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Guatemalan Culture

Gilda Ordonez was born 1968 in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. She met Stephane, an LDS
missionary from Idaho, who told her about the United States. Gilda immigrated because she was
told that she could have a better life and better things in America -- a toilet, her own clothes, her
own bed, etc. She was the only member of her family to immigrate to Salt Lake City, Utah, in
1998.
Gilda was taught by LDS missionaries, Stephane and her companion and she was
baptized, and became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Before
immigrating to the United States, she served her own LDS mission. Gilda had kept in contact
with Stephane, who became her best friend who had tried to get Gilda to move to the United
States. She tried to get a visa, but she was very poor, so it took awhile to earn the money to get
one. She was 29 when she finally received her visa to go to Salt Lake City, where Stephane was
waiting for her. She has lived in Salt Lake City ever since, but Stephane moved back to Idaho,
and Gilda hopes to move there one day to live closer to her best friend.
According to the Nations Encyclopedia, Guatemalans have freedom of religion. The
Roman Catholic religion is most common (between 50 and 60%). Catholicism, Protestantism and
Christianity are also practiced in Guatemala. The making of food and other house hold items are
very old fashioned. Everything in Guatemala is hand-made; including food, clothes and rugs. A
lot of their food is based on corn, beans, meat, and tortillas. The people grind up dried corn
(maize) and make it into cornmeal. The corn meal is most commonly used to make tortillas and
tamales. In Guatemala when they buy eggs, they dont buy it in a carton, they have to buy each
individual egg separately. Essentially there is an endless supply of fresh fruit from the forest. All

of the cooking they do there is over a fire, and all of the washing is by hand; there is no stove,
oven, microwave, or dishwasher. There are little to no electronics in Guatemala that are actually
available to citizens, which is why everything is done manually.
Living styles are different for everyone depending on how much money a family has. The
rural highlands are where the poor Mayan villagers reside, and the urbanized and wealthier
population occupies the cities and agricultural plains. Most Guatemalan citizens are poor so they
dont have access to as much food as the wealthy. The Mayan villagers have animals; such as,
ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, and pigs. Each village, as well as the villagers, have their own
distinctive design. Certain dresses that the women wear show where they are from and also how
wealthy they are. Women weave their own dresses and their childrens clothes as well as rugs
they make out of sawdust. The traje is a traditional dress that becomes a part of a womans
identity and shows her culture. In Guatemala there are over 100 different dialects of Spanish
being spoken.
Funerals in Guatemala are particularly interesting. When someone passes away, the burial
happens within hours of the death, so they dont do any embalming. There isnt a morgue in
Guatemala, either. A person comes immediately after the death to wash and dress the body for
the funeral. Wooden coffins are a part of their final resting place. The viewing usually lasts all
night, until its time to take the body to its final resting place. Everyone included in the funeral
takes turns carrying the body to the cemetery, and then the family takes the coffin to the grave.
The dead are buried above ground with cement and rocks covering the coffin. In some cases,
people bring rum to drown their sorrows and candles to help them see through the night.
The families in Guatemala used to be larger around the year 1987 because there was no
planned pregnancies or birth control, but as of 2008, women have had fewer children because

they now have female sterilization (Population Reference Bureau). Gilda had to share a bed with
six sisters in a one room home where her brother and parents also slept. An issue in the family is
gender inequality. Women usually get married between the ages of 15-24. Most Guatemalan
women have traditional views of gender roles in the home. A survey taken in 2009 reported that
women agreed that they should obey their husband even when they dont agree with him, and 80
percent stated they need his approval when doing anything; including, going to the doctor or
even going outside (Haub and Gibble). Its more common for wealthy women to use any form of
family planning than poor women. Wealthy families end up having one to two children, while
poor families have five to six.
About 70 percent of Guatemalas population ends up living on less than two United
States dollars per day and a smaller percentage lives on less than one United States dollar per day
(Cerezo). In most cases, each family owns a one room home. It has been found that theres an
average of 6.5 people per house with the average size of the house being 49.7 m2. Each person
would get about 8.7 m2 to themselves. In extreme situations a house of 20 m2, with 6 people
would get an average of 3.3 m2 per person. The houses dont have carpet or hardwood flooring
but instead have dirt floors. Most people live in their house their whole lives and give it to their
children.
Guatemalan boys highest priority is getting an education, while the girls role is to learn
how to be future homemakers and mothers. In the poor villages Guatemalan children are
sometimes educated and are expected to do chores starting at age six. Some of these chores are:
washing their own clothes, making the bed, washing dishes, and going to the mill with corn to
make tortillas and tamales. When Gilda was a little girl, she and her siblings would take turns
sweeping and raking their homes dirt floor. A fathers role is to be head of the household,

