I attend mass every Sunday at the local Catholic Church in the town square of Rabinal. It is a small, colonial church where mostly indigenous campesinos travel for hours to attend church by 6:30 am on Sunday mornings before selling their produce or wares at the plaza market.
The church is filled with statues of Mary and Jesus where people come to light candles and pray for themselves and their loved ones. The air is filled with incense and the women kneeling to pray are dressed in brightly colored huipiles while saying their Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
So, imagine my surprise when I begin reading the signs around the church and realize that one so cleverly reminds parishioners that, “You don’t need a cell phone to talk to God! Please turn off your cell phones while in the Church.”
The thought immediately strikes me as a little bizarre as I glance around at the holes in the roof of the church and the ragged dogs running wild through the pews. “Globalization,” for better or for worse, has indeed touched every corner of the world.
Globalization is a difficult thing to grasp, let alone define. It is a process that has been called everything from the key to ending Third World poverty to the very process that will cause the implosion of the capitalist system. From the internet to the stock markets, from watching cable television to buying Coca Cola, from sweat shops to high rise office buildings, globalization affects so many people in such different ways.
I am no economist (for which I am eternally grateful, no offence to those who are), so I most certainly do not understand everything about macroeconomic processes such as globalization. However, I am a student of anthropology, and what anthropologists do is study people. We study how large and complex global and economic processes such as globalization impact specific locales and affect real people.
Anthropologists listen to the stories and live with the people. We hear their hopes and dreams as well as their difficulties and the ways that they suffer. While anthropology has surely had its share of horrible blunders, throughout history it has often tried to give a face and a name to human suffering. While I can only truly speak from my experience in Latin America, I have certainly seen first-hand the poverty and inequality that globalization is rapidly producing.
From Villa El Salvador (Lima, Peru), the fifth largest urban mega-slum in the world where I worked as a tutor, to here in Rabinal, in rural Guatemala, I have seen the ways that globalization has impacted the poorest of the poor. In some ways globalization has revolutionized the way that people live.
Thus even the very poor can have access, if they can pay and if they can read, to the incredible wealth of knowledge available via the internet through the ubiquitous ‘internet cafe’. They can create websites or use chatting software to link to other people with similar goals and ideas.
They can talk to their relatives that have migrated to other countries to find work and send back remittances using cellular telephones. However, for every great technology or service that has been imported into these countries, so much else has as well. When I hear Coolio`s “Gangta`s Paradise” for the third time in a single day in rural Guatemala, or I look closely at the traditionally embroidered bag of a campesino man that has been woven into a Pepsi advertisement, I often have to wonder if the good ever outweighs the bad.
If the exploitation and theft of resources from these people, largely led by economic world powers such as the United States, is made up for by Big Macs and “The Bachelor” dubbed in Spanish. The longer I spend in Latin America, the more the answer boils up from my very being as an obvious and resounding, “NO!” However, I also must say that I have learned that, like the signs in the church say, the most important things in life cannot be had through money or technology, only through the heart and through those you love.
Posted By Abby Weil
Posted Jul 13th, 2007