One of the little known aims of our semi-recent great Latin American adventure was to make a little more sense of my culture and who I am. I wanted to see mis raices, my roots, and the culture that I came from. Born of Mexican descent (well, actually, if you really want to get technical I’m also 25% white), I’m a second generation American. I came back even more confused than when I left. I’m still grasping to comprehend what happened. While I didn’t think it was possible to become more cynical about being Latina, I was proven wrong.
Traveling as a Latina from the United States has put me in a unique situation. When sitting down to talk to other travelers, I had things happen where I couldn’t relate to other “gringa” travelers. I was stuck. I was too Latina to be a “gringa” but pegged as one when traveling with my dearest pasty husband (Please note that being Latina does not necessarily mean Mexican.). At home I have always been too “white” to be Mexican and too Mexican to be white. I float in this very confusing sea in between the two, picking and choosing the cultural norms and traditions I want to have in my life.
Being more tan than other people has both its advantages and disadvantages. My blonde counterparts would be whistled at, wolf called, and a whole slew of other sexual innuendos thrown their way. I went under the radar, unnoticed. But when it came to needing to hitch rides back into town after hikes, we were put in an interesting situation. We couldn’t get a ride. We couldn’t get people to stop. While being blonde was exotic, they looked at me with distaste. “We have plenty of YOU here.”
***I should put an addendum here. I had no issues when I was in Mexico. Mexicans loved me. They took me in. It was only when I was in Panama, Guatemala, Argentina, etc., that I received the brunt of the abuse.
Being of Mexican descent put me in an awkward situation as well. While Telemundo and Univision are cultural bastions based out of Mexico city, I found many people throughout Latin America with very strong reactions when finding out my roots. No one wants to be Mexican. We are at the bottom of the social totem pole of in Latin America. It was like I felt like I was back in the United States, neither place really wants me there. In Argentina I even had a woman smile and very condescendingly call my Mexican Spanish “cute” and pat me on the head. People would refuse to reply to my Mexican Spanish words, and instead, correcting me when I said them. Come on guys, you know what I’m saying. What is with all the snobbery?
I am not even going to tell you about the many times I got pulled out of the immigration and customs line to have my backpack checked thoroughly. At the Argentina border, coming from Bolivia, I got a snicker from the immigration officer who didn’t believe I was an American citizen. He looked at my passport carefully, top to bottom, to check for inconsistencies. It was only when Shaun told them that I was his wife that they stopped searching my bags for drugs and told me to get out of the way as I was taking up their time. After that border check our bus got pulled over and I was placed in line for a full cavity check. Shaun saved me once again.
I had people (outside Mexico) ask me if I wear sombreros, love tequila, and if I used the word “pinche” all the time. Locals would act out in stereotypical cadences and over exaggerated movements to show me what they thought Mexicans were like. I felt like I was explaining myself to a whole new demographic. Most of all, I was hearing the same racist rhetoric I heard at home, just in a new language.
You can imagine how confused I felt when I came home. A bit more lost, a bit more concerned, and a bit more of an identity crisis in tow. While I desired to learn more about my “culture” I realized that outside Mexico, I was just as much of a stranger.
It has taken me this long to even be able to talk about it. While I’ve only shared this dark secret with close friends and colleagues, they have convinced me to share my story. I want people to know that they aren’t alone.