So a friend of mine said I should repost this on tumblr, sometime. This is an exerpt from my LJ from a few years ago, not long before I moved to the States.
First for some background: I am a white girl, the daughter of two white Americans, and I’ve lived my whole life in the Republic of Panama. I am Panamanian by birth, and I went to Panamanian schools for gradeschool and part of middle school. From there I self-schooled in an American school system, which occasionally required me to go to town to take proctored tests wherever my proctor (who was Colombian but taught Engilsh) could meet with me. I know Panama’s history, tipical dress, and in gradeschool knew some tipical dances. I speak Spanish. Panama is my native country, in so many ways.
This entry is one I wrote to describe a single day. Admittedly, it was a particularly busy one, with a lot of moving from place to place and lots of opportunity for various encounters, but it was still one day. I’ve clarified some wording, added an anecdote that was left out, and added some more information on what happened in some conversations or what my thought processes were. Largely, though, this was written in 09. Here it starts:
When my mother and I went to the grocery store at the end of the day I put the groceries on the check-out-counter’s conveyor belt. Just as I was finishing, a guy graciously moved the cart out of the way (because here the carts don’t leave the shopping area,and that’s what you do.) I went to stand on the other side of my mother, watching the groceries being bagged.
Mother: *Leans over to say quietly in English,* You know, that boy over there’s an attractive young man.
Me: ReallY? I wasn’t looking.
Mother: He’s smiling at you.
Me: Ah, that’s kind of why I’m avoiding looking.
Me: No, seriously. I can’t really look at any guy in the face here without making instant eye contact. That makes it so I can’t look above their shoulders… or below their ribcadge.
Mother: *Thinks that over.* Hmm. You have a point.
That’s a final, easy story at the end of a long day crammed down to a single last exchange.
First stop of the day was the bus stop. (Got there half an hour early, and the bus randomly came half an hour late.) So I got there and there were a couple of gentlemen, one a random relative of one of the kids in my children’s class, and another a Ngobe (native american) guy who I didn’t recognize. If it’d been any day but today I would have just stayed on the other side of the street and braved the sun, but Panama was one of the places being affected by a cold front coming in from the Atlantic, and I was half blind from dust because the road was only partially paved. At least around the bus stop there were bushes and a small ledge forming a protective shelter.
About fifteen minutes a new man who’d been there the last time I was (where I had unfortunately missed the bus, spending an hour then, too) walked over and greeted us. Er, sorry, I meant me. The two times he shook my hand he held on a little longer than he needed to, he mostly talked to me the entire time, he again remarked how I should stay instead of moving away (which was something he’d said at least five times last time we spoke,) and acted a bit bashful.
Let me rewind a little and point a few things out about him: this is probably the fourth time in eight years that we’ve spoken. He’s in his forties (at least,) has a constantly grizzled face and a sappy, romantic look, and probably has no intentions of doing anything besides farming cane and taking up odd jobs for the rest of his life. In spite of how little we’ve spoken and the fact that I didn’t even remember his name, the last time I went to the bus stop I innocently called over to his house (which is just behind the stop) and asked if the bus had passed yet. He then proceeded to sit with me for over an hour waiting, and pretty much babbled the entire time, repeating the same things just for the sake of talking, at one point repeatedly asking me if he could bring some processed sugar cane to my family’s home in a visit, asking againd and again when I hedged and gave vague answers until I finally said ‘sure’. (His smile faded to a pained look as I kept vague-answering, but he smiled hugely when I said yes.) He also said something about how the other guys at the trapiche (cane mill ) asked him why he liked me so much, and how he would reply to them that he didn’t know, he just did, he couldn’t help it. At the time I don’t think I really absorbed what he was saying, but I did later.
Today he kept talking too, and he and the kid’s-relative were basically the ones I talked with. The only time the Ngobe guy really spoke with me was when he asked something about my skin color. I think it was something like why my hands were paler than my arms and not a normal skin color, or maybe about arm color in general, or skin color in general—I never got to really understand what he was saying. Why? Because both the other men jumped in immediately and said it was because I was pretty, though the exact words they used were that ‘it’s because she’s a princess.’ Flabbergasted, I tried to ask the guy to repeat his question, and he kind of tried to, but the other men jumped in and answered for me again:
I’m a lovely princess.
After that bashful-forty yearold came to the bus stop today again, I’ve decided it for certain: I’m not going back to the bus stop, not for Taekwondo or youth group. There’s no guarantee when the bus will come, and spending two bus-waits with him, /unable/ to do homework, /unable/ to find some polite way to shut him up and stop him from confirming my suspicions of his quiet intentions… Not gonna happen.
