Reflections on Culture
One of the first things that I noticed when we arrived, and something that continued to overwhelm me throughout the trip and even now, is the influence of the American culture on Guatemala. I often don’t consider our American ways to be an actual “culture,” and instead consider “culture” to be something we see in National Geographic and foreign countries. However, in Guatemala, the meshing of American culture and Guatemalan culture was so incredibly apparent. The people wore traditional dress – the handwoven skirts, blouses, blankets, belts – and were clearly an older culture in which women were subordinate to men, religion was a mixture of Biblical Christianity and traditional pagan beliefs, and the majority of people spend their lives working to ensure their families have food and education if they’re among the lucky few. The American culture permeated this lifestyle in strange ways. Salons with posters of white women were everywhere. Many of the kids wore shirts with pictures of American movie stars. The tourist areas were full of markets and salespeople pushing their “authentic handmade” products. The Guatemalans knew how to lure the Americans in with shops and shiny things. The food shops were overflowing with twinkies, soda, ramen, box mac and cheese, and all kinds of convenient junk food, while the wrappers and plastic containers covered the river beds and beautiful vegetation. It was so clear to me that our culture had invaded the Guatemalan culture – and that in most cases it was degrading their culture. Because they do not have a consistent method of waste disposal, they tossed their garbage in the streets. Twinkie wrappers and pop bottles littered the rivers and gulches. When it rained, the trash would flow down the streets with the water. Our culture of convenience has been welcomed and admired by the Guatemalans, but they do not have the resources to properly handle the consequences. We realized that the American culture of 20 years ago was now in Guatemala, and that they idolized us. I used to think that how I lived my life in little Helena, MT had absolutely no global effect, but I was so wrong. My recycling isn’t going to get rid of the trash problem in Guatemala. My healthy eating isn’t going to cure those kids of diabetes. But the way I live my life does set an example for them, and for the people around me. By eating healthy, recycling, discouraging inappropriate movies and music, dressing with modesty, not supporting the evil in our society, and striving to serve and glorify God in everything I do, I am setting a tiny little example that will hopefully grow and eventually become influential in the Guatemalan culture. They idolize us – it was so clear – and the way we participate in our culture and create our culture, will without a doubt eventually trickle down into Guatemala. This places a great responsibility on us. I have never felt more disgusted with the blatant vanity and depravity of our culture. I do not want to see another inappropriate American movie or hear another trashy song because I know this message is being sent all around the world. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and other countries are modeling their own cultures after ours. What are we doing to ensure this culture is pure and good? Every time we point out the evil in our society and determine to take no part in it, we are setting an example for everyone else in the world. I have never felt the weight of this responsibility more heavily. It is a blessing to have this kind of influence and opportunity, but we must be accountable to God and to the people of the world who are looking to us as an example. They idolize who we idolize. How much adoration, then, should we be giving LeBron James, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake? Or should we be idolizing Jesus Christ and encouraging lives given to His service? This responsibility is real, and it is necessary right now. Only when we each determine to discard the bad and embrace the good in our culture will things change. We are each called to change the world, and we, as Americans, have the greatest opportunity to do so.