I was raised by Ronald Reagan Republicans, whatever that means.
I don’t remember specific political conversations until I was in college but the demeanor of my parents spoke more words than their language. If you slept in, you were lazy. Saturday chores weren’t an option. When you’re old enough to work, get a job and there are copious amounts of chores around the house. There’s no point in spending good money on frivolous clothes or cars. Don’t sit in front of the Boob Tube, your brain will melt, go outside and play.
In my family, we worked. College wasn’t an option, we went. When college was over, we moved to our own place and got a job. My parents helped along the way but their help was earned by our acquiescence to their parental expectations.
My Dad worked for the Government, our family moving around the country as he moved up the Government scale. My mother, an operating room nurse, could find a job no matter what coast we landed on.
As I went off to college and out into the world, I maintained the beliefs I didn’t know I learned. Work hard, no matter what. Don’t relax and sit still, work. All the time. Work. There’s no rest for the weary. A motto I learned and lived by.
So I kept busy. I played sports, went back to college after I graduated. I worked and supported myself. I married young to a man with the same beliefs as my parents. We both worked and when he wanted to start a new career, I supported his dream and worked.
The work ethics I knew and understood stayed with me. The beliefs were simple and easy to follow. I didn’t want to be considered lazy so I worked. My parents taught me homelessness was a choice I didn’t want to encounter. Being hungry was the result of laziness from not having a job. Going to church meant you were moral.
Following these rules made life easy.
All these beliefs paved my path to being a good, productive human, on the straight path to heaven. There were no personal emotions or varying view points presented. I went along with the lesson.
As I aged, I had a family and went about life, instilling in my children the lessons I learned from my parents. I knew something was missing, something deep in me I couldn’t touch. I ignored this emptiness, not having any way to understand what I had not opened my eyes to, or chosen to see.
I said I had empathy as I wrote checks to charity to help “those people” who had less, or were less than I was, an unspoken belief perpetuated by many who have money. This belief keeping the moneyed crowd separate from “those poor” people. I felt good about myself as I volunteered in the community to give back for my hard work and good fortune of being raised in upscale white America. The United States was the land of opportunity, the best country in the world. Moving from rags to riches was only about the individuals capacity to work. I was blind to complexities, race differences, mental acuity, mental stability, or differences being lived out in genetics none of use could choose.
During my eventual divorce, my daughter and I were invited to Guatemala to stay with my sister and her family. This was my first trip to another country where I would not be surrounded by a plush Americanized resort.
My sister was staying in Antigua in a gated community where bougainvillea was prolific and the sound of fountains filled the air. Rosie the housekeeper showed us to our rooms. We unpacked and joined the family in the kitchen.
“Hey, a reminder, don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet” my sister said, matter of factly. “Why?” I asked, feeling a pang of guilt for just doing that.
“The pipes here are old and small. They can’t handle the paper. Put the tissue in the trash can next to the toilet and Rosie will empty them.”
“Eww. That must be the smell I smelled when I went in there” thinking to myself, this country should get its act together.
“You’ll get used to it” she replied.
A a human being always does, I did get used to it.
Later that day, we went to the market to get dinner. As I entered the open air building my nose was met with a smell I didn’t know. The market had no refrigeration. Chickens were cut open, sitting on uncovered shelves, waiting to be chosen. Barrels of ingredients I had never seen filled the space to capacity as we humans shopped for dinner ingredients. These sights and sounds made me question what I thought to be the only viable way to live; the American Way.
“Why don’t they get some display cases and refrigerate this meat?” I snarkily asked my sister.
My sister, not patient with stupidity of others replied: “The electric grid in this country isn’t like ours. The infrastructure isn’t here to support that. The people here are used to it. You’ll get used to it too.” She kept walking, conversing with the merchants in Spanish as she picked the perfect chicken for dinner. “Plus, this is all fresh and creates community when you get to know the farmers. It’s much better than the box stores we have at home.”
I wasn’t sure of that but seeing as I was here for a while I needed to get on board with the concept.
The next day we went back to the market. As I wandered through this historic town I noticed old American school busses used as a means of public transportation, decorated in flamboyant happy colors and filled to capacity. I noticed piles of clothes higher than my head with logos from brands in the States where people shopped. The city streets were clean, no flashing signs distracting me from the colorful mix of adobe, stucco and people. The demeanor of those shopping was easy and free, conversation flowing, the noise of the market boisterous and happy. People were engaged in the life of daily business. The steady traffic moved slowly, in conjunction with foot traffic, everyone hectically working together to meet the needs of each other.
