...reflections from a Compassionate Listener

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hitting Home: The American Dream

U.S. - Mexican Border Wall

Here in San Pedro La Laguna, I am part of a group of Guatemalans and foreigners who have been meeting over the past month with the goal of founding a center to promote Mayan Culture. Many tourists here would love a deeper dive into Mayan culture and spirituality but are challenged to find a way in. We wish to help fill that gap, while supporting the growing efforts of locals who are working to revive their culture.

Currently, if you meet the right person, you will be able to visit and learn about a sacred site, attend a fire ceremony, have a reading of your Mayan Cross, visit a traditional bone healer (curandero), or learn about traditional plant medicine. You could even find the one woman in the village who you can pay to fire up a Mayan sauna, called a temescal or "toj". The new center will help people connect with these teachers, healers, leaders and families who are keeping Mayan traditions alive. It will also offer classes in the local indigenous language, Tz'utujil, and Spanish lessons that focus on Mayan spirituality, known as "Cosmovision". We also envision the center as a place where people can contribute their unique skills and collaborate on community projects. For example, Compassionate Listening circles will be offered as a way to help build relationships and trust, in a community that is suffering the trans-generational effects of war. 

By now you might be wondering what the connection is between this beautiful new effort and the picture of the U.S. - Mexican Wall at the top of this post? As our group was meeting a few nights ago to discuss a possible location for the new center, our host received a phone call and left the room to take it. He returned visibly shaken. He told us he just learned that a close friend of his had been shot by U.S. border police at the U.S. - Mexican Wall, while trying to enter the United States. This friend had only recently shared his decision to try to make it to the U.S. It was an economic decision, as it is for the vast majority of Guatemalan's who enter the U.S. illegally every year. 

Here in San Pedro, the majority of workers and farmers make $6.50 for a long day of hard work. A cleaning woman earns about $1.00 per hour. A Spanish teacher can make $2.00 per hour and $3.00 per hour is considered a high wage. With the combination of racism and oppression against the indigenous Maya in Guatemala, many young men feel the temptation to journey to the U.S. to work, in hopes of supporting their families and returning with enough money to build a house or start a business. 

Upon hearing this sad news, we lit a candle and stuck it on the red concrete floor with melted wax, turned out the light, and prayed for Antonio. We then listened quietly to our friend Juan, as he tried to make sense of this tragic news. Another Mayan friend leaned over and whispered to me, "This is the 'American Dream'. I also wanted to go at one time, but it's not my dream anymore." 

This post is in honor of a young man named Antonio, and his family and friends who are mourning his early departure. It's also in honor of Antonio's friend Juan, who he left behind in San Pedro with a dream of helping to rebuild his culture. Juan is bursting with energy to share his passion for culture with the children of San Pedro, this village of 13,000 Tz'utujil Maya. I pray for his success and for the success of all of the people working hard for a better future for their children; I pray for a future where the beautiful young men of San Pedro no longer think about the American Dream. 

(**Please contact me if you'd like Spanish lessons on Skype with one of the men involved with the new center. They are linguists and Spanish teachers, and have a lot to teach about Mayan spirituality and culture. Wherever you live, this is one way that you can directly support the reclaiming of indigenous culture that is taking place here in San Pedro.)

Here are a few resources that I've collected about the Wall: 

Article from Democracy Now website: Texas Agent Shoots Dead 2 Guatemalans Near Border

Video from The Onion: Mexico Builds Border Wall to Keep Out U.S. Assholes


A short piece about illegal immigration by an anonymous author that I stumbled on:

“Tortilla Curtain” or “Iron Curtain”

We have a long way to go to resolve why anyone wants to risk everything to come to an ungrateful country. Yes, illegal immigrants are a strain on our health system and our government provided human services. In exchange, they go to work in places most young workers perceive as undignified - yucky jobs that even the poorest Americans would turn away from. These enthusiastic pioneers step right in and roll up their sleeves without complaint, mostly out of fear. After improving their language skills, they move forward into their own service businesses. They are motivated and focused on upward mobility. Strange enough, they even send support back to their families back home. 
They endure all the injustice America can dump on them. They are prey to crooked scams and believe the most despicable among us. They are profiled by police and set upon by bigoted youth gangs. Yes, crooks cross into this country, too. They become targets for America’s home-grown crooks who resent intrusions into their turf. 
Illegal immigrants are the under-belly for our foundation service industries. Get used to cleaning up your own hotel room, paying more for child and elderly care and mowing your own lawn. These immigrants leave a poor system that offers respect from their peers to a ‘rich’ system that treats them like garbage.
Oh yeah, they must be crazy. Send them back to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Lets start recruiting replacement workers from your family. Start now. The wages will surely improve because you are an American. 

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