Jeremy Lapedis, KF9, Guatemala
I spent thanksgiving in Costa Rica with four other Kiva Fellows who are placed in Central America. Before going, the Guatemalans who I had spoken with about my trip mentioned two things: Costa Rica is safer than Guatemala, but it has less of it’s own culture. Having spent only five days in Costa Rica, I can hardly make any judgments about Costa Rica’s culture (however you define culture, be it ideas, materials, art, family values, government etc.), but I can confidently confirm that Costa Rica is safer than Guatemala: walking down the street feels more comfortable, people aren’t afraid to ride buses, and you can drink the tap water. One thing did feel the same as Guatemala: the pervasive placement of American chain restaurants.
The security in Costa Rica is something that I am sure most Guatemalans would love to have. How did Costa Rica get to be so safe? I am sure that not having a civil war for a third of a century (Guatemalan Civil War) and multiple public works projects that bring electricity and clean water to all have helped. But the economic stability that Costa Rica has been able to find in the tourism industry must also be included in an analysis as to why Costa Rica is safer. And with this high level of tourism that Guatemala has yet to be able to harness, comes an exchanging and adopting of cultures. It is from the apparent adoption of so many foreign customs that the Guatemalans whom I spoke with derived their idea that Costa Rica had no culture of its own.
My intent of this post is not to evaluate Costa Rica’s culture, about which I know next to nothing, but rather it is to ask what is the destination of the rich Mayan culture that exists in Guatemala? Learning about this vibrant land was the main reason I had interest in being a Kiva Fellow. And I have seen the colorful dresses and blankets that many Kiva entrepreneurs weave. These artesinal products, are in a large part, bought by tourists. As tourism increases in Guatemala, which it will no doubt do, will Guatemalans be looked at from the outside has having no culture of their own? If Guatemalans want to incorporate foreign tradition into their own, that should be their prerogative, and that is not what worries me. What worries me, and many people who study globalization, is whether the permeation of outside cultures will cause the extinction of those currently present.
What role does Kiva play in all of this? Surely, it is not for Kiva, nor anyone besides Guatemalans to decide what makes up their culture. But it is undeniable that Kiva brings a degree of foreign culture to the MFIs that they work with, and the entrepreneurs that they support. By sending fellows to other countries, they are ensuring the input of foreign culture into these communities; however, I tend to believe that Kiva’s influence might play a role in enhancing the cultures they serve. By documenting, sharing, and learning from our entrepreneurs, it seems to me that Kiva play a role in strengthening the culture here in Guatemala, and in other parts of the world where Kiva works.
I’m not completely comfortable with this theory, and it may be that indeed Kiva is contributing to the steady process of dissolving and homogenizing cultures. Does the union of two cultures mean something is lost? Since this process is unstoppable, what is it that we should personally do when desiring to learn about other cultures? Would the beautiful Guatemalan blankets still exist as they do without the tourism that supports them? Does that tourism simultaneously destroy them? Culture is in a constant state flux, changing with each interaction between people. Perhaps the best that we can do is try to identify and minimize the negative influences that are created from these interactions.
Lend on Kiva to continue connecting and having a positive influence on sharing cultures.
Jeremy is a current fellow in Guatemala City, working there with FAPE. He enjoys learning through new experiences, but like Eva in the Philippines, does not like to be angsty, especially after having such a great time with other Central American Fellows during Thanksgiving. Join FAPE’s lending team/>