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Connecting Women to Change the World

Special Series

Racism & Poverty – Joel Aguilar

Episode Summary

Hey Change Maker!

We are back with our 4th and final installment of our Racism and Poverty series and this week we are headed to Central America. My guest this week is Joel Aguilar, the dean of postgraduate studies at CETI Continental, or in English, the Community for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies.

In this episode, Joel and I begin by discussing what poverty, racism, and oppression mean in his context. In the Guatemalan context, poverty is multifaceted and nuanced. Joel defines poverty as the lack of access, opportunity, and safety network around anybody, whether that be an individual, a family, or a community. He goes on to define racism as the not only the discrimination of indigenous people, but also the use of the Guatemalan systems to keep indigenous people where they have been – socially, economically, and politically – for the past 500+ years. Joel then defines oppression as a combination and interlocking of racism, poverty, sexism, and the abuse of nature.

Next, we discuss the history of Guatemala as it pertains to the racism and oppression of indigenous people. During colonial times, indigenous people were not considered human. Today, Guatemalans still carry the weight, legacy, and mindset of colonial times. While Joel doesn’t believe Guatemala is a racist country, he acknowledges that racism still exists, especially towards black and indigenous people. There is proof of genocide, discrimination, and mistreatment against indigenous people all throughout Guatemala’s history. About 65% of Guatemalans are indigenous, or of Maya descent. During the 36-year Guatemalan Civil War, also referred to as the Armed Conflict, about 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. Most of those people were indigenous.

When asked how racism keeps indigenous people in poverty, Joel discusses the line many Guatemalans uphold between recognizing indigenous folklore, art, and beauty, but not recognizing the indigenous people themselves. We also speak about vaccine access to indigenous people, and how the geographic dispersion of indigenous people and their medical systems further perpetuate racist cycles. Joel also adds that there is little representation for indigenous Guatemalans in modern business and politics.

After that, Joel and I move on to discuss the relationship between Guatemala and the U.S. from a business, political, and racial perspective. Both the U.S. and Canada have been involved in politics and business in Guatemala for decades now, and Guatemalan citizens often face the negative impacts associated with citizenship regulations and market fluctuations from these countries. When asked why Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, rather than a race, Joel points to the system of racism in the United States, which is clearly divided between blacks and whites. If Hispanics were to be acknowledged as a race, all of the laws that punish discrimination would also apply to Hispanics. We also discuss the problematic nature of labeling all those who immigrate from Central and South America as Hispanic.

I then ask Joel what he wishes citizens of North America understood about people trying to cross into North America. He discusses that people aren’t leaving their homes because they want to – typically this migration is a last resort as a result of violence in their community. We also talk about what North Americans are getting wrong when it comes to engagement with developing countries. Joel remarks that he wishes U.S. visitors would spend less time teaching Guatemalans, and more time listening and learning about their culture.

In the final portion of the episode, we talk about the racism Guatemalan women face. Joel discusses how Guatemalan women are especially vulnerable to drug cartels, sex trafficking, and other violence and abuse while migrating. He believes men should hold responsibility for helping to stop these atrocities committed against women. Finally, when asked how our white listeners can be a part of the solution, Joel advocates that white people “see color”, “embody their whiteness with responsibility and in communion with one another”, and “be aware of their privilege”.

About Joel Aguilar

Joel lives in Guatemala City with his wife, Annette, their daughter Mariana, and their brand new baby, Luisa.. Joel has a PhD in Practical Theology from the University of Pretoria, and a Masters in Global Urban Leadership from Bakke Graduate University. Joel has been working in leadership development in marginalized communities for the last 10 years. Joel is the dean of postgraduate studies at the Community for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies.

About CETI Continental

CETI Continental is a small graduate school with students from all over Latin America. They offer a Masters Degree in Transformational Leadership in Spanish, and non-accredited theological and spiritual formation programs. If you speak Spanish and are interested in continuing your education, visit their website.

Key Timestamps

What do poverty, racism, and oppression mean in your context?
5:09 – 9:24

Discussion of the history of Guatemala as it pertains to racism and oppression of indigenous people.
10:13 – 16:49

Discussion of how racism keeps indigenous Guatemalans poor and oppressed from cultural, health, business, and political perspectives.
16:50 – 33:30

Discussion about race vs. ethnicity: why is hispanic not an ethnicity, but rather a race? How does labeling all people from Central and South America crossing into the U.S. negatively impact them?
33:31 – 39:39

What do you wish citizens of North American countries understood about people trying to cross into North America? What are North Americans getting wrong when it comes to engagement with developing countries, and specifically with missions trips?
39:40 – 46:48

How do you see women affected by racism, whether that’s in Guatemala, or as Guatemalan citizens attempt to enter the United States?
46:39 – 51:59

What can our listeners do who are mostly white to be a part of the solution?
52:00 – 54:24



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