Thursday, August 08, 2013

Real Guatemala?

I've been musing about Rudy's assertion that Ciudad Vieja and Jocotenango belong within the boundaries of real Guatemala, whereas La Antigua, most definitely lies outside of it. He has promised to expound further on this geography of artifice in a future post, but I suspect it will be hard to pen without lapsing into a form of inverted snobbery. 

If one buys into the Guatemala as 'land of contrasts' paradigm, then a town full of lower-middle class tradesmen, homogenised both in terms of socio-economics and ethnicity, is hardly the nation in microcosm. 

I could point out that here in San Pedro El Panorama by contrast we run the full Guatemalan social gamut, from ostentatious oligarchs to families living in highly provisional wood and lamina huts. But then we don't actually have a functioning indigenous community, or indeed a Garifuna village (though one mustn't forget the good folk down the road at the Pelícano Dorado!) 

But, you might counter, surely La Antigua is not the real Guatemala in much the same way that Cancún and Playa del Carmen are not the real Yucatán? Well yes, and no. Cancún and Playa were small, comparatively insignificant townships which hypertrophied the moment they connected with the global economy. La Antigua experienced a similar encounter with an essentially alien tipping point, but the subsequent metastasis was circumscribed thanks to the colonial city's peculiar history as abandoned capital and latterly protected monument - so that the unreal or at least non-aboriginal aspects of life here have been superimposed on the autochthonous ones, and have not entirely displaced them. 

It was perhaps an exaggeration on Rudy's part to suggest that all the original locals have fled to the burbs, priced out by greedy gringos and capitalinos in search of a comfy weekend pad. Over the years I have got to know many Antigueños, of varied social backgrounds, who continue to live within the casco histórico and will readily claim that many generations of their families have done the same. A number have surrendered the fronts of their properties (shops, restaurants) in order to continue to reside in the space behind. La Antigua is a conservative town in much the same way that Cancún isn't. 

It is also apparent to me that many of the skilled craftsmen and small business owners residing in colonias like Jocotenango are migrants from other parts of the country that have apparently recognised this city for the node within the wider global network that it has palpably become. 

What we do most obviously have here are two parallel economic systems, with a virtual dollar pricing system tossed like a shroud over the more parochial one. Rudy himself markets his photographic images to this half-in, half-out clientele, at foreign currency rates, which only such 'unreal' individuals would contemplate paying. 

This dichotomy in Latin American living is reflected in the Macondo vs McOndo polarity within modern Latin American literature. The question about authentic experience in Spanish-speaking America is very much alive and well. 

Back in Britain we distinguish between multi-ethnic, multicultural London - a community that would seem to have 9000 years of history and inward migration behind it - and 'Middle England', the locus of country pubs, cricket on village greens and 'native' (i.e. white) English people. Which is the more real? I think that's one blog post I will postpone writing for now! 

PS: On a separate note, it is intriguing to me how the four-letter word REAL comes with an entirely different payload of associations in English and Spanish. How many homes (and hotels) have been been pretentiously dubbed 'Real' here in La Antigua? One could even posit that the more REAL a place is in Castellano, the less REAL it is in English! 


elgordo said...

I like Antigua; I love Guatemala City. Antigua has always been considered a recreational city. It is absolutely part of the "real" Guatemala. I live in Zona 1, as my family has for generations, and Antigua has a resonance for us that others might not have. I grew up hearing legends from my grandmothers and I never really knew, for many of those stories, whether the action had taken place in Antigua or Guatemala City, particularly when they used the old street names. I live a few blocks, for example, from La Merced, San Jose, Santo Domingo, San Francisco, etc. My street nowadays is being taken over by Nicaraguans. They are very different from us when they arrive. In a few months, they start to act a little more reserved and quiet. Their children become Guatemalan-like. They stand out only because of their preference for chancletas, which no decent capitalino would wear in public. I magine the same thing happens to foreigners in Antigua. Little by little, most of them I assume, become more familiar with our national character, and perhaps adopt some of our ways for better or worse. Expats who embrace Guatemala and its many cultures become a welcome part of the "real" Guatemala. I know that a great many of them have helped preserve Antigua, and many of them, by paying slightly higher prices without complaining, have helped many Antiguenos out of poverty. At any given point in time, there are more tourists in Times Square than New Yorkers, does that make Times Square any less New York?

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