30 September 2009

Señora Propano

The propane resupply was too easy. It was so easy in fact that I am suffering from Puritan guilt. That will be gone in a few more minutes.

I did finally decide to return to the establishment with which I did propane business before, way down the highway toward Dolores Hidalgo. I traded tanks and got another decent one in return. However, this brought me back face to face with the woman I think of as Señora Propano. Señora Propano is not Señora Pollos Enteros--Mrs. Whole Chickens--in attitude, demeanor, carriage or anything else for that manner. She mans an exalted work station in the office and dresses noticeably well. Perhaps she is the owner. She has that air about her. You cannot duck her. There is no dealing directly with the help there. And she takes the money. This woman hates me.

Here is the classic situation that can occur, particularly in the case of a member of a minority as I am here, where one is compelled to wonder if she hates me for what I am, a norteamericano with shaky Spanish. She cannot possibly hate me for who I am for the simple reason that we have had such limited contact. I have run into this before, an encounter with a Mexcan during which the hatred directed at me was nearly palpable. Not often at all, I hasten to add. I have not written of this before. Perhaps the time has come now while Señora Propano is on my mind.

Anyone wishing to explore the smoldering resentment in the hearts of some Mexicans need not look far. My very favorite English language blog concerning México is the Mex Files. The entry entitled About the Mex Files is a brief history of the blog, which is literate, opinionated, highly informative, and very favorably disposed toward México. Among the many comments are several from the Mexican citizenry. Several of those are less than warm. If you scroll down, you will find one authored by El Grapaduro in English dated 25 February 2009 that will blow your hair back.

Oh, what the hell. I believe I have complied with the attribution request of the folks at The Mex Files, and I believe that this is fair non-commercial use. Let me quote that comment in its entirety for you here. I am not going to insult this gentleman further by inserting [sic] at the appropriate points in his text.

I can not believe this! One commentator to this website says that he owns a house in Mexico, but lives in New England…Another says he owns a house near an are where it is nice to hike, providing you drive a car “the locals can recognize.” And this site professes to be pro-Mexico!?

Of course, there are those who mock the American colonies in Mexico, the retirement communities, etc…

And still, the liberal students call Cortez a bastard and they write solemn eulogies to the natives…

All of this is nothing but the true state of Mexico…a colony of the Anglicized world! If you are from the U.S. and own a house in Mexico, you are no better than a Peninsulare…If you like to hike in the jills of Michoacan, you do so because Mexico is the de facto colony of the U.S. in North America besides Puerto Rico! Over two hundred years of American meddling in Mexico has produced this result, and still, thinkers and intellectuals and students and the wealthy have this romanticized, demeaning, nostalgic view of Mexico that they deem as being pro-Mexico…Yet you still have an insulting picture of a poor Mexicano with big feet in big sandals with empty pockets and a big sombrero lamenting his poverty.

Nothing has changed. Everything remains the same. The colonizers are still in Mexico…they have never left.

Mexico has never been left to the Mexicans. Mexico has never had the chance to become a real nation. Historically, there is nothing that can be done about the Conquest – but it did create Mexico. Mexican history ironically stops suddenly when it is professed to begin – at Independence. It is here where foreign influence begins, Mexico is pulled into the folds of the Americans, when burgeoning Mexican identity becomes some weird Anglicized hybrid of Liberalism, Federalism and “Reform.”

I am a Mexican who is in exile. From my home, from my culture, and from my past.

You should all be ashamed. Millions of Mexicans suffer because of your privilege. Millions of Mexicans are forced to wait for what dollars you drop in their country. Millions of Mexicans hope for something to change in a nation where the wealthy are kept in power by the Gringos, they watch their land disappear to condescending homeowners who then marry their women, and are given pennies and smiles and blogs that say “I love Mexico!”

You are a part of the problem. Professing admiration and respect and truth while taking advantage does not make it okay.


Even a cursory reading of the history of relations between the United States and México and more generally Latin America leaves one wondering why they all do not hate every single citizen of the United States. The conduct of the United States as a nation in that regard has historically been of a nature to take your breath away.

As just one example, the Mexican-American War of 1846 was every bit as criminally stupid as the Vietnam War was. It just had “a better outcome” for us, a successful land grab. The name James K. Polk ought to live on in infamy for that episode alone, let alone his utter lack of balls in dealing with the slavery question. I tend to think, also, that the Mexicans who have had the benefit of a decent education have a much longer historical memory than citizens of the United States do.

Resentment may be being fueled here in some circles by the popularity of a book called México mutilado by Francisco Martin Morena (2006) that documents in what I understand is a fairly inflammatory manner the loss by México of what is today the entire southwestern United States. But I doubt that would be any general phenomenon. Relatively few Mexicans read books. That statement is not an ignorant opinion of my own. Rather, I met a wonderful Mexican lady at a dinner party not too long ago. She made that statement as a cold, accepted fact. Part of her employment was finding ways to encourage young Mexicans to read more books.

The relations of the United States with México and Latin America generally have moderated since the Kennedy Administration in the sense that the motives of the United States since then seem less openly piratical. However, such things as the never ending "War on Drugs" and the horrendous impact that has had on México still go a long way toward filling any vacuum. This country is suffering through some impressive violence as a result of a large number of Americans' patronage of the illicit cocaine and marijuana market and the United States' misguided strategy for combating that. I shall not enter into that rat's nest any further.

