Embracing my heritage: how a trip to Guatemala revealed a side I never knew

I am Hispanic and proud. Growing up I was heavily influenced by Mexican culture because my mom comes from a small town in southern Mexico. By the time I was born, six of her brothers and sisters were living in Austin. I grew up celebrating many traditional Mexican holidays, eating Mexican food multiple times a day, and speaking the Spanish language.

I am also partially Guatemalan. This part of me was not as big of an influence in my life until recently. At the age of 21, my dad moved to Austin with his two older brothers. After marrying my mom he moved to south Austin, a 45 minute drive from his brothers in Pflugerville. Because his family is farther away than my mom’s, Guatemalan culture has not always been in my life.

Last summer both my parents received their residency. To me, this meant I no longer had to worry about my parents being deported and now they could travel back to their hometowns. In August, my dad booked three plane tickets to Guatemala, and on December nineteenth I visited my father’s home country. I spent 18 days travelling to a country I was unfamiliar with, learning about the culture and customs.

In my two and a half week adventure, I learned a lot about my culture. I got to experience first hand the food and customs. For example, on Christmas, gifts aren’t a very big deal. Instead, people look forward to midnight on Christmas Eve because everyone sets off fireworks. On Christmas Eve, I stood outside for two hours before heading to my hotel room where the fireworks continued for another hour.

As for the food, I got to enjoy daily home cooked meals like chiles rellenos, green chile peppers filled with cheese, and Pepian, a chicken dish served with a sauce. I also tried different common fast food restaurants. A common chicken fast food place here is Kentucky Fried Chicken. The equivalent to this in Central America is Pollo Campero. Chinese food is also very popular in the urban areas of Guatemala and I think it was better than anything I have ever tried in the U.S.

During my first week on vacation I visited a very popular island called Isla de las Flores where I got to walk around and see the daily routines of many natives. It was here that I learned nobody owns a dryer, they simply hang their clothes on their balconies. I found many differences between the U.S and Guatemala, but the biggest one was the fact that in Guatemala they treasure nature a lot. Even families who live in poverty will wait until a tree naturally falls to gather wood for fires.

I first thought this was because there were laws behind it all but my aunt later told me, “A great belief of ours is that respecting Earth is respecting yourself, if you wouldn’t treat your body that way then you shouldn’t treat your home [Earth] that way either.” This really opened my eyes to their life. The majority of these families have little to nothing but they know that they can always rely on the Earth to treat them well. After learning this I now see Earth as more than a globe we grew on.

On top of modern day traditions I also learned a lot of history. I am a strong believer that a classroom can not teach you nearly as much as first hand experiences, and after this trip nobody can tell me otherwise. I visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Peten and I set foot atop temples my ancestors may have as well. As I hiked and climbed towers and temples I read about the carvings on the walls. I even got to see the temple in which many people were sacrificed, something I had just recently read about in AP World History.

I don’t know if it’s because I am a melodramatic teenage girl, but I felt a connection to this experience. As I climbed each step of a temple or looked above the miles of trees into the rest of the world from the top of a ruin, I felt like I had gained a piece of me, as if I had finally connected to the other half of me, the Guatemalan in me.

I am Hispanic and proud. Proud of being Mexican and Guatemalan. Nobody can take my love for who I am and where I come from.