The Power of Narratives

by Geraldine Wesby (United Kingdom (Great Britain))

Making a local connection Argentina


Americans are ignorant and arrogant. Muslims are dangerous. Indians are uncivilized. Africans are uneducated and disease ridden. These are just some of the narratives the world has created and the problem with narratives is that we as a people and as individuals start to believe them. We identify with the culture of our country and we identify with the narratives of the world. But to every story, there are at least two sides. I learned this when I was fourteen years old and I traveled to Iguaçu Falls on the border of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. For some background, I was born in Argentina to Argentine parents. However, my grandparents are quite a mixed people. One is English, one is Spanish, one is Italian, and one is half German/half Paraguayan. The half Paraguayan is specifically from a Guarani Indian tribe. Guarani Indians tend to have tan skin, dark hair and dark eyes and are somewhat short in stature. Through the years, Guarani Indians were hired by wealthy individuals and families (typically European descendants) as maids and servants. That became their narrative. I on the other hand am fair skinned and have green eyes and my younger sister is blonde with bright blue eyes and at the time of this trip was only ten years old. We entered Iguacu National Park (on the Argentine side) and the only vendors that were allowed to sell goods were Guarani Indians as these were originally their lands. They had large blankets on the ground covered with handmade bags and jewelry made of seeds and semi-precious stones typically found on the river banks. It was vibrant, colorful and lively display and yet it exuded humility and timidity. The vendors were quiet and respectful and wouldn’t look into your eyes when you spoke to them. As I was browsing through the souvenirs, my mom knelt on the floor and called my sister over and started to explain to her that these goods were made by Guarani Indians and that we (blonde, light eyed, light skin) were descendants of Guarani Indians. That this was part of our ancestor’s culture and part of our history. A culture that we needed to know and be proud of. As my mom spoke to my sister, I looked up and saw the vendor in tears. At that moment, any and all narratives were shattered. Through my mom’s simple explanation to my sister, the vendor was no longer inferior or a servant or a vendor but he was an equal and furthermore, he was an ancestor-- he was our people. He was someone to respect, look up to and learn from. This kind man, with tears rolling down his face, cusped my mom’s hands in his and thanked her. He then proceeded to find his best pink seeded necklace along with two beautiful braided bracelets and placed them in our hands. We nodded our heads slightly and thanked him. Very few words were exchanged, but so much had been spoken. As we walked off with our new bracelets, I couldn’t help but think about what had just happened. The narratives of the world wouldn’t associate blonde, white, blue eyed girls with Indians just as they wouldn’t associate Indians with civilized, developed communities. However, these narratives are wrong, meaningless and cause more harm than good. They limit a person and a people to common prejudices and misconceptions. They divide rather than unite. They point out differences as inferiorities. But humans are so much more than the narratives we are taught to believe. This is why traveling is not only important, but essential. Traveling breaks down barriers and false impressions. It teaches us how people from all over the world are more alike than different. It teaches us accept rather than segregate. That day, we changed that man’s narrative, even if only for a moment. We shared a treasured connection as nothing less and nothing more than equal human beings.