Thursday, November 24, 2011


Well, it turns out that I get to spend today all by myself at the radio station, as my colleague Jeanet has to be at a meeting in Guatemala, and we don't really have enough volunteers that anyone is coming on any kind of regular basis. We are still very much flying by the seat of our pants, and so it is my turn to take to the airwaves. Thanksgiving, according to the national newspapers here, is beginning to catch on among the urban professional classes in Guatemala. Turkey is already a very common food here. Sometimes pepian is made with turkey, and a week or two ago a friend brought over a dish she had made with lentils and turkey. A Guatemalan friend thought that the new interest in Thanksgiving had to do with people who will ape and adopt almost anything that comes from the U.S. -- U.S. culture is seen as more fresh, modern, interesting, cosmopolitan, and so forth. The article in yesterday's paper, which I read quickly while I was waiting for my order at my little upscale cafe in Santa Cruz, gave a bit of history about the holiday, and some descriptions of the foods that we eat in the U.S.  Not noting, of course, that these are highly regional -- I just checked in early this morning with a friend who is a displaced New Orleanian Creole and his Thanksgiving feast features stuffed merlitons with crab and shrimp, chicken gumbo and dirty rice.

But of course the concept of giving thanks is deeply embedded in highland Maya culture. Every meeting that I have attended -- every meeting that has been run by Maya -- includes an invocation, sometimes very simple and sometimes more elaborate. Sometimes the invocations include Christian prayers, Our Father, or something else, but without fail the invocations start and end with giving thanks to the creator and former, as well as the abuelos and abuelas (grandfathers and grandmothers, which terms are used to indicate not only one's direct lineage but all of those who preceded us), and the madre tierra (mother earth).  Maya oratory -- at least the little I have seen and heard of it -- also includes many expressions of thanks. Yesterday I sat in on part of the weekly meeting of the alcaldia indigena (indigenous mayoralty) of Chichicastenango. A man came to present a petition to the mayoralty about a party he wanted to hold around the time of the patron saint feast in December, and I was able to observe a bit of the formality of his presentation to the alcaldes and their response, and although my K'iche' is very limited, I was able to distinguish the word 'maltyox' (thanks) sprinkled throughout the proceedings. First the petitioner thanked the alcaldes for hearing him, presented his petition, and then in their responses, each of the alcaldes who spoke also gave thanks. After presenting a case of Coca Cola to the alcaldes, and having his petition granted, the man then kneeled in front of a small altar in the room on his way out.

So, although I have conflicted feelings about the holiday -- the true story of the relationship between the English colonists and the native peoples of New England is anything but peace, love and understanding -- I do feel the spirit of thankfulness all around me.

And I do miss my loved ones in the U.S. For many years I have celebrated Thanksgiving with the family of my now-ex-husband -- and I have continued to spend it with them most years, although he and I separated in 1996. I love the smells and tastes, being able to sink into the comfort of a large gathering where not much is demanded of me (they are very low-key, not much family drama there, and even less than involves me). At the same time, even putting aside the problematic nature of the holiday as reflected in the dominant narrative (happy Pilgrims and Natives enjoying a feast) that whitewashes the land theft, enslavement and massacres, I always feel a bit uneasy knowing that hundreds of thousands of families in the U.S. do not enjoy food security, so a holiday that celebrates abundance rings hollow when because of the structural violence of our economic system, so many go without. According to the New York Coalition Against Hunger, 1 in 4 children in New York City, my hometown, live in a state of food insecurity (i.e. their families cannot guarantee an adequate supply of food). Those statistics resonate here in Guatemala, where over a million children (out of a national population of just under 14 million) suffer chronic malnutrition.

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