Friday, May 4, 2012

Harold the Gringo

"Guero, guero"!  The food vendors shouted as we arrived at the Mexico City airport.   "Whitie, whitie, what are you going to eat?"  We looked around for the nearest white male.  The women were pleased to have finally captured Harold's attention, offering him further breakfast options.....

A week later, Harold stopped by an old friend's house to say hi.  As she was unavailable, he asked her daughter to convey his greetings.  We subsequently found out she had told her family a "foreigner" had come by, looking for her mom.  

"Hello, my friend!", shouted the middle-schoolers on break from class in Puerto Escondido, as we passed on our way to the beach.  Harold responded in Spanish, and they looked surprised, and kept shouting English phrases in our direction.  

Harold, not having previously identified as white, light-skinned, Caucasian, or the like, simply chuckles at these potential instigators of an identity crisis.  In the "where are you from" section of hotel registration forms, he sometimes puts "Oregon".  Taxis and restaurants try to overcharge him.  Oaxacans, bewildered at his lack of familiarity with his homeland after a thirteen-year absence, ask him to confirm he is indeed "from here".  One senora, when asked where she thought the two of us were from, simply scratched her head and said "I have no idea".  

There are not many Americans around here, so my nationality is not obvious to locals.  This is beside the fact that I have historically been mistaken for Russian, Slovakian, Italian, French, Argentine, etc, throughout my life, depending on my company, attire, hairstyle, and tan.  As a teen in Mexico, Harold was often mistaken for a European backpacker.  People essentially look at us and go "WTF"?  But we like it.  Perhaps it bodes well for our future travels, as we wear our respective nationalities in a subtle manner, thereby inviting curiosity. 

The anthropologist in me reflects on "nature vs nurture" (points go to nurture on this one), and the relationship between ethnic stereotypes and nationality.  "Mexican" and "American" are nationalities, after all, and do not describe Harold's mixed Zapotec/Maya, African, Spanish, and possibly Italian ancestry, or my German, Dutch, Irish, English, French, and Cherokee heritage.  Where, ultimately, do we come from?  Guess it's time to do one of those mail-in mitochondrial DNA tests, because this stuff is fascinating.  I leave you with this somewhat nerdy post for now, as I gear up for some more photo sharing tomorrow.

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