In Mexico, people would rather talk about religion, politics or soccer — all of which are pretty polarizing topics in my hometown — than talk about racism. For the most part, the idea of “color blindness” has historically prevailed. We, as a society, choose to ignore the sheer diversity under the category of “Mexican” and idealize only a small percentage of the population: light-skinned Mexicans, otherwise known as “whitexicans.”
The term by itself is pretty self-explanatory. However, it stands for so much more than just being a light-skinned individual. Whitexicans come from a privileged background within Mexican society and are usually known to be oblivious to the reality of the vast majority of the population. Whitexicans are thought of as a big joke in Mexico, from their accents to the way they dress (usually wearing a “Mexico is the s—” bomber jacket). The whole country makes fun of them.
All jokes aside, I reject the whole idea behind whitexicans. It is a term that is intrinsically racist — it devalues the life experiences of millions of people because they don’t have the “right” education or the “right” connections to other people. I also have a problem with people showing pride in Mexican culture abroad but adopting classist and racist conduct once their planes land back home.
I have a distinct struggle with the label of whitexican when it comes to my own life. I fit most of the criteria: I’m white-passing, bilingual, I attend a private university in Mexico and have the opportunity to study abroad here at UC Berkeley. Nevertheless, “whitexican” is a label I do not willingly accept because of its lack of social consciousness — the “whitexican” reality is a bubble far from what most Mexicans experience on a day-to-day basis. I can’t ignore the fact that looking “whitexican” has saved me from experiencing racism in everyday encounters. Quite the opposite occurs: The words güera or güerita are thrown my way in the streets as compliments and praise.
Since arriving at UC Berkeley, the word “microaggression” has had a new meaning to me. Back home, sexist remarks in everyday conversations are known as micromachismos. Although an extremely normalized aspect of Mexican culture, I can identify them. Still, after coming to UC Berkeley, I wasn’t familiar with being discriminated against based on where I come from or the language I speak.
These occurrences have come in small doses within mundane interactions. They usually consist of a quick remark that is not meant to have much significance within a conversation, almost like a thought not meant to be taken seriously.
I’ve encountered these microaggressions in explicit ways, such as receiving praise for my English-speaking abilities, which I have been told are “unfathomable” for a Mexican. These remarks go unaddressed in a conversation, but I spend days replaying that same exchange in my head because I can’t help to feel unsettled by how it all played out.
In order to make sense of these latter interactions, I have resorted to the coping mechanism of many overthinkers: dropping all of my thoughts into my phone’s Notes app.
There, I have a list titled “Interactions that weren’t outwardly racist but felt like it.” That list is a compilation of many awkward moments of silence and uncomfortable glances. At the very top of the list is a time when me and my roommate, Marcela, decided to go to the Target in Emeryville. At the store, we were speaking Spanish, as we often do, because that’s our first language. It never occurred to us that someone was listening.
In the middle of our conversation, a woman approached us with a loud and slow tone, as if making sure to enunciate each syllable to make sure we understood.
Her inquiry was simple: “By any chance, do you know how to pick avocados?”
Totally weirded out, I told her that I don’t eat fruit (which is true) and that I don’t know how to pick them (also true). My roommate, who is far more patient than me, ended up helping her even though she actually didn’t know how to pick them either.
Was that woman racist? If we weren’t there, would she ask anyone else that wasn’t speaking Spanish? These questions flooded my brain for a while, but I’ve accepted the fact that we’ll probably never know. My roommate and I laugh about it now, especially about our palpable “failure” as Mexicans due to our inability to pick one of our national fruits.
Even though microaggressions, whether explicit or unnoticed, are meant to make me feel like the other, they have given me an opportunity to realize aspects of my Mexican identity. At the end of the day, I now know that I’m proud Spanish is my first language and of the historical significance that comes with it. My time here has made me reframe the bad connotation that surrounds the slogan “Made in Mexico.” Sure, it’s a deeply flawed country, but some of my favorite things are made in Mexico: tacos, mural art and the best people in my life.