First and foremost, let us simply consider the manner in which so many Mexicans are treated in the United States, whether they travel there legally or not. (American citizens of Mexican descent are Americans, by the way.) Many of those folks come back here. Most of those who have not yet still communicate with family here. Sweet little Maga has told me horror stories concerning her time in the United States, legal by the way. Her sadness and disgust as she related this to me made my eyes wet up. I need not enlighten you further on that score.

I tend to think that the phenomenon of which I speak is also attributable to the demeanor and air of many Americans themselves and the impression they therefore give when abroad. Many convey a subconscious feeling of entitlement, and sometimes it is obviously not so subconscious. That is manifest in small part by the stubborn refusal of so many to acquire even the rudiments of a foreign language. I am by no means a globe trotter, but I myself have seen this in Asia, Europe, and here.

There is a popular Yahoo! Group for "Members Only" referred to locally as the Civil List. It is for American expatriates living in San Miguel de Allende. I wormed my way into a membership. Why? I have no idea. But there one can read all kinds of exchanges among 'em concerning "the Mexicans," including the bitching about the aerial bombs to which I alluded in an earlier post. The contributors are unguarded in that "private" forum. The great sense of entitlement I have described is on display there by some of the members who, let us again remember, have voluntarily left their own country, moved here, and have all kinds of ideas for the improvement of México and the Mexicans.

By the way, there are some contributors to the Civil List who opine that rudeness on the part of Mexicans is more widespread here in the state of Guanajuato than anywhere else in the country. I have no way whatsoever to judge the validity of that assertion, and I would need to be presented with some serious evidence before I would accept that proposition.

My own personal theory is that a disproportionate number of Americans with this feeling of entitlement that I speak of tend to be the very ones who travel abroad. It never crosses the minds of most of the wonderful, warm citizens of fly-over American, busy tending their lawns, to travel abroad. See what I mean? An outsized number of the citizen ambassadors of the United States of America in other countries are the very ones who should not have that job.

But they get their comeuppance in Paris, do they not, those brash, loud, insistent Americans with the expensive cameras hanging around their necks, dressed in their Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, and Birkenstocks in the city with the name that is synonymous with style? A Parisian cab driver has a more valid reason to feel entitled simply by virtue of the fact of his residence in Paris than any philistine from Enid who fell into some money and now lives in Oklahoma City. And that cab driver knows it and acts accordingly. Hence, all the shaking of heads in the United States about the rudeness of Parisiens.

As for me here in México, I am simply going to continue to display as much breeding as I can in my still halting Spanish regardless of how I am treated. And again, do not get me wrong. This has not been a chronic thing by any means in my own brief experience. However, one cannot fail to notice when it occurs.

I am considering an experiment. I need to get this question down in perfect Spanish. The next time I must deal with Señora Propano, if the quality of our encounter has not ameliorated, I am going to pause and ask her,

“Do you treat me this way because I am black?”

4 comments:

Robyn said...

I am almost embarrassed to relay this story to you because it shows exactly what sort of whitebread middle America farm girl I am. On my recent trip to Pensacola, my friend and I stopped at a McDonald's in Mississippi for a short bathroom break. My friend asked me if I would get her a strawberry shake while she waited in the car. It was quite a few minutes before I realized that I was the only white person in the entire restaurant. What finally made me realize this is that everyone around me was being waited on but not me. It was like all of these people (employees and customers)formed a silent conspiracy that the blonde, white chick was going to be put in her place (whatever place that is). They would not wait on me. And, you know me, I am fairly assertive (lol). To make a long story short, it was literally the first time in my life that I have knowingly been discriminated against because of the color of my skin. It doesn't feel good. In fact, it really pissed me off.

Señor Steve said...

It is an interesting experience when it occurs, isn't it, Robyn?

Historically--and I am talking about the years preceding the Revolution of 1910--the people who did not get waited on in this country were the indigenous people. And that is putting it mildly. Discrimination based upon race is always the most virulent.

Well, hell, I forgot about religion. And probably a couple of other categories, too.

I did not intend to trivialize discrimination based upon race with my joke at the end. I was sure that would be apparent when I wrote it, but let me just say so now.

Bloggerboy FFM said...

Welcome to Phase II of the expatriate experience, Steve. I think it is a revelation for us American white guys to be treated shabbily for superficial reasons such as national origin. It is a shock. It generates all kinds of resentment and inner tension. The best one can hope for from such experiences is a resolve to treat all people with respect -- at least until they have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they don't deserve it.

One of the reasons that I have a soft spot in my heart for Spain is that, many years ago when I was a scraggly student, unshaven, on a low budget, with jeans and t-shirt as my uniform, numerous Spaniards treated me with respect and "gracia". I've learned to value that kind of attitude highly and make a conscious effort to emulate it, especially with people in this country who may be used to a different treatment by the locals.

Such an experience really does force you to go back and take a fresh look at your time in the US at the top of the food chain and realize that, but for your position, you might have had a radically different experience in your own country.

Señor Steve said...

Phase II, huh? I loved your way of putting that, Bloggerboy. You describe the sensations so well and so succinctly. I have not gotten the hang of that succinctness thing yet, and I envy people who have.

A retrospective look back at the top of the food chain added a new perspective for me, too. I had not yet taken that look until reading yours here.