Two months later and I can still picture Isabella: her small arms gently rock a baby with more expertise than a fourteen year-old girl should have. Her tiny-heeled shoes and grown-up blouse seem out of place with her girlish dimples.
I left Guatemala almost three months ago and still my mind brims with stories and pictures—Isabella among them. A soft-spoken, indigenous girl, she worked as a nanny for my host-mom, caring for a baby not her own instead of going to school.
But then again, she didn’t have many options.
Guatemala has a prevalent machismo society. The many “rules” of culture revolve around men. Men’s wants are more important than those of their female counterparts. Discrimination and battery toward women can be commonplace. People are now fighting to change this, but the process is slow and tedious. I can’t imagine it. Still I am trying to break the habit of looking down as I pass a man on the sidewalk.
It is a broken system where men’s desires sit on a throne from which violence often flows.
This violence is especially pointed towards women who use any form of birth control—it is seen as adulterous behavior and is frowned upon in many religious societies. Some women do try to use protection, going in secret to receive surgeries or buy pills, but they do so at a risk of being beaten or ostracized. And so the cyclical system of poverty continues as children are born into already poor families. And they work instead of going to school. And people starve and beg and sell trinkets to tourists. And children learn to be hostile to a world that was cruel to them. And it goes on and on.
Isabella—being indigenous in a racist society, being female in a sexist society, and being poor in a country where poverty is a trap and the unfortunate norm—lived under the mantra that she was worthless. However, the baby she watched—still female but wealthy, with lighter skin, and from an educated family—was reminded daily how precious she was.
I can remember the day it was all too much. I picture the family and I seated around the table lined with food. Isabella, who ate in the kitchen, was standing before the table waiting for the baby’s mother to arrive. And as she stood, the baby on her hip, I watched as grandmother, uncle, mother, and students took a moment to coddle the baby, telling her she mattered, that she was special. And Isabella stood there—a mere extension for the child, like furniture—with no one to emphasize her value. No one told her that her being indigenous, poor, and female did not make her any less of a human being. No one told her she was created with a purpose, that she was a treasure, and that God loved her too.
Alone in my room, I burst into tears. I told myself I would never again complain about school. I told myself I would remember to thank those who make it possible for me to lead a free life with choices and opportunities. I told myself to thank God for the blessings I have each day, being born into a community that supports and encourages my dreams, recognizing them as valid.
And I realize, stepping away from the visions of the bustling Guatemalan markets, the brilliant sun, and of Isabella, that the need to communicate value doesn’t stop in the streets of Antigua. The people I interact with every day—the women in my church, the man on the bus, the child walking in the park—each one of them is precious and lovely and deserves the same opportunities and care I’ve had, regardless of what society would deem their standing.