November 24, 2006

The Americanization of Honduras, more seriously

Lenca indian style pottery, Yaba Ding Ding Gallery, Roatan, Honduras

The Americanization of Honduras, bit by bit article was tongue-in-cheek, not meant to discuss this serious issue, but David made this comment:
So many Hondurans I know revere North American culture from afar. Sorry this is kind of a downer comment, but I can't help but think that Honduras, in its complex, takes on a great deal of negative 'Americanization'. Additionally intriguing to me is the idea that Americans may be actively Americanizing Honduras in certain ethnocentric respects, feeling it's a good thing.

I agree about the negative Americanization of the Honduran culture − you just don't see much Honduran culture at all other than the Garifunas, at least where I live in La Ceiba. It is as if Honduras has picked up what is worst about the US and lost what was best about its own culture. It is very sad to me.

When I read blogs from Mexico and other Central American cultures, it's wonderful to see the pride in the crafts and clothing and music and dances of the other cultures. I'm not so concerned about Coke and Pepsi, after all they are all over the world, as I am the lack of pride in their heritage.

There are pockets of areas, like Valle de los Angeles where lots of crafts are sold or Copan Ruinas where the Mayan ruins are revered − but is it to revere the culture or the tourists? The tourist areas of the Bay Islands are definitely an Americanized tropical paradise, so much so that it seems the habitants hardly believe they are a part of this poor country. Additionally, most of the businesses in the Bay Islands and Copan are owned and run by Europeans or North Americans, so I imagine that what we see is their romanticized version of the culture.

Not all but most of the crafts look like 'made in China' cheaply-made, touristy, gaudily painted items or the crafts have been taught to the people by North Americans or Europeans. The very few clay pots that I've been able to find have been plain, lopsided, and poorly made. For every clay pot I find, I could find ten thousand plastic ones, which are considered better by the locals. In the sense that they don't break a month later, I guess they are right.

Except for punta music, which is from the black Garifunas, there doesn't seem to be any typical Honduran music. Mostly North American rock or pop, country, reggaeton, and Mexican music is heard. I've asked about Honduran music and no one has been able to tell me anything.

The only time I see native costumes is in the parades and many of those seem to be highly fantasized Mardi Gras-like versions. Tight blue jeans or polyester skirts with midriff-showing skimpy tops are the normal fashion here. The only Honduran-made clothes I've seen are the rejects from the foreign-owned maquillas (factories).

This picture shows what is considered to be a "typical" Honduran dress, but it has the word Honduras embroidered on the collar and I've never seen anyone wear a dress like this except in a parade.

The racism here is reverse also, with the lighter skinned people getting more respect and better service than native darker skinned people. I've heard people complimenting mothers on their lighter skinned babies as if that is somehow better than the darker skinned babies.

I've mentioned before that everything American is valued and most things Honduran are looked down upon. There are two levels of quality (this is from Hondurans, not me): Calidad de exportación/Americano (export or American quality) or calidad Hondureño (Honduran quality), which everyone accepts will be poor quality. Even if the American items are of the poorest quality (and probably made in China), they will be preferred by those who can afford them.

We wanted to build and decorate our home with Honduran materials. After intense shopping for more than a year, we finally had to give up. Time and time again we were warned by Hondurans about poor quality and shoddy workmanship.

We do have a very expensive Honduran teja (clay tile) roof (against the better judgment of our architect) and after only 3 years, the tiles started crumbling, breaking, and falling off our house. Whether it is a result of poor workmanship or poor installation, I don't know. I do know that there are houses 50 - 100 years old with teja roofs that don't have this problem.

This Americanization is something that I've thought about a lot and I certainly don't feel I am expert enough to analyze the reasons for it. I do wonder how much the influx of the European and American banana companies in the early 1900's had to do with it.

I'm sure at that time, modernization was revered more than preserving the heritage. And I'm sure they brought their share of racism with them since that was a way of life at the time. Dole's Honduran headquarters are here in La Ceiba so this town may reflect more Americanization than others.

There are a few ways that I wish Honduran culture would change. I wish people would take pride in their workmanship. I wish people would stand up for what is right and demand better treatment from others, from businesses, from their government. I wish people would treat each other a little better. I wish people would value honor and not cheat and steal from everyone else, the rich as well as the poor. When I came to Honduras, many people told me not to trust anyone. We didn't believe it and we paid the price several times, sometimes even from people who we thought were friends or from people we were trying to help.

I'd like to hear more about how "Americans may be actively Americanizing Honduras in certain ethnocentric respects," so, David, if you write about it, please let us know. Or feel free to leave another comment.

Oh boy, if you thought your comment was a downer, how about this article! I'm depressed now.
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