Monday, April 29, 2013

Skin and Color and Social Media

When I first moved to Mexico, my Spanish was not perfect. It isn't perfect now, I still make some grammatical errors every now and again when I write. But then again, I know plenty of native speakers of English and Spanish that don't speak perfectly. But when I tell people that I am not originally from Mexico, they act surprised or ask if one of my parents is Mexican. And yes, my mother is Mexican. I identify myself as Latina with Eastern European heritage and have never liked the term "white". It bothers me when people base opinions based on skin color. But it happens to me all the time, and I know I have formed opinions about others based on their skin color and how they look.

Recently I had a series of very heated exchanges on Facebook with some family members and their extended family members. It had a lot going on: from violence, to forgiveness, to religion, to feminism, to respecting other people's opinions, these exchanges got so heated that several of us decided to "sever" Facebook ties. I am very aware that relationships on Facebook are not real relationships in the sense that they are a part of social media. Social media is great circulating information, connecting people who might otherwise never get the chance to exchange dialogue but it is also a great place to get your feelings hurt by people you've met once or might not even know at all. It is also a great place to misinterpret and misunderstand other people's issues and daily lives. Facebook users can take things really personally or not personally at all.

But back to skin and color. My skin color has always been something other people take issue with and wanting to please others, I have worried about how "latina" or "unlatina" I look for years. Once in college, a woman of color who was supposed to be helping me get support for a class I was struggling with told me that since I was white I wouldn't have to go to graduate school to get a good job. That was my introduction to race and academics. Here in Mexico, I have often seen ESL teachers with blue eyes and blonde hair, who "look the part" of a foreigner, get promoted to coordinators or directors, while often better qualified teachers of color (sometimes Mexican) get passed over because they don't look the part. 

In my extended Mexican family children with light skin and fair hair are fawned over and are told how "guap@s" they are with their "ojos de color" (colored eyes, which means their eyes aren't brown.) As the mother this irks me, children with brown eyes are gorgeous and deserve fawning over as much as kids with blue or green eyes do. My own grandmother was notoriously racist. When a German born, ethnically Ashanti-Ghanaian friend told me that my grandmother made him feel uncomfortable and asked if she ever made racist remarks,  I felt so embarrassed and sad. If my grandmother had emigrated to the USA like one of her sisters did, would she have realized her own ignorance and hate went against those religious values she spent so much time telling us about? 

I wish this topics didn't leave me with more questions than answers. But after these past few weeks of socal media drama, I am so glad that I do question. I have tested my thesis once again:  I am here to learn, my learning is the answer to my reason for being. In this talk at a TEDx event, Jyoti Gupta talks about skin color or colorism. Her talk goes much deeper into this topic. And don't think because you are "light skinned" this doesn't impact you, because it does. It impacts us all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Beer Fest and the The Lost Boy: A Life Lesson

Local breweries showing their finest

This past weekend the second Festival Gastro Cervercero, set up camp in the Orchidarium annex. We spent several hours there; Chris Sanchez’s Blues Band played, there was Pirekua group as well and a jazz duo. There was a small organic/local farm market where several producers, like Las Canoas Altas, Triskel and Rancho Los Nogales offered their products.

Chris Sanchez Band

And with this break from daily routine, the beer fest was the backdrop for one of the things many parents dread; a lost child. We had arrived hours earlier and set up base camp at Contentedor de Arte’s (CAC) tent where local artists were hard at work painting petates (woven mats) with beer inspired artwork. Since my children are artistically inclined, they joined in the painting and after several hours of hard work, we took a break for some food. 

Painting beer fest artwork

Base Camp: Contendor de Arte's mobile workshop

We were offered free food for being part of the exhibitors and as I went to show my bracelet and my four year old son appeared saying “I want a torta too!” Already carrying a baby, I told him to follow me back to the tent since the torta vendor wasn’t willing to give us any food. Putting the baby back in his stroller, shaded from the incessant sun, I started walking back to base camp, when I remembered I needed to give a friend her cellphone (I had been carrying it). It was seconds after I gave my friend her phone when I saw  my four year old was gone. 

Did he follow me? Did someone come and grab him while I was distracted talking to my friend? I turned to look for him at the food tent; he wasn't there or back at base camp. I went straight to woman with the mic: the festival MC and asked her to call out his name. I was sure he would pop out from behind something (he likes to hide sometimes). He didn't show. The lead singer in the Pirekua band announced his name, over and over. As they called his name over the sound system, I started walking through the empty space between the crowd and the stage; people were staring at me. 

The Pirekua band began up again. Panic rose in my throat and with the Pirekua group’s fiddle as the soundtrack of my own personal drama, I started running down the central aisle of the beer fest, pushing a stroller and  screaming my child’s name. 
It was absolutely terrifying. Several moments of the screaming and onlookers asking me what he looked like, my mind had him gone from me; he was the lost child. A friend appeared, “calm down calm down” she said, “he’s here.” My eyes scanned wildly, “where!?” I yelled. And there he was, index finger in mouth, his legs crossed, holding on to one of the artist’s hands, looking guilty and scared and like the most beautiful thing I could have ever seen in my life, my child, my lost boy was found.

After hugs and kisses and self-recrimination, I realized we were surrounded by people offering us food, drink, consolation: it’s ok, he’s here, nothing happened, it’s ok. Afterwards, people were so understanding and concerned that it was a little hard for me to process: I can be so harsh and judgmental with myself and others that this was a real life lesson in being alert and living in the now.

The found boy and artist at work

PS- Morelia is a colonial city. It is also a bustling, modern day hub of comings and goings, drama and stress; a cacophony of garbage bells, music blaring from trucks selling natural gas cylinders or the traveling green grocer or the merchant that buys and sells old metal (fierro viejo). A midst the chaos of everyday life, there are moments that show me to appreciate that life is more than a harsh mixing of sounds; it can change in a second and I can only ever live it now.