Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City

Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City

Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City

Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City

Synopsis

The first comprehensive, book-length study of its kind, Conquistadores de la Calle presents the findings of nearly two years of ethnographic research on the streets of Guatemala City, toppling conventional wisdom that the region's youth workers are solely victims, or that their labor situations are entirely the result of poverty and family breakdown. Documenting the voices and experiences of the city's working children, this fascinating study reveals counterintuitive motivations for those who choose to abandon schooling in favour of participating more fully in their families' economies. The processes of developing skills and planning for their social and economic futures are covered in depth, presenting evidence that many members of this population operate well above survival level and are decidedly not marginalized or members of an underclass. Conquistadores de la Calle also makes important distinctions between these young workers-a generation of Maya and Ladino boys and girls-and the homeless children or gang youth who have been so much more widely studied. Contextualizing a variety of data, ranging from detailed ethnographic portraits of the children's lives and the monthly income of children engaged in common street vocations (such as shining shoes or serving as porters) to educational histories and socialization activities, Thomas Offit has produced a rich trove of findings in a significant segment of urban economics that is tremendously important for anthropologists, Latin Americanists, and those interested in the lives and labors of children in the cities of the developing world.

Excerpt

Rey is fifteen years old, and he shines shoes for a living. He'll also repair a broken heel, restitch a bad seam, or even change the color of your shoes if you can give them to him overnight. Rey is good at what he does. He works hard, he takes his job seriously, and he's been doing it since he was six years old. He spends six days a week, twelve hours a day working underneath an overpass, sitting on a stool seven inches by five inches in size, about six inches off the ground. He sits there, a few feet from perhaps the most traveled street in all of downtown Guatemala City, shining shoes from the time the sun rises until it sets.

If it is raining and you have a little time on your hands, or if you decide it's time to get a shine, you might stop and learn a little bit more about Rey. If you manage to catch him early in the day, say around 7:00 AM, his clothes and his body will be clean, but after a few hours, shoe polish covers his hands and forearms, and the dirt of the sidewalk and of the black clouds of exhaust from buses, trucks, and cars paints his clothing with soot. If you or someone else does need a shine, you might notice that Rey has a full complement of shine brushes, rags, and different-colored shoe polish laid out in front of him, along with a well-built foot stand and a chair for his customers. He works fast and confidently, and he lets the customer initiate any conversation; his replies are good-natured. He is quick to laugh at a joke or smile, but his manner is not obsequious. You would appreciate that when he is doing the final buff job on your shoes he makes his rag pop, and that in the end you have a quality shoeshine for only one quetzal, or about fifteen cents.

Rey is not only a shoeshiner; he also handles the sale of newspapers and cold drinks for an older man who sits on a chair at a portable cart a few feet away, selling cigarettes, candy, and cookies. Sometimes the . . .

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