Monday, February 18, 2013

The White Girl on the Block

Some days I notice it more than others. There are moments when it feels awkward, like I'm imposing. I have even felt guilty because of the assumptions people have made about me, most of which were actually false. I walk down the street feeling like the lone marshmallow in a field of M&M's. What am I talking about, you may ask? Being the only white girl on the block. 

Back in college I took a course titled Diverse Populations where we talked all about racial, sexual, and ethnic differences. Though I learned a lot from the class and gained awareness of the types of discrimination that exist in the world,  I never really experienced prejudice or racism firsthand. Now I'm not going to say that anyone here has intentionally made hurtful remarks about my race, because that would be a lie, but for the first time in my life, I know what it's like to be the black sheep. Except I'm not black. I'm white.

I have said for some years now that at some point in my life I wanted to experience being the minority (Although I have definitely been in the minority in many settings: age, sex, etc. In this case I was speaking primarily of race). Well, I am now living in a community that is quite diverse, but whose residents are all Latino. Ecuadorian. Most have indigenous blood, to varying amounts. Of course, not everyone here is the same color, but I will say one thing: I am the only Caucasian person in this one-horse town. And that has led me to several realizations.

1. When walking down the street, there is no way to not be noticed. I've become accustomed to staring (curious, not unfriendly) eyes. Everyone knows who the young gringa is, even if I don't know them. It feels like there's a constant spotlight on me.

2. I am 99% sure to be questioned when meeting new people: Where are you from? Why are you here? Legitimate questions, which I try to answer honestly (even when it gets old). This is a correct assumption that I'm not from here, which I sometimes wish I could take away. If I just had a darker face with no freckles, and black hair, no one would doubt that I'm Ecuadorian. I would blend right in.

3. People assume I have lots of money, listen to Marilyn Monroe and Hoobastank, and have never in my life seen a puddle (true story: a man told me that he thought puddles did not exist in the U.S. because we have such advanced technology!). But that's mostly after they find out I'm American.

At first, it was really uncomfortable even walking around by myself, anticipating the gawking looks I would receive. For years I have taken for granted the ability to go about my business, without being noticed by strangers. This experience has made me realize the privileges I have in the U.S., being in the majority in my town and neighborhood. Stepping into the shoes of minority races in the U.S., I can now see how it feels to be sitting in a room of all white people, feeling that your opinion might not be considered fairly, and dealing with the racist attitudes that some people unfortunately still harbor.

Racism still exists today. Sadly, I have heard several backhand comments about "negritos", people of African descent, and "indios", individuals of indigenous blood, here in Ecuador. Multiple times in the city, in various settings, I have witnessed stereotypes spoken about both of these groups. Though maybe the intention was not to hurt or under appreciate, these generalizations promote hard feelings and suspicions toward certain groups of people, which are utterly incorrect. My skin boils to hear a pastor talk as if all black people can't be trusted, and a friend to mention indigenous customs as if they were inferior to the modern lifestyle.

Today I am thankful for the opportunity I have to live in a community where people are unique, and also like me. Though we look different, and come from separate cultures, we have much in common. Our beliefs, feelings, and common experiences bring us together. No matter if you're black or white, or somewhere in between, you are a human being, and you are valued. You are important in this world. You are loved. So I will gladly be the only white girl on the block. Because what is important is not my color, but my heart.

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