Monday, March 15, 2010

Own It

I am a big white alien baby. I’ve spent the last nine months trying to come to terms with this fact. I am the tallest woman anyone in my town has ever seen. I tower over almost every person here. My skin is paler than anyone else’s. I have strange habits – I eat greens, I go running, I wear glasses, and I read books for fun. I have more years of formal education than anyone else in the community, and yet I am singularly helpless when it comes to things like killing mice in my house, doing my laundry so that there are no stains on my clothes, cooking beans, making tortillas, and knowing the bus schedule by heart. But what can I do? I am a weirdo, and there is nothing that can change that. No matter how well-adapted I become, and no matter how good my Spanish gets, I will always be immediately identifiable as a gringa. In the most physical sense, I cannot hide.

Nor can I escape the obvious fact of my privilege as a person from the developed world. I have much more stuff than anyone else in my town – clothes, books, electronics, packaged foods, and all kinds of other things. It is easy for me to travel to this country and to work here legally, easy for my parents to come and visit me here, easy for me to travel around Nicaragua, easy for me to spend $20 without having to make sacrifices. When people see me, they see money. And even though I wouldn’t consider myself rich (especially now that I am earning a Nicaraguan salary), it is true that I have far more resources at my disposal than anyone else in my community.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: because it is impossible to hide, the best thing that I can do is to own up to who and what I am. My mistakes in Spanish, my freakish height, my relative wealth – I can’t pretend that any of these don’t exist. (And no one around me will let me forget it either.) The best I can do is be upfront and honest. I answer people’s questions when they ask them – what’s it like to fly in a plane, how much did those shoes cost, why do you have so many moles and where did they come from, etc. – I laugh at myself when I make a mistake, and I don’t try to pretend that I am anything I’m not.

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