It was another week of building rapport amongst the villagers. I came across a few realizations along the way.
1. Life is different when you're the minority. I've never been the minority before in my life. I've never really been a foreigner before in my life. Once when I went to Greece and Italy for 2 weeks, but you don't get much of a cultural experience when you're busy being a tourist, shopping and looking at the world around you through a camera lens. Before I even open my mouth, everyone knows me as a güera. I already have a stereotype. Then when I do open my mouth, my accent adds to it, even if I'm speaking competently. It's not always a bad thing. It usually helps strike up interesting conversations, but it would certainly be different if I had cinnamon skin and a Mexican accent. I think, as humans, we don't like it when we don't understand something, so we make assumptions about other people. He's begging, so he's probably too lazy to find a job. She goes to a university so she must have worked hard to get there. They go to church every Sunday, so they must be a good family. We want to make sense of the world around us, so when someone looks different, we assume there is something different about their nature. We naturally stereotype people.
2. I had a really great conversation with a woman (we'll call her Maribel) for 2 hours. The most interesting part of the conversation came when we talked about illegal immigration. They live in the desert, but they majority of villagers depend on crops for survival. It's what their families have done for generations. They have homes that have existed for over 150 years. They know everyone in their town. It is their life. When the rains don't come, they can't just move. All they know to do is farm. They need money. They are experts at repairing their homes, sowing in the fields, picking crops, and herding animals. Their kind is a dying breed in the United States. They can get paid to do that there. If they go, their families won't starve. They can't wait a couple years for their papers to get in and be completely legal if they want to make sure their pregnant wife gives birth in a few months. They have to go. What struck me most was when Maribel said, "we aren't bad people." My heart melted. I know they aren't bad people. They welcome the gringos into their home. They feed us. They are eager to show us how to make goat cheese and sow in the fields. They ask us about our families and congratulate us when I tell them that my sister is engaged and ask about the wedding and how proud my parents must be. Their children come and greet me. They order a 20 gallon tank of water for me to keep in my room. They ARE good people. But they know that there is a stereotype in the United States against them. She told me about all her family members who are in the States right now and how she misses them. But there are no jobs in the ranchos. There are few more in the city which is an hour bus ride away. I think unemployment is worse here from what I've heard. My host mom, (we'll call her Salina), told me that her husband was out of work for 5 years, but always looking, and he was very qualified.
Now, I'm betting you're assuming Maribel's family members in the States immigrated illegally. You would be wrong. She told me how proud she was that they all had their papers. But, at the same time, she would be proud of them if they didn't have them. It's a dangerous voyage. I think most families would prefer it if they didn't have to go. But how couldn't they? How do you change the economy of an entire culture without irreparably changing the culture itself? You don't. It's impossible.
3. I went to Santa Rosa with my classmate (we'll call her Diana) on Wednesday. While we were waiting for another BYU student (we'll call him Carson) to arrive for our weekly group meeting, Diana, another student/our facilitator (we'll call him Max), and I were working on taking the paint off the roof of a casita so that they could add more cement on top to keep it from leaking during the "rainy" season. It was the middle of the day. Summer. The desert. Hot. We were banging on the roof with insufficient metal tools for a long time just to get a few square inches of paint chipped away. I got blisters. I laughed. I was an American in Mexico, doing the work that Mexicans stereotypically do in America. I pointed this out, and Max laughed and said he was thinking the same thing the day before. He said he understood now why so many Mexicans do this kind of work in the States. I did, too. They are good at it, because it's what they do at home. The difference is that in the States, we give them something better than a giant chisel or sickle to work with. No wonder Americans don't want to do this job. It's hard, especially if you don't have experience.
I suppose you could call this my rant on why I think we should respect our immigrants in the U.S. more. It probably won't be the last.