Travel Journal #4 — Gringa!

food marketAfter 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 Merida?” “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.spiced meat
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 Merida 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. Merida continues to challenge me in new ways everyday. Keep ’em coming my dear sweet Yucatecan city!Maya ruin
On a lighter note, a little day-to-day update. A routine has most certainly emerged, but it’s not dominating our time. We always find new adventures that Merida has to offer. Since our visit in Ticul, we have ventured to the yellow city of Izamal. All of the buildings are painted yellow, including the church known for sporting the second biggest atrium in the world (second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome). We finished our day in this magical city in horse-drawn buggies and enjoyed paletas (popsicles), this time dipped in chocolate.
Four other students and I have joined the people of Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana Del Divina Salvador (National Presbyterian Church of the Divine Savior) for Sunday morning service the past two weeks. I’ve never shaken so many hands or been welcomed so openly without even having to move from my seat. One of the elders introduced himself before service and asked us general small-talk questions. The next thing we realize, during the service’s announcements, the entire congregation was informed that there was a group of students visiting from Danville, Kentucky.
Fruit on the street is in close competition to the coco paletas that seduced my taste buds with such fervor. Mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, and more — drizzled with honey and dusted with granola, all for less than two dollars.
As I’ve said before, I’m continuing to be enchanted. Merida is a thriving city bursting at the seems with Yucatecan pride and excitement. Even if I have to be a “gringa,” I’ll most certainly accept the name in order to continue to be drenched with the rich Mexican culture that surrounds me.
by Demi Landstedt ’14, currently participating in the Centre-in-Merida study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in Merida.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): A church in Izamal, spiced spit-grilled meat (al pastor) at a restaurant, and students who climbed to the top of a Mayan ruin.

By |2012-03-16T15:00:51-04:00March 16th, 2012|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - Mexico|