Globalization (or globalisation) describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through communication, transportation, and trade. The term is most closely associated with the term economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology, and military presence.
Americanization is the influence of the United States on the popular culture, technology, business practices, political techniques or language, of other countries.
This weekend, our team had the awesome opportunity to go to Xela (pronounced Shayla), a city about 2 hours from our home in Solola for the weekend. We left Saturday morning and got to Xela in time for lunch and walking around the city before salsa lessons and going to a Peace Corps welcome party for new volunteers (not that any of us actually fit into that category…) It was a great weekend, and Xela is a beautiful city filled with old gorgeous architecture and a lovely park in the middle. I also got to show off my foosball skills, so all in all a wonderful time.
One of the things that really struck me in Xela, however, was the amount of American branding everywhere. I got a McFlurry at McDonald’s, ate lunch at a Subway, bought Skittles at a store in a mall and went to the bathroom in a Walmart. We also passed a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, a Payless Shoe Store, and many other familiar corporations from home. Justin Bieber often plays in the buses and people everywhere wear American Eagle and Hollister clothes that they bought from second hand stores here in Guatemala.
Solola is not nearly so americanized- there’s probably a Shell station somewhere nearby and you can buy Diet Cokes at the tienda next door, but even the men still wear traditional Mayan clothing and the only fast food place is Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan chain.
It was kind of nice, in Xela, to have a little bit of home (but also kind of hard to figure out how to ask for a 6-inch sub in Spanish when they use the metric system here…), but it’s gotten be thinking. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in Xela, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t want to eat Subway every day, or else why would I have left home? People everywhere talk about globalization with the internet and the amazing amount of communication we can have across the world (case in point- you’re reading this, and you are almost certainly not in Guatemala right now), and in some ways I know it has been great. I was able to come to Guatemala and learn and live here because of the globalization of our world- we would never have recognized the need if we could not see or speak to the people. Yet is it really globalization we’re after, or is it americanization?
My first few days here were rough. The water only works well between the hours of 9am-1pm, then they shut it off to conserve. You have to throw your toilet paper in a trash can. I didn’t have a computer and hadn’t heard from much family or friends, and I appreciated every bit of home I could get. On tough days I would remind myself that I only had 3 weeks left. But the people who live here never get to leave, and their tiendas and water-outages are home for them. And now that I really do love it here and wake up looking forward to what new parts of Guatemala I’ll see today, I wish there was a way to share their home with my friends and family back home. I wish there was a way for you all to see the view out the window in the morning or the fog when the clouds literally float past the windows, or the huge cliffs that are supported by nothing towering over the beautiful lake below. I wish you could hear the markets or meet the people or eat the food, and I wish globalization went both ways. I wish globalization really meant a sharing of cultures, and not an imposing of one. Maybe that’s why I love coming on these trips- because I can come home with handmade pieces of clothing, some local food, and stories and stories and stories. And maybe if more of us committed to a real understanding of a global awareness, maybe we’d start to see some Pollo Campero in the US 🙂