On Being Sorta Gringa

I’m a brown girl. I’ve always felt lucky to have a year round tan and be able to avoid the seemingly endless string of sunburns my more fairskinned friends suffer. But I’ve become more and more aware of just how much grief I am saved here by sporting a little extra melanin.

Two weeks ago a few volunteer friends visited my site to do some cultural exchanges with my youth groups. They are all of the white skinned variety (one was especially eye-catching with long, blonde locks) and we crisscrossed my muni numerous times getting to and from the youth groups. And, friends, I have never felt so noticed. Whistles and lots of “Hellos” and other random smatterings of heavily accented english and stares. It was weird and kind of uncomfortable because I never get that kind of attention in my muni – not even when I first got here. And it was kind of exhausting.

And then last weekend I went to visit some other volunteer friends in their site for their feria. I enjoyed some loteria and a strange bodybuilding competition and the rodeo. But, unfortunately, the weekend wasn’t all carnival food and bulging men flexing in man panties. Two of the volunteers in this site have been dealing with a crazy man that likes to follow them in the market and try to touch them while proclaiming his love for them. Why? Because they have blue eyes of course. So crazy man (yes, I know that’s not a very nice or politically correct thing to call him – but it seems that everyone in the town calls him that and I never really caught his real name) strikes again while we’re all enjoying ice cream cones and walking through town. He literally chased us down yelling about how much he loved these volunteers and singing to them and trying to push people out of the way so he could get to them. Needless to say, the girls were scared of his advances and attempts to touch them and I was a little scared that things would get violent. We had to hide in a tienda. Police had to be called. All because of their blue eyes.

After these incidents, I have so much more respect for my fellow volunteers that have to deal with this all the time. So much patience! I also feel like I’m kind of cheating since I so easily fly under the radar. However, I do have to deal with a strange counter problem: People here don’t believe I’m American.

Once I start speaking my lackluster Spanish it becomes clear that I am not originally from Guatemala. But no one seems to believe that I am from the States or that I am a “real” American. I must have family in Guatemala that I’m visiting. Or maybe I was born there but I’m not really “Americana”. And it always comes back to “What are you really?”

So I start to explain that my father grew up in Oregon and my mother grew up in the Philippines and suddenly their eyes light up. “Oh, that’s why you’re morena! So, you’re really Filipina.” And it’s a little disheartening because it feels like they are denying me my own history. Yes, I identify with my Filipino heritage, but really, I’ve never lived there and I don’t even speak the language (sad, I know). I grew up and consider myself, first and foremost, an American. So I attempt to explain this and try to 2nd goal it up by referencing the whole melting pot/mixed salad idea and it’s kind of an involved conversation that takes a while.

But I guess it’s better than being hollered at all the time. So, white volunteers in Guatemala, I salute you.

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3 Responses to On Being Sorta Gringa

  1. DD says:

    Be proud to be Filipino-American!

  2. Ta Na Na Na says:

    so i would die there. awesome.

  3. Frederick Wolfe says:

    Carm, I feel the same way about my own history. Half Chinese, half Brazilian, first and foremost American. It’s weird when other people try to guess my nationality and are kind of disappointed when I’m not what they thought I am.

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