Guatemala Culture - More than Mayans and Mountains

Perhaps when you think of Guatemala culture, you think of Mayans and mountains, but there is much more to Guatemala than that. We have low and wet places, high and dry places, rich art, literature, and musical traditions, and immigrants from all over the world.

Let me give you an example:

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A few years back when I first came to Guatemala to study Mam, I came by land from Texas by bus. That's a long story for another time, but as we were winding down through the mountains from Chiapas, I was awestruck by the beautiful scenery. We were winding through mountains that I would have been terrified to drive through, and from my window on the bus, I could see alllll the way down.

You can imagine, most of my thoughts were occupied with, "I sure hope this driver knows what he's doing!"

I made it to Huehuetenango and the next day went out to catch another chicken bus to Todos Santos. The sheer variety of people milling about was amazing! There were African-descendant Garifuna, men in funny red-and-white striped pants, and others running around in "normal" clothes. What was a gringo to think?

As we wound through the mountains to Todos Santos, I saw beautiful mountains, breathtaking views, and a wide spectrum of dwellings from what can only be called huts to three-story houses built by families of men who'd gone to work in the United States and had sent money back.

The women and children getting on and off the bus in the middle of nowhere had the most beautiful woven huipiles I'd ever seen.

In Todos Santos, a very Mayan town, stood a city center with very Spanish architecture...a testament to past conquests and much history. Then, on the outskirts of the very same town, were Mayan ruins, hundreds of years old, still in use by those who practice their traditional religion.

That was my first experience in Guatemala.

Since then, though, I've been to many different areas of Guatemala. I've experienced holidays and festivals that I didn't know existed until the day before, when I was informed that I didn't have to come in to work the next day (who's going to complain about that?).

In the capital city, there are people from all over. There's a significant Korean population in Guatemala City (some estimate over 10,000) and a large Jewish population, as well. Most of the non-Mayan people in Guatemala are referred to as Ladino (not Latino). I've got to admit, I hear the term Ladino more outside the country than in it, but it is used some.

Studying Spanish in college, it seemed that all I knew about Guatemala was that there were a bunch of Indians there. That's what I heard Guatemalans referred to as. When you get here, though, the variety is amazing. Guatemala culture is not quite so easy to define as I thought...

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