Travel Journal: Mexico
After a rewarding night run, Sarah Bugg and I were craving some tacos al pastor for dinner. With quick showers and fresh faces, we hit the street, passing over to Paseo de Montejo with our eyes peeled for the restaurant we had been told served up a mean slice of carne. Our stomachs protested the hunger strike as we saw the column of fiery red meat calling to us like a beacon. Approaching the restaurant we greeted the staff with friendly smiles and “Holas” all around. The side glances and under-the-breath mumbles, however, were hard to miss. We sat down, enthusiastically ordered our drinks, and perused the various forms of al pastor being tucked into a tortilla that appealed to us to the highest degree. While we were waiting, a waiter kindly approached us and struck up a conversation. Small-talk always seems to be the order of the day. After all, we're just strangers on the street, each not knowing much about the other. “Where are you from?” “What are you doing in Mérida?” “How long are you here?” When the conversation ended (after an odd detour about this fellow’s childhood memory of a horse movie filmed in Kentucky), Sarah and I felt a little more comfortable. Our Spanish conversation had proven us to be a little more than just the common tourists looking for a good time.
Well, our assumption was very wrong. The check came—202 pesos. After a quick, estimated calculation in our minds, we pointed out to the waitress that the total was in fact 172 pesos. Without hesitation, or any moment to ponder, she quickly agreed, said we were right, and took our 200 pesos to the register to retrieve our change. Simple calculation error; no harm done. She returned, setting our change down and briskly returning to her post. 8 pesos...instant discomfort. Sarah’s and my eyes searched for answers in each others. Not allowing insecurity to overtake us, we politely flagged the waitress back to our table and informed her that we were due a total of 28 pesos in change. Before we could even finish, she was in agreement. She didn't need to think or run the numbers through her head. It was as if she already knew the answer. Feeling disrespected, we took our correct change and headed back onto the street.
Five feet, 10 inches and white; I'm the minority. The pondering stares, the honks on the street accompanied by “¡Gringa!”, the assumption that I'll not notice or be too intimidated to find my voice over an overpriced check. I knew Mérida had numerous new ideas and experiences for me to delve into, but I certainly didn't expect this. I've only recently realized that I've been experiencing only a taste of what most minorities face. I've caught myself discussing the idea with a few other students of how we'd like to just slip on our Mexican masks for a day or two and blend in; how we'd like to experience the city without openly displaying our “¡Gringa!” tattoos across our foreheads. "Gringa," not considered politically incorrect, has become a sensitive word for me. Here, I don't want to be “Gringa,” I want to be Demi—a similar wish I know millions of people make everyday in areas where minorities suffer much worse offenses. Mérida continues to challenge me in new ways everyday. Keep ’em coming my dear sweet Yucatecan city!
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