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Why is This Popular: Teen Culture in Xela

Editor Steve Mullaney teaches at a middle school here in Xela. He sends us monthly reports called “Why is This Popular” on his teens’ fashion-related obsessions. This month’s dispatch: Bracelets With Letters.

Style is different everywhere, but nowhere is this more apparent in Guatemala where the majority of us fashionistas walk around puzzled. We try to bring you explanations behind the most confusing trends with a special report on the middle-school way to express oneself, the bracelet. This month’s topic: Bracelets With Letters

Imagine you are a middle-school student: you would like to express your feelings for your crush, but you do not have any money or creativity: what do you do?  If you answered make a bracelet with the first letter of your name and give it as a gift then you would be correct.  This is the traditional way that dating starts nowadays.

Typically this begins with trying to figure out how your crush’s name is spelled.  This is actually much harder than it looks because many names start with J or Y depending on whether the parents want an Americanized (J) name or a Guatemalanized (Y) name.  Jason/Yeison; Julissa/Yulissa; Jessica/Yessica, etc.

This will usually start with trying to ask a mutual friend how the crush’s name is spelled.  In the case of one student of mine, this process could take as much as a week to figure out.

The gift of a letter bracelet is a big step in a relationship—it is usually the gift item that is bought before the man proposes marriage. Well, not really, but in the minds of the middle school students who practice this tradition it might as well be. In a country where dating is discouraged this is the most explicit way to announce that you are dating.  Clueless parents can always be fooled with “there was a sale on the letter ‘G’” or “the J stands for Jesus”.

In some cases the letter doesn’t correspond with a boyfriend/girlfriend, and it honors a family member or a best friend.  While it is a cute “best friend/favorite sibling gift”, in my experience as a middle school teacher 99% of the time it is used to signify that someone is dating someone else…which means that if you’re going to tease your host brother make sure that you’re not insinuating that he’s dating his sister.

COULD YOU PULL THIS OFF: What a great gift for someone special…and maybe you could do one of those popsicle stick + yarn things for an anniversary present.  Second thought, skip it entirely.

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