I remember reading in college about a Native American belief about the raw and the cooked as I sat in a lecture hall that held 300 wide eyed students. My professor said babies were often not named until they were considered fully “cooked.” Before that moment their soul was not thought ready for this world, not yet fully embodied. Walking around Oaxaca I am definitely a raw soul. My white skin glows in a sea of golden brown. I am still an infant here: malleable, untried and shamelessly exposed. “¡Güera! Compre unos recuerdos aquí.” I will forever be seen as una turista no matter how long we stay. I pay 10 pesos for a bag of tortillas from the woman on the corner while my indigenous husband pays only 5. Of course, I feel ridiculous voicing my frustration with the blatant discrimination, even in my head. Por favor… Poor little white girl, things not going your way today? Pobrecita. Like I could ever know what it feels like to grow up with the legacy of my people’s condemnation written on my face and reflected back to me in the condescending eyes of the fairer race. Staring back at me from the unfamiliar pale faces in Bimbo commercials, all Formica and sterile surfaces. I wear my privilege on my skin, in my confident glance, in my walk. It is my unearned inheritance as the conqueror’s child. Therefore, I reluctantly accept my place as tolerated outcast. I can only bridge that gap so much with my sencillez. I drift alone, through the streets stewing in my good intentions. Held at a distance by polite smiles and the shallow hope for their own economic benefit shining like a broadcast from my translucent skin.
I hesitantly cross my heart when the conversation stops passing a church on each corner, but I wonder if it is seen as sincere or just condescending. And when I pass the exposed breast of an indigenous woman with baby held to her body in a rebozo and hand outstretched, to offer money seems patronizing, to ignore her, cruel. I am instantly paralyzed to act, because both are expected from someone like me, but would instantly label me with a code I instinctively reject.
Is there somewhere in between? Where do I fit in this mix? I’ve stepped into an unsolicited role built for me hundreds of years before my birth. Is it honorable or naïve to try to evade it? I don’t want to be the tourist here just out to pick up unique souvenirs and interesting memories and then go home with some good stories in my pocket and pictures to share at parties. This history is now part of my history; it runs in my children’s veins. A story I cannot tell but only point to like the moon. I am humbled now looking back at my innocent stumbling into this messy world. Stepping out from my own well delineated, Tupperware divided upbringing. Not the slightest clue if I could swim…or even aware I would need to!
I’ll never forget my husband’s mom making the dreaded trip down the mountain from the pueblo to the capital after I lost Angelito. She was unfamiliar with my expressed grief though intimately familiar with the emotion. But hers was only occasionally aired out through silent tears, quickly wiped away, always unspoken. And in my indignant defense of women’s education in the face of an ancient bias, I still remained ignorant to the wisdom looking back at me through her eyes as she rubbed el huevo over my belly to take to the curandera. I watched in wonder the steady dignity with which she sat in the pale skinned doctor’s office and surveyed the cold machines with skepticism as they beeped defeat and the doctor declared authoritatively that the fetus was dead. I am drawn to her other worldly knowledge that can never be attained from books and degrees. My privilege drips off me like a melted sugar coating. A saccharine puddle I can’t pick back up off the floor. I am shaking and crumpled on the ground before such an ancient pain. I am raw.