On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States

 

This is the conversation I had in Mexico with someone who is racially white and nationally from the U.S. 

On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States

Oxkintok Ruins
Maxcanu, Merida, Yucatan

Backdrop:

Merida is an up-and-coming city nationally and internationally. It has started to heavily delve into the tourism sector, which has sparked a lot of economic development in the area. Because of its weather, low cost of living, and many other benefits there is also a very large and growing Ex Pat community. I would describe my neighborhood as more of a tourist area rather than gentrified even though a majority of the Centro Colonial of Merida has become more gentrified throughout the past 5 years. There was no internet at our house, one of the nearest access to WiFi is at Starbucks.

Me: Hey, I’m going to go to Starbucks, do you want to come?

Her: No, I’m fine. I went there early this morning and there were so many Americans that I just kept on walking.

Me: Oh… are you embarrassed to be American?

Her: Yeah. I don’t like standing out.

Me: Don’t you think just walking around as the lone white girl makes you stand out?

Her: Yes, that’s why I like to surround myself with Mexicans, so that I don’t feel different.

Me: You don’t think you stand out in your group of Mexican friends?

Her: I just feel like I fit in.

That’s where the conversation ended. I understand, that there might have been a lot of unspoken and misinterpreted meanings/ intentions/ semantics. I understand there are many reasons to be ashamed of US history (and present). What I don’t get is how does surrounding yourself with friends make you somehow forget about your difference? Well, I guess I do get it. I get how feeling like you fit in and having a community is very powerful in overcoming and even ignoring difficult situations but I personally just don’t believe it changes your innate identity.  From my interactions with this person, she does heavily identify as US citizen, albeit regretfully. So it does not seem like a matter of her not prioritizing that identity. It’s just as if she’s trying to hide it, trying to ignore it.

What frustrates me about this? Obviously there is a lot more background information that can’t be fully covered/ properly conveyed. But it’s how this perception has also affected our relationship. It made me feel like she’s also embarrassed of me, a proud (not obnoxiously) US citizen. I mean, she has also said that (cue previous conversation):

Her: It’s not that I don’t want to invite you guys to things, it’s just that when I’m in other countries, I like being the only one in my group of friends who is different like the “extranjera.”

Me: I think I get it.

Me (in my head): So you have sharing, attention, and self-confidence problems

::end of conversation::

I understand that I too have much to blame since I should have asked “why?” Next time. It’s really what we all need to be doing more…  asking why? What a beautiful flip-the-coin way of finding clarity of delving into complexity. I digress.

What also really flustered me about these conversations has been my own experience with being a minority. Maybe there is a social justice/ anthropology “sin,” I’m about to commit, but yes, I did compare my racial minority-ness in the US that I’ve experienced for the past 8 years with her national minority-ness that she experiences when she travels to Latin America.

::Flashback::

I don’t remember having white friends until I went to high school. There just simply weren’t white families where I lived.

When I entered the prestigious walls of my predominately white, high income, legacy boarding school, I immediately became self-conscious about my look, my tan, the way I spoke, my lack of money, my parents. I didn’t know what Uggs were or J Crew or Northface… but I did know, a semester later, that those were the items I was scavenging for in the Lost and Found bin right before study hall.  I was embarrassed of how I dressed and I was embarrassed that my family couldn’t afford to get me these things. (It also reminded me, that you just don’t lose things like that—things that cost money.) But this was how I was trying to resolve my conflict—my shame at how my racial identity manifested itself around The Other. So I understand where my friend was coming from when she felt uncomfortable—I could empathize.

However, I loved my racial and cultural heritage. I displayed my flags proudly in my room all 8 years that I was in boarding school and college. I threw myself into culturally focused groups and activities, even though I was surrounded by people who saw me as someone significantly less than them because of my race. They saw me as someone who would statistically drop out with an unplanned pregnancy, who’s parents were probably “Illegal,” or as a blight to our country (another flashback: one of my very rich white friends once showed me a text from his father that demanded that he stop hanging out with “that minority girl” (me) as if I was a disease his son could catch. I was 16 at the time. I still talked to my friend but a part of me believes that he had to have believed that too… that a part of that has to be ingrained in him because well… that is what he was surrounded with. Why did he even want to show me that text? He made no apology for it. I digress.)

On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States

Hanal Pixan (Day of the Dead Procession)

This writing is cathartic… I wish it had a stronger point for you, the reader. Reflect on privilege maybe? Reflect on (hiding and embracing) identity? Maybe understand that it’s hard to reflect on some of the more oppressive things about identity until you feel the relief of no longer being The Outsider (something I’m finding out more and more and I walk through streets without curious eyes asking what I’m doing here).

Anywho, maybe I was annoyed because she’s embarrassed of me being a US citizen—for standing out (which, I mean, if I don’t talk… I really don’t stand out. On the contrary, I stand out when I walk around with her… the irony). I guess my minority experience, like hers, was something that I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t escape that part of me even though I could find escapes ::difference::  I embraced my race because it was something that I was. It doesn’t change for me. It is who I am. It is my label. My difference. But I understand that many other people have labels that they can’t hide and that they wish they could change/ are in the struggle to change.

I didn’t have the support that I needed during the time to deal with the difference. I had to forcefully throw myself in things that could give me solace. The sad and yet, at the time, comforting fact was that there were a handful of other kids who were also going through the motions with me. Maybe that’s what my friend is trying to find… her escapes… her comfort to get through. I can get that. But maybe as some sort of witness to the stress, what is my role in supporting her in getting that comfort? Or maybe, I shouldn’t get involved because I fully believe that as an Outsider you have the opportunity to incite some change in the workplace, in your friend groups, etc. In fact, isn’t that what I am charged to do? That’s a big part of why I’m here. I am supposed to be The Other.

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