Friday, February 19, 2010

My Christianity and Commerce Project

For my Christianity and Commerce project I decided to investigate the influence of globalization on local markets and local perception of globalization. This idea was sparked by a trip to the market when I discovered that most of the knives in one tienda were made in China. I decided that I really wanted to know first off, what percentage of items in the market was made outside of Guatemala, and second, what the public opinion was of this. To investigate, I spent many hours in the markets in Chimaltenango and Antigua, interviewing vendors, inventorying items in shops, and interviewing shoppers. Before starting, I wrote a specific list of questions to ask each person with whom I talked.

The list of questions for interviewing vendors included questions such as, “Where do the majority of your goods come from?” “Do you have a preference for what type of each thing you stock you buy?” “Why?” “What do you think about items which are made outside of Guatemala?” “Do you think it is good or bad for the economy to sell items from other countries in Guatemala?” I used these questions to start conversation and begin the learning process.

I also created a short list of questions for interviewing shoppers which allowed me to understand how they made their purchasing decisions and what they thought of products which were not made in Guatemala as well as what they thought the effect was on the Guatemalan economy. I ended up going to 3 markets: 2 in Chimaltenango and 1 in Antigua. The one in Antigua has several sections, and I tried to visit all the sections.

I began my interviewing in Chimaltenango, visiting with vendors who sold clothing, pots and pans, plastic ware, CDs, dry goods, technology, and other things. Overall, the vendors seemed to have an accurate sense of where their goods come from. One man that I talked with, Jorge, gave me much information on the types of goods that vendors will get from other countries. For example, most Guatemalans prefer cooking pots that are made in Mexico. This is because the pots made in Guatemala are aluminum, and not very durable. Pots manufactured in Mexico are stainless steel and last a long time, so both vendors and customers prefer them. Despite this, there were many varieties of pots and pans sold, ones from Indonesia, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and China.

When I was looking at clothing in the market, I found one thing that was very interesting. Most of the clothes were made in Guatemala, yet many of the brand names were American. In talking with the vendors selling clothes and shoppers in the vicinity, I found that people tend to prefer clothing that comes from other countries, either because of the price (clothes from Taiwan and Korea are cheap) or the quality (Mexican durability). It was interesting to note that both in the realm of clothing and pots, people commented on the durability of goods from Mexico.

In Antigua I interviewed in the tourist artisan market as well as in the modern local market. Most of the people selling items in the artisan market were indigenous Guatemalans, and they made most of their own goods. Items sold in these shops were purses, belts, knives, resin boxes, machetes, skirts, guipils (traditional blouses), and headbands. One lady I talked with, Brenda, told me that her business is a family business. Her siblings (15 total) make the items which she sells, with the exception of the guipils, because different guipils are made in different towns. Three of her brothers make resin-coated boxes, and other make the purses, knife handles, and other small items in her shop.

At another shop in Antigua I visited with a man named Juan, who told me about the paintings that he sold. The most popular paintings were those that pictured city scenes in either Antigua or other popular cities. The painters live in the towns surrounding Antigua, and Juan goes regularly to buy new stock from them. I found it interesting that, although the people who bought the paintings were tourists, they do not buy the authentic traditional form of Guatemalan painting, but rather paintings which represented exactly what one saw in Guatemala.

Comparing the sources of items in Chimaltenango and Antigua, there was really no difference when comparing the same items. There was, however, a notable difference when one compared the source of tourist souvenirs and items which were marketed to Guatemalans. The items marketed to Guatemalans were from around the world, while tourist items were from Guatemala.

Public opinion was in favor of selling imports from other countries. Differing reasons were given for this, however. Some people believed that it was important to have international trade in order to encourage the growing Guatemalan economy. Others believe that it was beneficial in providing all the items that people wanted. Some people did oppose this idea of globalization—it is interesting to note that all of the people who opposed globalization were indigenous people whose livelihood came from goods crafted in Guatemala.

The issue of globalization was difficult to address, because of the limited understanding that most Guatemalans have of it. When I asked people the reasoning for goods from other countries being marketed in Guatemala, they tended to reply that it only made sense. If they could get items that they wanted from other countries, why not? When I asked them about the term globalization, they immediately responded in the affirmative that yes, it is a form of globalization.

I found this project to be a very interesting one to do, with far more information gathered than could be shared in a short report. A few more notes from my interviewing:

- Guatemalans are oftentimes very friendly. More often than not when I asked vendors if I could ask them some questions for a school project, they offered me their seat.

- I got preached to several times by vendors... obviously there are a lot of Christians in Guatemala =)

- When you first start looking around a market, the sheer number of things there is overwhelming. When you start writing the exact items down though, you soon realize how many of the same item are in the market.

- If you visit with a vendor, they're more likely to give you a good price on an item. I got lots of offers for things which were far below the normal starting price simply because I'd visited with the shop owner for 10 minutes.

- In North America we seem to have this idea that globalization is messing up specialization of different regions. While in some ways this may be true, people still value the unique items of aculture simply because they are unique, so I highly doubt that cultural items will be entirely done away with.

If you all have any comments on this project, or questions, feel free to ask!

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