Independence is important to people all over the world. Last Wednesday, September 15, Guatemala celebrated its independence from Spain. This national holiday is recognized with parades, dances and fireworks across the country. Luckily for me, the most extensive Independence festvities happen in Xela. The biggest night is Independence Eve. Parque Central fills to the brim with street vendors, Guatemalans with flags painted on their cheeks and travelers. Music blasts from speakers, a parade marches past and fireworks illuminate the sky. On this night the bars are permitted to stay open all night long and the fiesta continues until morning. It felt really special to be in Guatemala for a holiday that is so important to the people.
As flags are waved in the spirit of Independence it’s also a good time to celebrate community and remember our need for support as well. By 1821, the year of Independence in Guatemala, society was intensely stratified with the Indigenous people at the bottom of the ladder. After Independence, unfortunately little changed for the Indigenous community. Most remained under the oppression of the landowning elite.
On the night of Independence Eve I was reminded that many Guatmalans still struggle for freedom from poverty. My friend’s bag was slashed but fortunately nothing was stolen. My cell phone was lifted right out of my purse in Parque Central. Guatemala is generally moving in the direction of meeting the Millenium Development Goals but not fast enough to meet the 2015 deadline set for many goals. It is predicted that Guatemala’s population will be more than 20 million by the year 2020 and suffer severe food shortages (Ministry of Food and Nutritional Security). As the world continues to deal with a growing population, changing climate and conflicting politics we will all be forced to recognize our interdependence.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject this week and realized I wanted to share it on my blog today when I met a new friend. Asking where someone is from usually occurs within the first few minutes of meeting. The answer helps us to understand each other but also exposes our differences. When I met Maria today she said, “I was born in Spain but I am from the World” and we were immediately on common ground. While being a ‘citizen of the World’ might be somewhat of a cliche these days, she was so sincere in her answer that it was refreshing to hear.