Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I've never really been, but I'd sure like to go.

I'm going to Mexico in a couple of days. I will get the other half of the NWSA piece up later this month, or before I go if I get a chance. I'm going a little crazy getting my stuff together for my trip.

But I did want to post about a weird thing that keeps happening. I'm not going on vacation. This is a work thing, and I'm going to be meeting with local folks for most of the time and hearing about the work they are doing on behalf of women and indigenous communities. I will see some beautiful places, yes, but this is not a party, and I will not be on a beach somewhere. I expect to be completely overwhelmed by the poverty I will see first-hand, and to be very moved by and empathetic toward the struggles that people will be sharing with me. I expect that it will turn my little U. S. American world upside down, and that my frantic shoe-shopping right now (because I don't have any shoes that I can walk in, which in itself speaks volumes about privilege, doesn't it? That my shoes are not made to walk in?) will very shortly seem entirely frivolous. And on an even more selfish note, I expect to feel confused and frustrated and stupid because I am a U.S. citizen who doesn't speak Spanish who is immersed in someone else's culture that I don't really understand and in which I am sure to make mistakes. So, yeah, while I'm sure it will be enjoyable at times, this is not me going on a touristy vacation.

So, first, when I tell people I'm going to Mexico, they all say, "Great! You must be so excited! That's going to be a blast!" and I say, "Well, no, I mean, yes, I am excited to go, but I don't think it's going to be 'fun,' exactly," and I explain why. Which totally brings them down. And then I try to cover over the awkward pause by explaining that I'm running around like crazy trying to find appropriate clothes, at which point they helpfully suggest "shorts and a tank top!" And then I have to say, "no, that's not really appropriate for where I'm going; we've been told to dress more modestly and not to wear those things." And then they get defensive, and tell me that the organization planning my trip, which is actually headquartered in the area I'm visiting (has been there for many years) and has an excellent reputation (locally and internationally, in fact), probably just doesn't know what the local standards are for dress. Because, you know, when they/their boyfriend/their cousin's best friend went to Mexico, they all wore shorts and tank tops, and it was just fine.

As my (well-traveled) friend pointed out to me when I shared this story with her, "There's a reason Americans have the reputation they have."

So anyway, I'm off to pack, and I will see you soon.


Vanessa said...

Have you ever read Jamaica Kincaid's "A Small Place?" She talks about Western Tourism quite a lot.

Also recommended, with bits taken from that book, is the film Life and Debt, about Jamaica, which also deals quite a bit with stupid tourism.

In any case, hope you have a productive trip!

Plain(s)feminist said...

I am sadly underread when it comes to Jamaica Kincaid. Thanks for the recommendations - I will check them out!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear about your trip.

Daisy said...

Yes, hope the trip is productive and everything you want it to be.

Good luck--and looking forward to reading about it, also!

Halfie said...

If it makes you feel any better, I've been living in Mexico for seven years, and have never lived anywhere near places like Cancun or Los Cabos.

But I tell people that I live in Mexico, not Mexico City, but about an hour and half from Mexico City, and the first thing that many people say is, "Wow! You must visit Cancun/Los Cabos/Fill in a tourist beach place in Mexico here all the time! You're so lucky!"


If ever tourist who came to Mexico came in as humble and aware as you, Mexico would be a hell of a different place in the summer! :)

Green said...

That let-down reaction you get? I get that every single time somebody finds out I don't drink. I can't even begin to tell you how many times people have said to or in front of me, "Never trust people who don't drink."

I hope you are inspired, don't forget sunscreen and bug spray, and give us Americans a better name, through appropriate clothing.

Anonymous said...

I did not get to read your post before you left. Those are some interesting comments you received. My bf lived in France a few times and she has great stories on how she was told she did not act like an American (but also a very different place than where you are going in Mexico).

I hope your trip goes (went) well for the purposes you were there. I