providing weekly gastos for the family: money for food, clothing and soap. A mothers role is the
preparation of food for the family, caring for her children, and showing love and affection. It
depends on the family, but some feel that its vital that the parents spend time with their children.
There are multiple customs and traditions that play a part in the family life. Some
holidays are celebrated by setting up small festivals that are usually colorful. They can also be
unique to each village. One of Guatemalas main holidays is their Independence Day on
September 15th, which is celebrated with dancing, music, parades, and fireworks. All Saints Day
(Da de Todos los Santos) is celebrated by members of the Roman Catholic church on November
first to pay all respects to the deceased. After paying respects, there is a kite festival where kites
fill the sky. People say that its their way of connecting to the deceased. They design their kite a
certain way so that dead family members will be able to know which one comes from their
family, and then they can communicate through the line of thread. The Day of the Dead is
celebrated immediately afterwards on November second. Most of their holidays have been
influenced by religion.
One of the more unique holidays celebrated is the Burning of the Devil on December 7th.
Families take any burnable items and light them on fire in the streets. Doing this is meant to
cleanse their homes so that the devil cannot enter and to prepare for the holy week of Christmas.
Most families eat the traditional tamales on Christmas Eve, and then light firecrackers in
celebration of Jesus birth. Rich families have Santa Claus come, but most families are poor and
cant afford gifts. During Easter time, (Semana Santa), all the Catholics carry Christs cross
around the village and eat bread of Easter. Rugs made of dyed sawdust are also paraded down
the streets. Birthdays are a important for families to celebrate, so people dont work on their
birthday. Again, poor families cant afford to buy presents for birthdays.

Guatemalan Americans have tried to keep most of their cultural traditions, but a lot have
become Americanized. They celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and their
Guatemalan holidays; such as, Semana Santa. Instead of eating tamales on Christmas, Gilda eats
meat sandwiches because she has grown tired of tamales. A lot of people who immigrate to
America alone, become more Americanized because their family isnt with them. Separation
from their families for such a long time can strain their family relations. Most immigrants try to
bring the rest of their family to America to be reunited. Gender roles have also changed, since
immigrating to the United States.
In Guatemala, women dont have as much say as the men, but after living in the United
States for a while, women have gained leadership roles in society. They also take a larger
economic role in the family by having jobs. Women keep the role of taking care of the children,
cooking, and cleaning (Wehr). They try to maintain their culture in the way that they prepare
food, wear clothes and speak in their native language in the home. The children who have
previously attended school in Guatemala are able to adjust to American schools once theyve
learned English. Education is a high priority to the parents.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the Guatemalan population in 2010 was
1,044,209. Guatemalan Americans have at least 23 different ethnic groups, whose languages are
also different. The major ethnic groups are the Mayans and Ladinos. 21 of the different
variations of Spanish are Mayan. A difference between Guatemalans and other Latinos is that a
lot of Guatemalans have become Evangelical Protestants, although the majority are still Roman
Catholics (Wikipedia). They are the fifth largest Hispanic group in the United States (United
States Census Bureau). Guatemalans that have gained legal residency are able to find
professional jobs, but those that are undocumented have little access to good paying jobs.

The music of Guatemala is very diverse and is played all over the place. Each village has
their own bands that play on certain occasions. They love to dance and sing. It is very common
to hear parties going on in villages. The marimba is used in their folk music. Wikipedia explains
the marimba as a percussion instrument that has wooden bars that are hit with mallets plus
resonators attached to amplify the sound. The marimba is played at parties and weddings for
people to dance to. Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, is known as the soul of culture and has
produced many famous Guatemalan musicians (Wikipedia). One of the most famous classical
Guatemalan songs is Luna de Xelaju, which is the national anthem of Quetzaltenango and
features the national instrument; the marimba.
Modern marimba bands use a smaller marimba for three players and a drum kit or
different percussion. Some have also added in saxophones, trumpets and trombones. The
marimba is now used in different styles of traditional folk, classical, and modern music.
Guatemalan rock bands have been influenced by American progressive rock bands by fusing the
rock sound with native elements. Guatemalan music has also been influenced by the Mexican
culture and their mariachi bands. Young Guatemalan artists have started to rap their own music
to make it more popular among Latin Americans.
Life in Guatemala can be really hard, especially when being a part of the nations poverty
population. The wealthy people live in the highlands, while the poor live in villages. The
customs and traditions of the people are heavily influenced by their religion and culture. The
struggle with gender roles has decreased since immigrating to the United States, which gives
women opportunities to have more say in the home. An instrument that is unique to their culture
is the marimba. Guatemalans love dancing, singing, and having parties. Guatemalan influences
can most commonly be found in music where the marimba is being used.

Works Cited
"Census.gov." Census.gov. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
"Food and Drink in Guatemala." Food and Drink in Guatemala. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
"Guatemala." Guatemala Culture. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
"Guatemalan Americans." Guatemalan Americans. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
"Guatemalan Funeral Traditions." SevenPonds Blog. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Haub, Carl, and James Gibble. "The World at 7 Billion." Population Reference Bureau.
Population Bulletin, 1 July 2011. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"International Encyclopedia of Adolescence." Google Books. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
"World Population Data Sheet 2011." Guatemala: Beyond the Early Phase of the Demographic
Transition. 2011. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"Holidays and Festivals in Guatemala." Holidays and Festivals in Guatemala. Web. 27 Oct.
2015.
Heather Wehr, Brown, Kelley, Nicole Henretty, Anita Chary, Meghan Farley Webb, Jillian
Moore, Caitlin Baird, Anne Kraemer Daz, and Peter Rohloff. "Mixed-methods Study
Identifies Key Strategies for Improving Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices in a
Highly Stunted Rural Indigenous Population in Guatemala." Matern Child Nutr Maternal
& Child Nutrition (2014).

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