Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Undermining class

Honduras is very much a classist society. People are often defined by their place, their fortunes, and their school degrees. There is all too much "deference to authority" for my taste.

How often someone has been introduced to me as “Profe Raúl” – professor or school teacher.

People refer to lawyers as “Abogado Luis,” to engineers as “Ingeniero Carlos,” to other university graduates as “Licenciada María.” They even use the titles when talking between themselves. 

When I was assisting in campus ministry at the Catholic University here in Santa Rosa, a professor I got to know fairly well usually called me “Juan.” But after he learned I had a doctorate, he called me “Doctor Juan.” I quickly told him to call me by my name – and he still does.

I usually introduce myself as Juancito, because that’s what the kids called me in 1992 when I was volunteering in the parish of Suchitoto. El Salvador. They actually called me “Hermano Juancito” – Brother Jack – probably since I was working with the parish.

Here some people do call me Don Juancito, probably because of my grey hair. “Don” usually being a mark of respect for elders.

But I usually insist on Juancito.

But it is not only titles that enforce classism. The people in the countryside – the campesinos – are looked down upon and treated as inferior.

The most obvious example is what I heard the first year here. The president of the National  Congress referred to people from this region who were opposing the mining law with a very derogatory phrase – “gente del monte.”  Perhaps the closest idiomatic translation would be “hill-billies.” But it’s even worse. They are “people of the weeds.”

That’s what people face here.

Yesterday I facilitated a training session with catechists in one of the zones of the parish. In the introductions I have been asking the people to share their name, their village, and an animal – preferably one which had the same initial sound as their name.

In a previous workshop I had introduced myself as Juancito Jaugar – John Jaguar. But thinking about this a few days ago I realized there is another animal with the  Spanish “j” sound – jolote. Jolote is one of the words used here for turkeys – as well as  pavo, chumpipe. But  jolote  has different overtones, very much like the way we might call someone “You turkey.”

And so I was Jack the turkey.

The participants laughed heartily when I began the presentations this way. They proceeded to introduce themselves with an animal – sometimes reluctantly, sometimes with zest.

But I’m the turkey – and proud of it!


This blog entry was inspired by an entry, "A Humble Proposal," by David Swatz, in "The Anxious Bench, which can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Ah, the dreaded titles! While I understand completely the desire to be acknowledged for one's achievements, it is overdone: I had a student who was "Contador Publico Sanchéz" on our first meeting.

But "Jolote" Oh dear! I've usually seen it spelled "Gualote" which is "turkey", but has an unfortunate slang meaning that's best not to use: "catamite" ... roughly equivalent to the American term "fresh meat". Yikes!

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Here it just means "stupid," "dumb," "thick," etc.