Central Americans were important, to be able to attach those facts to first-hand experiences was powerful.
Usvaldo mentioned that when he went to the United States at age 14 he did so to help his family out. Upon arrival, he was told he was too young to work, and to go to school. His dream was to study medicine but was told higher education that it wouldn’t be possible. He ended up working at a Thai place and after being there about a decade he went home with no translatable skills, and the only people who recognized him were his mom and dad. I never really considered this, as an American born in the United States to immigrant parents, I have felt connections to the phrase “ni de aqui, ni de alla” (not from here, nor from there), but not nearly to the extent of how transnational culture affects immigrants. It must have been difficult to adjust to the U.S., but what he states was the most difficult was coming back to a changed community, no friends, and a changed self. He had started two businesses, but without knowing how to run a business they were shut down. As he attempted to cross again he fainted, left by the group, and was eventually deported. He is currently studying administration/business as to improve the skills he didn’t have before.
Israel mentions how NAFTA made him, “un campesino sin tierra,” (a farmer without land) making it impossible to compete with the U.S. companies selling goods for cheap due to NAFTA. He said it was very different when he went to the U.S. the first time, easier in a way. He was able to send money home and build the house of his dreams in Cajola (those houses are called Remittance houses). He tried MANY times to return to the U.S. after coming home to his new home, because even though part of his DREAM had come true, there was still no stable employment in Guatemala. When he made it to the U.S. the second time, he led a strike to shut down the law that made it illegal for undocumented people to work, but that success did not render stability in the U.S. either. He returned to Guatemala around 2009. After his experience he states his son still had to go to New Jersey, although no one wanted it to happen. He made a point to mention the good and bad there is in the world, as he was helped when crossing the border on his 5th attempt by Native Americans. They gave him water and took a group of people (including him) to Arizona.
Both Usvaldo and Israel contribute to Guatemala economically and educationally, as Israel opened up part of his home for a weaving co-op (which we will visit tomorrow). Usvaldo works at a local restaurant (which we will also visit tomorrow). Their experiences attest to the difficulty transnational culture and reaching an “American Dream.” But also, how their is a growing importance to make Guatemalans (especially those that come from an indigenous community) to become self-sustainable through the help of the government and each other.
The documentary we watched after dinner, Harvest of Empire, (by far the best documentary I have seen on migration) made it very obvious THE U.S. IS THE DIRECT CAUSE OF “MIGRATION ISSUES,” THEIR OWN SELFISH INVOLVEMENT IN CENTRAL AMERICA IS WHY PEOPLE NEED TO MIGRATE, AND WORSE IS THEY DON’T EVEN RECOGNIZE OR HELP. In fact, they do the opposite and further a culture of hate and discrimination. The Doc. went through the history of Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and how the U.S was definitively a factor in deaths and poverty. From the American-Mexican war, the School of America’s, the exportation and importation of goods and people from Central/Latin America, the U.S. was a major player. The rhetoric some/most americans have toward undocumented immigrants is hateful, spiteful and dehumanizing (i.e. “illegal aliens”). With 1/3 of the population to be Latino in the next few decades, it makes me anxious to think of the policies that will attempt to pass and will pass in the future. What makes me excited is the role I can have in stopping or furthering said policies. After the Documentary we talked about how it should be required viewing, not because we liked it, but because part of the “Immigration Problem” is the ignorance Americans have toward their governments role in migrant lives.
“I’m here because the U.S. invaded my country” -Junot Diaz
After Dinner at a Thai place, we went to El Cuartito, listened to live music and danced a bit. Jonathon had told us that Xela is a cultural hub, but the culture is different from the rest of Guatemala. From their history of succession, to how open they are to international foreigners, Xela really does fuse everything I love about a big city and everything I appreciate from a small one.