I never thought about race until I came to Canada. I didn’t understand the meaning of race and white privilege from a western perspective until I left Mexico.
I’m a mestiza and I’ve always known that I’m not white. During my childhood I saw my mum as a person with light skin, I knew she wasn’t the same colour as me. On the other hand, my abue’s skin tone was darker, just like mine. That was as far as my thinking went, I just accepted this, I didn’t question it. I was surrounded by the large mestizo population of Mexico, where some people are darker than others, where blue eyes and blond hair are uncommon. Soccer players, politicians, my teachers were all mestizos. I didn’t see a great difference between the looks of our president and Don Juanito at my local corner store.
While growing up, I saw white people in leading roles in telenovelas yet, I didn’t know anybody that looked like them. In downtown Puebla, women begging for money with their kids wrapped around their backs were mostly indigenous; kids asking for money in the street corners were never white. People that visited the nicest mall in the city weren’t particularly dark. If you wanted to see kids with blue eyes you needed to visit a private school. That’s what I saw when I was a kid, and nothing really change after many years when I was an adult living there.
In Mexico, being white is better, but not really for the privileges that it entitles in the First World. In Mexico, white people are simply better people, they are prettier and believe me, looks matter a lot como te ven, te tratan (the way they see you, the way they treat you). Like María la del Barrio, you want to marry a white man so your kids can be white, therefore prettier. Men dream with having a güera as a girlfriend. Yes, it sounds terrible racist, but it is true. In Mexico we will discriminate against our own kind, but welcome blue-eyed gringos in our homes.
Like this Gabino Palomares’ song says…
Hoy en pleno siglo XX nos siguen llegando rubios
y les abrimos la casa
y los llamamos amigos
pero si llega cansado
un indio de andar la sierra
lo humillamos y lo vemos
como extraño por su tierra
Today, still in the twentieth century, if the blond ones arrive
we open our doors for them
and we call them friends,
But if a tired Indian
comes from the mountains
we humiliated him and we see him
as a foreigner in his own land
I moved to Canada 7 years ago, and I’ve come to understand what white privilege entitles in here. I learned theories and historical facts from my university classes, and I’ve personally experienced some these facts (some have been subtle, others more shocking and offensive).
I live in a very diverse city: Vancouver. I’ve never felt excluded from services or my basic rights because of my place of birth or skin colour. But I’m not white, and for some reason this fact matters much more here in Canada than back in Mexico. I’ve become Canadian, but I’m a woman of colour. I have a Canadian passport yet, I’m a minority. I’m married to a white man who will never fully comprehend many aspect of my Mexican culture in the same way I will never understand what being white means.
Of course there are more categories of oppression in this country, but race it’s a very powerful one. Sometimes I think I will never fulfill my potential because I’m not white. In Mexico, I never questioned my potential based on my skin colour. I know there are thousands of successful immigrants in this country, leaders, scientists, artists. But the fact that this thought has crossed my mind troubles me.
Race and me
Despite my age and academic background , sometimes I wonder how things would be if I was white, if I was blond. I’m confident I have these thoughts because I live in Canada. I know this because as a grown-up person back in Mexico, this thought never crossed my mind.
As a child, I wanted to be white like my kindergarten friend Teicu. I used to think she was beautiful; I loved her long ponytail, her patent leather shoes. Teicu was my classmate for 9 years; three years of kindergarten where I practically venerated her, and 6 more in elementary school where I found more friends and sort of forgot about her and the idea of being white. I guess more than wanting to be white, I wanted to be like Teicu.
Years went by without me thinking about my skin colour. Then I studied my final years of high school in a place I disliked in so many ways (I don’t write hate because 2 wonderful things happened to me in there). Many of my classmates were bullies and their reasons to discriminate against you were: 1) race, you needed to be white; 2) class, you needed to be rich; 3) name, you needed to have a last name that could be connected to money and status. Any combination was enough. Well, I wasn’t white, nor rich and neither had a fancy last name. Back then, I never thought Oh, I wish I could be white so they can like me. I didn’t want to be white, nor rich. I knew how stupid these people were, I couldn’t stand them and I didn’t want to be linked to them in any form. They were incredibly mean, but I was mature enough to ignore them, to focus on the things than I liked and the people who were worth talking to. I just wanted to finish high school so I could move on to university.
I loved my years at university in Mexico. Nevertheless, I saw discrimination in many forms, race was one of them, but mostly based on class. The acts I saw came from students, teachers and even the educational system. (I was so upset at many of these facts that I even wrote an essay the was published by the IFE)
Up to this point, all my personal stories about being white or issues on class and race, I saw them as mere acts discrimination. I never thought about race as an oppressive category for what I saw in Mexico. Yes, there are white people in Mexico, but they are the minority. To have power in Mexico, is not really related to race, but to class which leads to power, money, policy making, etc. White Mexicans are not the same as white Canadians.
Since I live in Canada I’ve come to realized how powerful race is, and its significance with intersectionality. However, I’ve concluded based on my own experience that white privilege doesn’t operate in the same way back in Mexico. Every time I talk to my mum, I find it very hard to explain who are these white people I’m constantly complaining about (she is always telling me to ignore them).
I cannot ignore white privilege, and at the same time I can’t deny who I am and where I come from. Despite my random thoughts of a white Silvia once in a while, I love who I am, I love being a mestiza. When I think about race, mestizaje and who I am, I always think of one of my favourite Mexicans, José Vasconcelos. I will use his words to close this very long post.
“…nuestra mayor esperanza de salvación se encuentra en el hecho de que no somos una raza pura, sino un mestizaje, un puente de razas futuras, un agregado de razas en formación: agregado que puede crear una estirpe más poderosa que las que proceden de un solo tronco”.
“…our biggest hope of salvation comes from the fact that we are not a pure race, but a mestizaje, a bridge of future races, a group of races being built; a group that can create a powerful lineage, even a more powerful one than those which originate from a single stem”.
Note: I should probably write more about this topic.