Butterflies & Bird Cages

By Melody Lin

Although people feel like they are doing nothing of importance in their daily lives, they can become a butterfly and have influence in the form of hurricanes on the other side of the earth.

Language is the way that we humans connect and communicate and therefore it can deeply impact our lives. The globalization of language(s) has meant a lot of other native languages have disappeared. This is obvious in Guatemala, where Spanish dominates. But let’s turn back to the reason why globalization happened. In history, as a country starts to have a bigger impact in the larger human community, it naturally spreads its culture and language to smaller places. In those smaller places, lots of native languages exist without the touch of modern technology to show their own power or influence.

Just like Columbus returned with slaves and precious materials from his explorations, powerful people explore the poor places to find many valuable resources including land, minerals, and other valuable objects. Back at the end of the World Wars, Guatemala and other countries gained independence after leaving the European colonies. Where new language and power had already replaced native languages and communities, this event led to the near full corruption of community structures.

When the government struggled with rebuilding the community because of the poor amount of money in the Guatemalan banks, the United Fruit Company caught the chance and was willing to trade the fertilized land of Guatemala with dollars. However, instead of giving the actual price the land should be worth, the company paid less. And then, during the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing, the United Fruit Company lied to American politicians, telling them that the democratically elected president was a communist threat. This decision led to the assassination of the president by US-trained soldiers and the beginning of the Civil War.

The American greed and financial self interest had a significant impact on the creation and continuation of the Guatemalan Civil Conflict. And this led to a decrease in population in Guatemala and people losing the opportunity and chance to make money because they lost the power of getting enough education.

On the other hand, the poor economy led to the vortex of land getting sold – of Guatemala losing its most valuable resource. Towns like San Marcos, Sand Pedro, and the other places that have a strong economy were especially impacted by the high percentage of land sold around them. As an example, the strong economy in San Pedro was mostly made by the foreign owners of large companies. While the wealthy people were gaining money from the land that was once owned by the natives, these people who choose to sell their land under heavy money pressure became employees of their own land and businesses which means they get less money paid to support their families.

The erosion of cultural food heritage was another negative result from the land being sold. Many tourists from Western cultures come to San Pedro today because it’s a famous place that has a comfortable language environment, fantastic art and stuff to buy, and delicious food that fits their flavors. But do any of the things that make San Pedro come from the locals? Although it’s a question most tourists wouldn’t know or even think about, the answer is a “no.” All of the good stuff that makes tourists feel comfortable in San Pedro come from Western culture. The environment is built by all the wealthy people who come from other cultures to force tourists into the trap to help earn more money. This made feel uncomfortable when I realized it.

Being in San Pedro felt very similar to being in a birdcage for a special type of bird that can bring them money. He or she doesn’t mind giving them a comfortable environment and temperature, letting the bird live for longer so that they can continue giving them the money they want. That’s what the wealthy foreigners have created in San Pedro for tourists. To keep the very particular type of bird pure, the people who build the cage even cleaned it up, removing all the worthless birds that would affect their business. Compared to what I have observed in San Pedro, the fancy restaurants that came from Western culture squeezed their living space because most of the customers are not attracted to these people who really need the money.

“Death is not the end of life, forgetting is the end of life.” This quote from the movie CoCo captures the situation of the Mayans in Guatemala. Imagine how San Pedro changed so fast from hundred percent local to nearly nothing local. The erosion caused by Western culture killed the native culture of San Pedro in this way. When natives rarely speak their own language, it becomes even harder and harder for them to remember their family roots. Language is a memory that allows people to connect to their heritage. and now more and more people find it hard to remember.

The disappearance of languages isn’t only happening in Guatemala, or only to the Mayans, it’s happening everywhere. The bird cage builders continue to build.

One thought on “Butterflies & Bird Cages

  1. Melody, thanks for the history lesson, which I needed. Also thanks for exploring the uncomfortable connection that you made between the history and people’s lives and loss in San Pedro, and for the realization that the it’s happening to so many cultures worldwide.


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