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Old Habits Do Change: Role of La Mujer

GUATEMALA | Tuesday, 9 October 2007 | Views [2045]

Men in Guatemala definitely wear the pants in the family in this country.  However, the younger generations are driving change for more balanced, shared family roles, despite centuries steeped in tradition.  In my all-Spanish dialogues with my teacher in Antigua, I have learned a ton about Guatemalan culture and the role of women.  My teacher was one of the few extremely successful professional women from her pueblo.  She worked for a leading political party until the leader lost an election.  After 15 + years of teaching Spanish to foreigners, she has been exposed to many different cultures and roles that women play in different societies.  She is a change agent in her own family, and has impacted generations.  In Guatemala, it's common to find several generations of family living together under the same roof.  Children don't leave home until they are married.  Often children may be tended for by grandmothers while mom and dad are out working.  The story I love most, is how my teacher changed the traditions, behaviors and roles of her own mother and father.  Typically at meal time, the family sits around a big table all together.  Mom prepares all the food, and serves everyone before helping herself. She continues to wait on and respond to every request throughout the meal, putting herself second.  In typical form, when Dad needs more water, which is in a pitcher placed directly in front of him, he announces, "I'm thirsty and I need more water."  Mom stops her eating, gets up, takes the pitcher of water and fills up his cup.  Same thing happens when Dad needs more food.  One day my teacher decided things were going to change and she was going to liberate her mother and empower her father to help himself.  A bold move for a young woman in a very traditional family.  So one night, the family all gathered around the table for dinner, her father makes his usual request for more tortillas, which are in a basket on the table right in front of him.  My teacher asks her mother to stay seated, and says to her father, "Papa, here are more tortillas in front of you in the basket.  Can't you see Mama is busy eating?  You can take these for yourself."  Her father looks at her, shocked and perplexed, not sure of what's happening.  "Go on,"  she encourages him, "take the tortillas."  He helps himself, and the other siblings around the table stare in disbelief.  A little later, Dad is thirsty, looks at Mom and asks for water.  Mom lunges to get up, but my teacher motions her to stay seated.  The water jug is right by his cup.  "Dad, Mom is eating.  Here's the water right next to your cup, please take some and let Mom eat."  Again, perplexed, he serves himself water.  After several weeks, Dad was serving himself and Mom was enjoying a relaxing meal.  Change in tradition, catalyzed by a woman with strong convictions, and a gentle loving way of creating lasting change.  She had the same lasting effect in securing her own ability to "inform" her parents, at age 20, that she was going out at night with friends, versus needing permission from her father.  While this change took more time, she used her ability to earn a salary and fund her own evenings out, as a ticket to earn her father's respect, trust and approval as an independent, self sufficient female.  The lessons transferred from generations of parents, to children, to grandchildren in this family is happening in more places these days, and we hear that men and women in Guatemala are learning to share responsibilities that have traditionally been owned by La Mujer.

Tags: Culture


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