I rode the bus. After that I took a Taxi from the station to a restaurant where I’d be having my History exam. That was fine—the taxi driver was the only one today who didn’t ask me where I was from, and instead said something about how windy it was just as we were arriving to the place I was going.
After the exam was done I got a Taxi and went to somewhere on the other side of town.
[Edit] If my memory serves me correctly, there was yet another story in this part that I never recorded at the time, because my thoughts at the time were different from what they were now, and the incident didn’t affect me then as much as it might have now. If this /was/ the same day, then there was a transvestite with me in the car when I got in. He was a man dressed as a woman (I have no idea what his gender identity was), but the car was silent as we went to drip him off first, and when he was out, the driver and I exchanged weirded out glances. [/Edit]
I tried to start a conversation with the driver that I could lead into religion. He looked to be at least thirty, unshaven, and heavy, and he somehow turned the conversation about how I was pretty, and that he liked girls who were tall, elegant, humble, pretty, simple… He asked me how old I was, he asked me my name, and while I still managed to turn the conversation towards safer grounds by the end, I still felt disturbed.
[Edit] Again, if this is the same trip, I remember worrying over the fact that we were driving through so many back roads in random neighborhoods. Nothing came of this, but the fact that I worried that I was being taken somewhere isolated for whatever unpleasant reason was a thing. [/Edit]
After that I met up with my Mom, and we went to a Driver’s Ed place. By the end of that I was tired enough that I almost cried when the lady behind the desk turned to me; she’d been half-talking with someone else, the stairs weren’t good enough for my Mom-with-a-bad-back to be with me, and I wound up needing to climb up and down to relay messages and questions. The lady didn’t have a planner-scheduele where she planned anything beyond tomorrow (Friday) or Monday. Hell, even Monday—she said I’d work it over with my instructor tomorrow. She said ‘we can’t plan as far ahead as Wednesday’, when I asked her if coming in on that day would work.
But wait, the subject of race came up, even if it was just in passing: she asked me if I understood Spanish, to know if I’d be able to understand the sheet of stuff the instructor would want me to know by tomorrow. I told her yes.
From there I took a Taxi to the hospital, because I had a couple of things I’ve needed to do for a while. On the Taxi ride there the driver seemed to know the lady he was already busy taking somewhere, and they both asked me where I was from. For a bit of variety, at least this time they asked me if I was from Germany. Or rather, the driver did—the lady was stepping out to check on something at some dry-cleaner’s, and when she got back he said, ‘Hey, -lady’sname-, this girl’s Panamanian! I thought she was German!’
She was, of course, appropriately impressed.
At the hospital’s waiting room there was a girl about eleven or twleve years old, standing with her Mom for a little while while her Mom talked with the receptionist. She looked at me until I looked back at her, whereupon she looked away. When I looked away again she started looking at me again. She stared at me until she left.
And I’ve been asked why I don’t like going out… The reason why I don’t like going out is because I have no way to drive myself. And hell, even if I could it wouldn’t be an escape. Maybe if I did something with friends and with friends only… but the only times I’ve done that I’ve had to at least do bus stops on the way. And if I were in a car, sooner or later I’d need to stop for gas.
It’s a minor reason, but it’s defenitely a quietly significant one: I want to go to the States because there I might be invisible. What more do I need to do to stop being looked at the wrong way here? I’ll never fit in, but at least I don’t want to be seen as a smear of womenflesh. I’m wearing very modest clothes, I don’t wear makeup, my clothes aren’t at all local fashion—if they were, they’d be considerably more revealing, and my paleness would be a blazing streak of white in a sea of browns and tans. Do I need to stop brushing my hair, or something? Should I start wearing clothes that haven’t been washed recently? Wait, no, that wouldn’t work, because then I’d look like a backpacker, and gringas are also backpackers, and gringas are still sexy. Even if they’re book-focused eighteenyearolds who have no intentions of meeting anyone’s gaze.
God damn this. This isn’t right. This shouldn’t have to be happening. I don’t want to go to town tomorrow, because it’s always the same thing with anyone I talk with, be they people I know and people I don’t. Then again, I’m very well aware of the fact that if foreigners aren’t out there getting people acostomed to thier presence, then it will never change.
Why am I talking to strangers in the first place? Because talking with people is the only way I get to teach the Baha’i Faith right now, and while I always get asked the ‘where’re you from’ question, it hasn’t been until today that I’ve been hit on by a taxi driver. Chances are that from now on I’m only speaking with women, though.
God damn this.
… At least the doctor was nice.
Long story short, one way to interpret this is to say that in places where they are a minority, white people are fetishized. Another conclusion to add is that minorities don’t fit in, whatever they are and wherever they are.
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