The Question: ¿Hay Comunidades en Los Estados Unidos?
Reflection: Luís Ortega, the young Mexican taxi driver, asked me this question as we descended from the mountains of Chiapas after visiting the community of Acteal, the Maya Vinic coffee cooperative, and driving through many comunidades that day. Literally, he asked: “Are there communities in the United States?
First: If the question is, "Are there communities such as Acteal in the United States?", the answer is "No". The people of each community in the highlands of Chiapas have their own distinctive dress. This similar dress is an outward sign of community, common culture, and shared experience, but it is only an outward sign of deep bonds spanning generations. We have nothing like that deep bond in the United States.
Second: In another respect, the question might mean, do we have a sense of community and kinship with those around us?" My response is a mixed one: “yes and no,” but whatever we have, it is nothing so deep and encompassing as the bonds within a Chiapas community. In the United States, some may feel that in our highly mobile and busy society we have lost a great deal of what it means to be a community. Sometimes even neighbors have no interaction with each other. This separateness is reinforced by our emphasis on individual rights instead of the collective good. There are exceptions, of course. Some groups of people who have come to the U.S. from other countries choose to live near each other, and they maintain cultural traditions. This is true among groups of Hmong, Italians, Mexicans, Cubans, and others in the United States. We also form a sense of community through groups of our choosing such as churches and social organizations. Yet, most of us long for community or, at least, more community.
Third: If the question is, "Do we use the word community in the United States?," my response is “Yes.” We refer to the Michigan State University (MSU) community, the East Lansing community, and so on. But, as I told Luís, comunidad takes on its own meaning in Chiapas.
The photo is of women of Acteal, Chiapas, with their distinctive “chales” (shawls). Their chales and huipiles (blouses) are unique to the comunidad. Similarly, the men have their own style of dress that differs from that of men of other comunidades.
Yes, I have just come back from a research trip to Chiapas. It was amazing, and I learned so much!
copyright© 2010 by Paulette L. Stenzel for the photo and text.