That night over dinner, the conversation turned to the obvious economic differences between Guatemala and the US and how it got this way. I learned from Rosie, my brother-in-law and sister, what happens in a country when another country intervenes, in this example the US, for their own economic gain.
Realizing the history of Guatemala is complex and I like to keep blog posts under 1500 words, here is what I learned:
Like England’s desire to colonize in the 1600 – 1700’s, the U.S. government has also tried to influence or intervene in other countries policies. Since the early 1900’s our government has been involved in Guatemalan politics for financial corporate gain. In the 1920’s their communist leader, a friend to our corporate fruit industry, was internally overthrown. We sent in troops to ensure our demands for cheap fruit were maintained. This began the constant interference of our government in Guatemalan politics.
In the late 1940’s unions were recognized in Guatemala and land was given back to the indigenous people. But the largest fruit company in Guatemala again lobbied our government to intervene, afraid land ownership would cut into profits. We did. We sent the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected president. This decision ended 10 years of democracy in Guatemala as we installed our own puppet who would do as our leaders said, making him rich and Guatemalan farmers poor by rolling back progressive reforms, taking away their freedom to ensure ours.
When the Guatemalans fought back again, our Green Berets were sent in to repress the movements, recruiting peasants to fight by marketing the fight as one against government land owners, in reality trying to maintain government control over farmers, keeping prices low for our gain. The brutality against the Guatemalan people during the 1960’s and 1970’s was compared to “methods of Heinrich Himmlers extermination squads.”
The 1980’s found American money backing a government that our country had a hand in building, as a guerrilla movement fought to take back their country. Ronald Reagan approved $2 billion worth of military equipment to the army. This left over 150,000 civilians dead and over 250,000 refugees fleeing to Mexico.
The years that followed were marked by the second U.S. coup that installed a leader who was convicted of trying to exterminate the indigenous Maya Ixil people.
The fighting was now synonymous with Guatemala, the details of its beginning lost in the quagmire of history and which stories are sold and we choose to believe.
Present day Guatemalans hold democratic elections but have joined a free deal trade with the U.S. Ninety five percent of our agricultural exports enter Guatemala duty free.
As I learned this history, I began to see the poverty of the country through different eyes. This country, not allowed to support itself because its freedom threatened our profits.
Politics are messy, this oversimplified history lesson can’t fully explain the complicated but historically significant relevance to policies of today.
Would there be an immigration problem today had we left other countries to live their own lives?
Who are we helping when we intervene in governments, selling our ideas as a means to help “undeveloped” countries be more like us?
Is our way of living truly the “best” way to live? What is the “best” way? Who gets to decide how we all live?
Could there be a middle ground that meets the needs of everyone involved?
Is the human consequence of our interventions as worthy of manipulating as the policies and politics we implement for financial gain?
All these questions began to circle in my head as my view of foreign policy and our country’s behavior in the world began to shift. My mind and emotions slowly began to morph to a different, more complex way of thinking. I began to realize that there are consequences to decisions. That a decision made in one time may need to be re-evaluated at another time. Taking responsibility to think through decisions and accept when they do not promote the well being of humans over financial gain is for me, more important than the money.
I learned that equality will never mean equal as long as the power of money overrides the power of love.
There are no easy answers to these complicated world problems.
During this trip I began to notice a feeling in my body. A feeling that was uncomfortable as I watched the interactions of the Guatemalans in the market, living their lives. I began to see that Guatemalans, or “those people” wanted the best for their children just like I did. I saw these people working hard, just like I had been taught to do. Guatemalans were going through the same motions of life that I did but under different circumstances, not always of their own making. I felt anguish as I began to see that freedom is not open to all when power and greed are in command.
I began to learn that empathy is more than a word.
I also learned my definition of Republican wasn’t as simplistic as I was led to believe. Putting my head down and working hard for my own gain taught me this was all about ME. A self idealized promotion of rolling over the rights, needs, wants and desires of others, making my rights seemingly more valuable than theirs. Creating a selfish endeavor I wanted no part of.
This trip made me question my own interactions in the world as a whole. This trip took me out of my miasmic beliefs of the individual being only responsible for self. As my views of the world broadened, so did my belief that we are all here to help each other grow to be the best we can be. The true meaning of relationship.