TODOS SANTOS CUCHUMATÁN, Huehuetenango:
I am staying with a family while I study Mam, one of the 20-odd Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. My goal in studying Mam isn’t really to learn Mam, per say. I know that sounds odd, but I figured it would be a good way to get to know the area and culture a bit, as well as improve my Spanish (ironically enough). My family is incredibly nice, and speaks fluent Spanish which is very helpful. They sit and chat with me a bit at meals.
I am used to people asking where I’m from, and when I say “the US,” they ask me if I live near New York. Err, nope. Los Angeles? Nope, not there either.
This time, however, I had a somewhat surreal experience. The family asked where I was from in the US, and I said, “Michigan, it’s a state in the North.”
“Oh! Michigan!” They exclaimed. I was half expecting them to ask me if that was near New York, but instead they asked, “Do you live near Grand Rapids?”
Uhh… Grand Rapids? Seriously??
Dominga, the head of the household, explained that they had several family members in Grand Rapids, including her sister and brother. She herself had spent two years in Grand Rapids. On the weekends, she and her husband would go out to the Michigan countryside and see the milpas (cornfields) that reminded her of home, buy turkeys and other farm goods, and generally enjoy themselves. She told me that the next time I’m in Grand Rapids, I should visit a restaurant called “Adobe’s” (or something like that), that had a southwest theme complete with maize* decorations.
Hearing her talk so fondly about Michigan made me feel oddly proud for my adopted home-state. Sure, our economy is the worst in the country, the car companies are abandoning us without a backwards glance, and our most famous celebrity (or perhaps, outspoken) makes a business out of how our country is going to hell in a handbasket (Mr. Moore). Midwesterners in general, furthermore, get this terrible reputation for being uncultured, backwards hicks with lazy vowels (and hey, a lot of us are!). But dammit, to people from Todos Santos Cuchumatán, a comparatively tiny village in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, we’re the promised land, complete with familiar maize crops.
* “Maize”, aside from being the incredibly obnoxious shade of yellow preferred by University of Michigan fans, is the proper name for what we generally refer to as “corn”.