Sunday, June 26, 2016


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. 

Sunblock and vomiting are my “tell.”  The neighbors hear me in the communal bathroom late at night as my stomach violently rejects a street tlayuda I tried to eat nonchalantly so as not to draw more attention to myself.  My in-laws wait awkwardly as I slather banana boat on my face before we leave home.  And then there’s the constant over thinking of everyday activities.  The awkward maneuvering of personal space and the futile attempt to analyze body language.  If only there were a dictionary to interpret the signs!  I try to meet the eyes of people I pass on the street, aching for connection, but all I see is a sea of avoided glances and heads tipped down as we pass on the sidewalk.  My presence feels like an intrusion to their daily routine.  I offend just by being here.  I’m a tourist out of place, not respecting the proper roles and boarders, making everyone uncomfortable.  Does my stepping off the sidewalk to grant them space to pass register as ignorant or genuine?  I can’t seem to catch the rhythm.  I dance off beat.  My eyes are impulsively drawn to the sky as I walk in awe of the shadow of history hovering above me on every corner.  I trip often on the uneven sidewalk and feel like a fool.  I’m the village idiot startled by exiting cars from underground garages.  I piss off the smoker at a cibercafé when I ask him to put out his cigarette as I rub my pregnant belly.  
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.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a way to verbalize so many feelings I have had in MX. Thank you for the thought provoking entry. Emily