By Maria Chacon
The mix of Guatemalans and extranjeros in downtown Xela creates a unique environment in which to learn and dance salsa. As in all worlds, there are good and bad people. The bad guys on the Guatemalan side are those that look at extranjeras as sexual objects or mere opportunities to eat, drink and travel. They search out gringas because they find them beautiful and exotic and because they can go out with an extranjeras without responsibility. After all, Mom, Dad and siblings are all back home. Gringas are fun and provide variety, as their faces are constantly changing. There are good guys too: men that enjoy dancing and are looking for a true partner, men more liberal than the average Guatemalan. They may enjoy a foreigner’s appearance, but they don’t want to bother her. They respect women.
Then there are the chicas, the good and the bad. There are the women travelers who come to Xela to learn more about the language and the culture or to help the people. They may go out drinking and dancing but that is not their focus. They know what they want out of life and they take precautions to protect themselves. On the other end of the spectrum are las malas who are generally here for a short time and want a “Latin experience.” They know they will leave soon and don’t care if the man they hook up with has a wife, a girlfriend or children. They don’t care if they destroy a family. Finally there are the extranjeras tontitas, the ones that must not have respect for themselves because they tolerate poor treatment from local men. Perhaps they “fall in love” before coming to realize his pretty words were just pretty words or that he has a wife. Then the crying begins. The following are some simple suggestions to avoid the tears and to stay safe in general:
1. Clarify. Ask if he has a girlfriend or a wife. He may tell you upfront.
2. Don’t believe everything. Yes, you are in a foreign culture and the norms are different, but mistreatment is mistreatment in all cultures. Don’t tolerate it under the guise of “adapting” to the culture.
3. Be careful of what you drink and how much. And if you’re going to drink heavily…
4. Go out in groups with people you know. Get to know someone before you go out alone.