A Question of Religion

Upon arriving in Huehuetenango (pronounced “way-way-ten-an-go”), I expected to take a microbus to the center of town and find a hotel from there.

Unfortunately, it was dark and the last micros stopped running at 5 pm. Poor planning on my part. So I let myself get herded into a taxi for a very reluctant 25 quetzales (about $3, the bus ride itself was 30Q) that ended up being 30Q because the taxista didn’t have any change. At least the price was pre-set, however, so there was no arguing over the meter.

As the taxista careened through town, he asked me in short Spanish phrases (as if you were speaking to a young child) all the vitals: where I’m from, what I’m doing in Guate, how long I’m staying, where I’m going next, my profession, and my religion.

Whew! Well, what do you say to that??

There are three main religions in Guatemala: some derivation of Mayan, Catholic, and Evangelical. I will never forget eating lunch with a girl at Michigan who is the daughter of Evangelical missionaries in Panama. Someone asked her if there were many people that went to her parents’ church, because isn’t Catholicism big in Latin America? Yes, she answered, but the Evangelicals were starting to win.


Quite a few of my students (especially in cuarto magisterio) went to the Evangelical school before coming to Yinhatil Nab’en. Don Mateo and Doña Ana upstairs are Evangelical, and Don Mateo hosts an Evangelical radio show on Radio Ixtateca. Every Sunday in San Mateo you can hear the highly repetitive, energetic strains of music blaring non-stop from the Evangelical church. So yes, Evangelicalism is starting to “win” in at least one part of Latin America.

In response to my taxi driver’s questions I said: 1) Estados Unidos, especificamente Michigan (he asked if that was near New York); 2)teaching (English? No, Social Science); 3)two more weeks, but I’ve been here for three months; 4)Todos Santos Chuchumatán; 5)student, and 6) what??

He repeated the question, and I tried to dodge it by saying, Well, my mom is Lutheran and my dad is Catholic. Hoping that that would be enough. Nope. He persisted. Well what about you? Are you Christian?

Umm, sure. I’m more or less Lutheran, I told him.

He seemed slightly relieved. It’s good to believe in God, he said. Yes it is, I agreed.

And it’s not that I don’t. I just feel uncomfortable having to explain to people that I think that pretty much all of the religions are heading in the right direction. I think their individual traditions are really interesting to learn about, and to talk to people about. But I just don’t practice any of them for a myriad of reasons.

One of my Guatemalan coworkers had to do a report on Judaism for one of his university classes, so he interviewed Brian.

How many gods do Jews believe in? He asked. Brian seemed a little surprised. Well, the same one that Catholics and Evangelicals believe in, was his reply. Our coworker was shocked.

Telling people that you’re something other than Catholic or Evangelical is tough enough without them jumping to the conclusion that you worship the devil. So explaining a slightly agnostic, inclusive-religious position? Errr, no thanks.

Maybe I should try—some people would argue that I should be trying to “open people’s minds” here. Maybe… I’m just not sure that religion is the appropriate venue to try and “open” right now (I’m thinking, open hostility if they think I’m a devil-worshiper).

I’ll start by being the gringa- in- a- corte, and see where that leads me.
PS. In Todos Santos I was asked, yet again, what religion I am (by one of the dueños of my hotel). I once again tried to evade the question, and he actually asked me if I practiced the religion or if I was just “culturally” that. He happened to be Evangelical.


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