Entry by Erika Katske
I am feeling very full from the contradictions and contrasts I have seen here in Guatemala. We have been moving around a lot which has both made it somewhat hard for me to digest all of the rich conversations and experiences, but also seems somehow fitting for an immersion meant to examine the roots of migration. I am still thinking about our time in Antigua, an old colonial city in which corporate franchises (McDonald’s, Office Depot, Western Union) and Mayan and Guatemalan souvenir shops fill the old Spanish storefronts – a new kind of colonization that has filled the old buildings with transnational businesses and the streets with hungry voyeurs. It was in Antigua that we saw for the first time the flip side of the impact of globalization – the influx of commercial interests, American and European tourists, and the absence of what I had been experiencing as the distinct, slower pace and relationality of Guatemalan life.
Antigua is a jarring comparison to the other places we have been — Cajola, Tecun Uman and Tierra Nueva. As a group, we fit right in – we were just a few more of the tourist-looking, English-speaking, well-dressed visitors exploring the cobblestone streets of the newly commodified old city. My interactions with the people of Antigua held the visceral discomfort of a clear power dynamic – I am a person with money to spend, a visitor to satisfy and serve. So unlike the other places we have been, there is no attempt to build relationship, and it’s harder for me to have conversations that are not heavy with the awkwardness that exists between those with more and those with less. In Tecun Uman on the Mexican border, we were obvious outsiders — and we were in the way. People eyed us mostly with suspicion – sometimes annoyance – as they moved cases of beer, detergent, paper products and groups of people across the river and back. The roads were dusty, filled with strong smells, garbage, cheap street food, scrawny dogs and half-dressed children. Antigua held the comforts of home, covered by a veneer, a few tokens of Central American culture to help make the experience feel genuine. It was built for us, not Guatemalans.
As I continue to move through the contradictions – through both the surfaces and the deeper realities of all that is happening here — I am making an effort to hold the contrasts. I don’t want to simply compare and notice, but rather I want to be able to feel the incredible discomfort of knowing that these places exist side by side — and sometimes they have been constructed in my name and for my benefit as an American. This is globalization unfolding – it is the movement of capital and greed like the rising waters of a river after a storm; it fills all the space it can find, growing quickly, becoming more and more powerful and taking more casualties as it flows. It pays little attention to the path of eroding land and uprooted trees it leaves along its edges. My work – our work as spiritual and religious leaders – is to stand firm in the mud, refusing to let the river wash away all that is sacred along the shore.