From the moment we landed in Puebla, Mexico, it was clear that we stood out. We look different, we dress differently, even take up space differently. And to top it all off, the majority of us in the Program don’t speak Spanish fluently. And then there’s the fact that we travel in a pack. No one passing us by on the street could mistake us for locals.
As a White, blonde female, in the United States, nobody looks at me twice when I’m out in public; I blend in. So this sense of being ¨other¨ here has been somewhat of a strange experience for me. However, this experience has also opened my eyes to the vast difference that exists in the way one is received being an American ¨other¨ in Mexico versus being Mexican or Mexican-American in the United States.
Here in Puebla, although I have felt different and sometimes uncomfortable because I stand out, I have not been made to feel belittled or devalued by the people here. On the contrary, everyone I have come into contact with has been incredibly kind, welcoming, and accepting.
On one of our first nights here, another student and I were walking around El Zόcalo, or the city center, speaking in a mixture of English and Spanish, when an older man approached us and asked if we spoke English. When we said we did, he proceeded to ask us where were from and then said to us, ¨My house is your house. Welcome to Mexico!¨ He told us to enjoy ourselves here, and we went our separate ways.
Although I have many more examples of such kindnesses we’ve experienced during our first week here, I’ll just share one more: This afternoon while four of us students were taking a taxi back to our hotel, our conversations with our taxi driver ranged from talking about Mexican soccer teams, life in Puebla, machismo in the U.S. and Mexico, and finally about food. In talking about traditional food in Puebla, our taxi driver recommended that we eat at El Mercado de Sabores, a market that sells only local, traditional food. After describing for us what and where it was, he then told us he was going to break the rules and drive us past the Mercado so we could see where it was.
This was just so incredible to me that he would go out of his way, taking time out of his day for which he was not getting paid, to share a part of his community and culture with us. It was something that I could never imagine happening in the United States; I can´t see a taxi driver going off-route, without charging the passengers, to show visitors to the U.S. a good place to visit.
Overall, as an American in Mexico, I have felt incredibly welcome here, and for this I am thoroughly grateful. However, I can’t help but think about the opposite experience, that of Mexicans in America, and it saddens me to think about how poorly we treat visitors, immigrants and citizens of Mexican descent. No one here in Mexico has glared at me in the street, told me I am an intruder in their country, told me that I’m in Mexico and need to learn Spanish when I am struggling to express myself – experiences all too common for Mexicans in the United States. Having experienced such warmth and kindness from so many here in Mexico, I hope that by sharing this experience with others, through this blog and once I’m back home, I can help to break down the stereotypes of Mexicans that exist in America and hopefully make the experience of Mexicans in America more like my experience as an American in Mexico.