Sunday, 12 August 2012

What's wrong with this picture?

Erick Barrondo wins Guatemala’s first-ever Olympic medal, then pleads for peace in his country

Erick Barrondo's win has affected me in unexpected ways.
When I heard about his silver medal, at first I was surprised. First ever Olympic medal for Guatemala? It dawned on me that I had never before cared to know how my homecountry did in the Olypics, even though I've seen other countries compete and probably know of a few famous athletes. My family are all men and women of the books, I don't harbor an inclination for sports in general, and as I've said before, I haven't lived in Guatemala for a very long time.
But I still felt it was strange that I never even thought about it before.

I heard about Barrondo from my Guatemalan friends on twitter and facebook. And it started to bother me. 

While I infinitely admire Barrondo for the determination and charater which led to his silver medal, it was the general reaction of the people that was making me feel uneasy.
"Did you hear about Barrondo?" my mother asked. "Finally something good came out of Guatemala."

Ah, there it was. There was the problem.

Guatemalans have this tendency to self-deprecate on a level that would definitely give us the gold if it was a competition.
There's this painful idea embedded within each Guatemalan psyche that says everything foreign is better. Especially anything North-American or European. 
I'm not an anthropologist, but it's obvious that this sentiment is the result of colonialization and racial divides and discrimination that the country has suffered. 

When I was in primary school in Guatemala, we were learning about national identity. Every country has a national hero, someone who represents the fighting spirit of the country and in a way, solidifies that country's identity and sovereignity. Guatemala's hero is K'iche' prince Tecún Umán.

In summary, Tecun Uman fought to the death defending his land and his people, the K'iche', from the invading Spanish forces of  Don Pedro de Alvarado. Tecún Umán's nahual, the beautiful Quetzal bird, accompanied him to the battle. As legend has it, eventually things came down to a one-on-one between our hero and Alvarado. The spaniards rode on horses, but the K'iche' didn't have any animals to ride, which gave Alvarado the advantage, because Tecún Umán's first blow killed his horse, giving Alvarado de opportunity to pierce through Tecún Umán's chest with his spear, puncturing his heart.
As our hero fell, his nahual (animal kindred/familiar spirit, spirit guide, totem) alinged their hearts by resting on Tecún Umán's chest, staining his green feathers with blood forever. According to legeng, for this reason the male Quetzal bird has a crimson chest, and his song was never heard again.

I think I was somwehere between 3rd and 5th grades when we discussed the cultural importance of national heroes, and I remember quite vividly my teacher commenting "in the case of Guatemala, ours is a fallen hero."
It's not wrong to say that the average Guatemalan considers his own identity and culture to be inferior to say, American or European culture. There's just this general attitude that gets passed around in general every day observations that constantly imply that nothing good can be expected from a Guatemalan. I don't quite it grasp it yet myself, it's rather intricate.

But what about me? I don't want to be made to feel as if I have accomplished nothing in my life. I don't really accept the assumption that my life is worthless and isn't in the best service of the country I came from. Sure, I may not have done anyhing heroic yet, but I'm definitely not less worthy than my European neighbors with whom I interact every day. I'm not in the habit of comparing but I really don't see any essential difference between my Guatemalan friends and those from any other nationality.

It's almost impossible for me to untangle the intricacies of this situation in order to truly understand it, but what I'm trying to get at is that it really is no surprise that no Guatemalan had ever won an Olympic medal before, when fellow Guatemalans have painfully low expectations and support for each other and themselves.
Guatemalans have this defeatist attitude and it's aparent in every day encounters and reactions, and also on the bigger scale. I read an article about how little financial support Guatemalan athletes get, even after having won medals for the country. It seems the attitude is that it's not worth it to spend money on Guatemalans if after all, we never accomplish anything.

Barrondo is of course, the exception.


  1. In my experience, Guatemalans are prideful people. I wouldn't necessarily label the lot as "defeatists." Maybe I'm just biased.

    1. I can't tell if you're Guatemalan or not and I don't want to make assumptions, but personally I can't really conceive a Guatemalan who wouldn't happily trade his nationality for American or European. Maybe Guatemalan's have pride but it doesn't seem as if they're proud about being Guatemalan.

  2. Well said, and you make me feel guilty in some way, it was just a comment, do not implying that nothing good comes from Guatemala though.

    Of course Guatemala has much more goods, but internationally, that is not the case, very few Guatemalan's have made it, like Miguel Angel Asturias and others, in which I implied Barrondo! Well done Barrondo!

    1. I only used it as an example of the general attitude of Guatemalans :) Nothing personal!

  3. La opinión me pareció muy buena y en gran parte tenés toda la razón, generalmente tenemos una actitud derrotista y muy poca fé en nuestros atletas.

    Barrondo nos ha enseñado lecciones iniciando cuando ganó oro en los Juegos Panamericanos, ya en los Juegos Olimpicos estabamos con más fé y a la expectativa del desarrollo del tan nombrado marchista.

    Es increible que tenemos tantas riquezas y tantas cosas por las cuales enorgullecernos, y debemos iniciar con un cambio de mentalidad.

    Y con respecto al presupuesto de los atletas, generalmente la gran parte del presupuesto se lo dan a los futbolistas, con los cuales no hemos visto ningún resultado y se les menosprecia a los atletas de otras disciplinas. Sería interesante involucrarnos más y conocer más de los atletas destacados en otras disciplinas, para apoyarlos y no solo vanagloriarnos cuando logran algún triunfo, porque generalmente el guatemalteco no conoce nada del atleta pero sí gana alguna medalla grita: "Ganamos" pero si el atleta pierde grita: "Perdio" nunca exclamariamos "Perdimos".

    Por último es bueno que a Barrondo se le vaya a entregar un titulo por parte del congreso con el cual se le entregará una gran suma de dinero, además del hecho que le aprobaron una pensión vitalicia.

    Espero que a todos los guatemaltecos nos quede de lección de apoyar y preocuparnos más por el deporte, la cultura y la ciencia guatemalteca, porque somos capaces de lograr grandes avances.

    1. Excelente comentario, gracias!
      Tenes razón de llamar la atención al hecho de que los Guatemaltecos en general también tenemos la responsabilidad de apoyar a nuestros atletas y cuidarlos para que puedan representarnos.

      De verdad sería lindo que los Guatemaltecos nos apoyaramos más y nos dieramos cuenta de lo que somos capaces.