Which images of Guatemala symbolize my new understanding of Guatemalan cultura. Hmm.

Well there are the things you might expect. The cobblestone streets of Antigua, because pavement is expensive. The face of Felix the coffee farmer, darkened by long hours in the harsh sunlight. The beautiful landscape of Hobbitenango, the Lord-of-the-Rings themed hotel and restaurant. The colorful chicken busses on every other corner.

But there are also the things that might surprise you. The pale face of Susana Asensio, the first female mayor of Antigua. The fact that you can drop your laundry off and come back a couple hours later with your clothes folded nicely in a bag for a couple quetzales – seems like a much better system than in the United States.

The fact that healers like Lidia Escobedo can work closely alongside doctors and nurses to provide holistic care to patients at nursing homes and hospitals for children with cancer, providing for their emotional and spiritual needs that often get neglected in the U.S. The fact that the music scene in Guatemala is booming, with new bands rising up as organizations like Plataforma help to provide venues and payment for artists.

You can find complexities, absurdities and paradoxes anywhere in the world. If you come in looking for a certain thing, you’ll end up finding it. If you expect to only see poor, sad brown people in a place like Guatemala, then you’ll end up looking past people like Isa, who wears American Eagle and loves to shop.

To a certain extent, we choose what we see. I think we’re all a little more close-minded than we think we are. I think we have to constantly challenge our own preconceived notions and ideas about what people are like because people can’t be reduced to stereotypes. Everyone I met in Guatemala surprised me in some way or another. Like Abby said, I’m sorry that I came in with ideas instead of just an open mind.

The face of Guatemala isn’t just one person, just like the face of the United States isn’t just Donald Trump. Places and people are complex, not easily defined. And our brains don’t like that, because it requires more thinking to not just place people in boxes.

But I think that’s the only way we can even begin to understand one another. There isn’t a certain set of images that can fully symbolize Guatemalan culture, just like our magazine won’t be a full image of Guatemala, either.

We did the best we could with the time we had, but ultimately, there are multitudes of unique people and places in Guatemala that we didn’t quite capture. And I think that’s okay, because I think some things, ideas and people need more time than three weeks for anyone to fully understand them.

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