Cultural Competency (Part Two) – Why Are You Here?

“If students are not able to transform their lived experiences into knowledge and to use the already acquired knowledge as a process to unveil new knowledge, they will never be able to participate rigorously in a dialogue as a process of learning and knowing.” – Paulo Freire

Human rights, ecology, gender, productivity, sustainability – these are the words/language that needs to be used for organizations like Pop Wuj to be funded. Who gives the funding? Who creates these rules? United Nations, World Bank, and the Federal Reserve are some of the big dogs. The United States controls the economy of these projects because these agencies control the economy of the United States, and therefore Guatemalan organizations and projects needs to follow these rules. What if they don’t? What would happen if they tried to protest the system? How would they do it?

This is a Western paradigm. The mentality is always how to make a profit. “Money is the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal. For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more -always more- even at the cost of the oppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be the class of the haves” (pg. 58). People need to “learn to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality”(pg. 35).

At the cultural orientation at Pop Wuj, they encouraged us to think about what pushed us to come here. Why do you want to help? Reflect on the system. They ecplain that “the system doesn’t make people like you. The system creates people who don’t care about the rest of the world. It’s ethical and correct within the system to spend your break at the university, on vacation, taking extra classes. The system doesn’t think that you should be here – so why are you here?” The staff shared that many people come to Guatemala, work with the people, hear this orientation, and they think to themselves: When I go back to the States, I will know more than others in the States, now I’m free, now I’m not ignorant. But, Paulo Freire explains that the oppressors are not free. “Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, but rather are in denial and convince themselves that they are defenders of freedom. And, because they confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo, so that if a new way of thinking threatens to place that status quo into question, it thereby seems to constitute a threat to freedom itself” (pg. 36). Additionally, doing humanitarian work for others for a few weeks in Guatemala can make some people feel like they have moral purity. It is an attempt to free them of the guilt and shame associated with being a part of the elite, the oppressors. But, this is a false experience. This is an attitude and attempt to rid oneself of shame, not to help others.

chicken bus

Pop Wuj believes that this concept is extinguishing us. We are killing ourselves. Life has a way of speaking to us and saving itself, so life is speaking to you, which is why you are here. You are responding to the instinct of life. We need to understand this concept and cycle of oppression to do our work correctly and understand the culture. We need to understand our space in this history. The entire history of the world is of violence, self-destruction, racism, and discrimination. What is our place in that history? How can we be a part of changing history?

According to both Pop Wuj and Paulo Freire, our perspective should be: You are going to Guatemala to be with the victims (in solidarity) to fight against capitalism, colonialism, and oppression. “Discovering oneself to be an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed. Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary; it is a radical posture. True solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality, which has made them these ‘beings for another.’ (Additionally) as the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression” (pg. 49 & 56).

The oppressor (who is himself dehumanized in the process of dehumanizing others) is unable to lead this struggle. The revolution must come from the oppressed. The oppressors can join with the oppressed in solidarity to assist in their revolution. Instead of resting in the comfort of being in the elite and dominate group, lets reject the preferred security of conformity with our state of lacking freedom and instead join in the movement of freeing both ourselves and the oppressed.

Who writes the story? Who teaches the story? What do you want your story to be?

– Kelly Dent

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