Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seattle to Guatemala... some thoughts on my trip, immigrants to the U:S and the recession

I know, I know, where have I been.... actually I have been in Guatemala for a bit at a conference looking at the impacts of immigration on Central America and the indigenous people: Very fascinating. I promise next Monday I will start back with all the great announcements about seattle but I thought I would offer you an opportunity to read an excerpt of some of my experiences here and to think about for a minute what international civic engagement might look like for you, especially in a time of recession. Here are some of my thoughts, thanks in advance for reading.

It has been an amazing experience and also a very humbling experience to be here, lots of tragedy and a real hard life in Guatemala. I have really learned alot about the tremendous struggle of the indigenous people here and other places in Central America, these were not things I wasn´t aware of but it so blatant in Guatemala the challenges, struggles and the impact of La Guerra, the war that was fought here and only ended less than 15 years ago with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. And now with the transnational companies mining and taking resources of rural Guatemala it just seems like their is so much struggle and corruption. But there is also alot of hope, opportunities for change and growth and the spirit of la gente is amazing.

I have been staying with a wonderful woman in Xela and I have had the privilege of just being here and learning and asking alot of questions. What a privilege. It is really interesting too, I have worked with many immigrants, right after they come to the U.S: and then once they are settled in a community but it is really interesting to understand it from living here, why go to the U.S., what happens when a family member goes to the U.S., what ends up being the situation in the country you come from. On a systemic level, its kind of a mess and on a personal level very tragic because there are no resources and not alot of options.

Yesterday, I went to a funeral of a friend of the lady I am staying with. This woman died after much suffering, maybe from Cancer, or maybe from being beat up by her husband most of her adult life. Teresa,my friend told me she suffered alot. You don´t really get to know what finally killed her because going to the doctor is very expensive, medicine and hospitals also. Domestic violence is very common here. This is my opinion, but I think it is because the average male compacino man don´t have power in society so they come home and take it out on the family. Obviously that is terrible but it speaks to a larger challenge of people needing to feel in control and living in a system where they don´t have any. We see the same types of situations occuring with new immigrants in the U.S. where the domestic violence rate is incredibly high.

I have been asking alot of my local friends of friends how much it would cost to buy a tienda (store) space for a business. It is very expensive for here but for us it is only about $250.00 US dollars. But to give you an idea of how expensive that is , it is about $ 1800 quetzales. Yesterday when I went to a funeral, very sad but one of the friends of the woman i am staying with said to me "can you pack me up with you and take me to the US" sort of joking but then she went on to say life is really hard here. She works 12 hours a day for a japanese clothing company sewing in a factory for 5 quetzales an hour, that is 60 a day which is less than 8 dollars per day for working 12 hours. So if that is all you make a day and you have all your expenses and rent and life, you have to believe the U.S. has a better option for you.

Talking to people here, many people risk their lives and everything they have, paying alot of money for a chance to make it to the U:S. Not with any security that they will actually make it to the U:S. Just hope that it has to be better than here. In addition, there is tremendous racism amongst the Central American Countries of indigenous people and so they are always considered less than and met with tremendous violence and oppression if they move to Mexico as many Guatemalans did during La Guerra.

I have spent quite alot of time studying, working with and empowering immigrant communities but it continues to shock me that the U.S. keeps spending money in the wrong places. So much money is spent to keep illegals out and no $ is put in to helps the people build industry, non-corrupt industry in their countries . Or how about changing NAFTA of CAFTA that prevent the small farmer from succeeding anywhere in the world. Or for example, I learned to day that the world bank and the US Reserve have invested millions of dollars in the mining industry that ravishes the Western part of Guatemala, Peru , Haiti and other Latin American Countries. We are talking open`-pit mining- one of the most toxic activities on the planet, where they pour cyanide into the earth to find the minerals, also one that take a tremendous amount of water from rural indigenous communities. We would never allow this in the U.S. yet International companies from the US Canada and Europe take these resources out of the countries like Guatemala and accumulate wealth. These companies only give a little over 1% of the profits to the Guatemalan people, the government officials get paid off and the remaining is profit for the company.

There has to be real ways of changing these systems of corruption and oppression. There has to be something better than existing with such inequity in the world.

One idea I have is teaching kids in the U.S. about microfinancing and business. I had a middle school teacher that taught me about business stuff and that changed my life and how I am able to think now. But by empowering kids in the international community to invest small amounts of money with their parents in helping people in other countries. This is not just a U.S. recession, this is a global recession, this is a global trauma due to greed and not really caring about your neighbor, faking the love thy neighbor as yourself piece. There is a phrase in Guatemala, when the U.S. sneezes Guatemala gets the flu. When the U.S. had the oil crisis last year, think of what that experience was like in Central America, the price of food skyrocketed.

What can we do about this in the U.S: Here is what I gather from being here:

1) Computers are the future, having one , or access to one, your life changes. Give one to me and I will send it to Guatemala. And if you know someone that can refurbish computers, I would love to connect with them.

2) If someone can start up and buy a store in Guatemala for $250 American dollars, how easy is it for some Americans to make an investment, for some easy, others harder. The deal with the microfinancing, I have heard this saying a few times, or something close, is if you can empower a woman in the community both socially and economically, you can change the community. Something way more eloquent than that, but you get the drift.

3) Advocate for your immigrant neighbors, or get involved in your community- be a connector, ask around about resources

4) Take risks even when you don´t want to, you´ll probably help someone and feel better, when you are really uncomfortable, you know you are taking a worthy risk and it is something you care about

5) Don´t get caught up in what does it all mean, just help.

6) Keep learning until you can help. My next skills I will be learning include, 1. How to start a 501C3 2. Learning how to do videotaping and editing so I can make movies of peoples stories

7) Giving your skills to other people is self-validating and gives you purpose, instead of saying no, ask how or why, or what is it going to take

So obviously I have some projects I am thinking about and I clearly am tangent prone but these are my current thoughts on the subject :) Hope you are still alive and reading and I haven´t bored you to death. I know the world is a crazy place but I do think there are opportunities to make it better. Hopefully you like my list, alright I am done for today! Have a great one.

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