Today someone called me ugly to my face. It was in Spanish with a Guarani accent but it was unmistakably “feo.” Now, my initial response was to be a smart ass, then I remembered that I was a guest in their home and that I’d likely screw up my wit with a language error anyway, so I left it alone. My second response was to seethe, but that only lasted a moment before a realized that I had nothing to seethe about. The man who called me ugly was about 70, toothless, dirty and with chicken poop on his feet, and apparently couldn’t take care of himself as he was mooching off of his sister’s and niece’s meager income. Could I really let this guy offend me?
I could, but that would be silly.
Fortunately, this episode did get me thinking about my reaction to racially-charged events in Paraguay. I’ve had quite a few. People here are going to say mean things about me, likely as they did behind my back in the States. Prejudice is everywhere. Racism exists in many places. In some cases, people used prejudices as a way to affirm their own identities (e.g. the US Klan). They have a sense of why they believe what they believe and what they hope to accomplish through it. Oddly, there are others who don’t know why they dislike what they dislike. In the case of the aforementioned Paraguayan (and much of the globe?) I don’t think he understand that his concept of beauty has origins in colonialism: pale skinned invaders tell the locals that they are less than, treat locals as if they are less than, and then propagate the settler’s sense of beauty and value. The Paraguayan was clearly the descendant of the Guarani; he has features that early Spanish values would have deemed, “feo.” Those values still rear their ugly heads on television, magazines, advertisements…and he laps them up, so much so that he regurgitates them without thinking. Did he realize that by those antiquated values he, his nieces, his sister and brother-in-law are all feo? Did he fail to notice that their skin is darker than the actors on TV, and their hair is thicker and curlier than the lady posing in the detergent ad? In short, he wasn’t marginalized, poor and dirty because he the descendant of a Spanish aristocrat.
In short, he is too clueless for me to take his opinion too seriously.
Even if he was better educated, it wouldn’t change much. The bottom line is that a racist person won’t like me regardless. It has nothing to do with my moral standing or work ethic or sense of family or anything else that I value. They dislike what they dislike and it has nothing to do with me personally. Asi es!
Now, that doesn’t make hearing verbal vomit any less appealing. It does influence how I react the next time a guy on a motorcycle drives by and calls me a nigger. Seething won’t help. Reacting definitely won’t help. Understanding why and moving on with my life helps. It’s worth blogging about, but not worth carrying on my shoulders for long.
Perhaps I should insert some disclaimer about not all Paraguayans being prejudice but 1.) any of my family and friends reading this already know that 2.) I can’t guarantee that it’s true. What I can say for certain is that I’ve met at least 8 wonderful Paraguayans whose company I enjoy. I made chipa with 3 of them today. Chipa is a type of bread made from mandioca (aka cardboard in stick form, like a potato), cheese, corn, and sometimes onions. During Semana Santa (Holy Week) Paraguayans fast for two or three days, eating nothing but chipa. This sounded miserable at first, but fresh baked chipa is pretty freakin’ awesome. What’s more awesome is making it! The dough is soft and holds forms well, like play-dough, so it’s perfect for making funny shapes. I made a violin, a piano, drums, and a couple geometric shapes with funky designs in the middle. It felt good to play with dough and use some of my creative talents that have lain dormant for two months. My host mom said I was guapa (hard working) and my host sister and I had a great time laughing at designs. She’s a little dirty: she made a pair of breasts, a penis (which she remolded into a flute before baking) and a paddle to spank her son with. It was all great fun.
Afterwards I sat on the curb and watched the neighborhood kids play soccer. There is one girl, Daisy, who is quite good and very competitive. It makes me sad that there isn’t a professional women’s team for her to aspire to. I tried to tell her that if she wanted, maybe she could play for the US. She seemed confused.
We get 5 days off for Semana Santa, which sounds like boringness waiting to happen, so my friends and I have already planned a trip to Asuncion for the weekend. We will spend three days with our family—soaking up the culture of Terere and watching grass grow—and then go to the city for two days and remember what its like to be over stimulated and gluttonous. I like extremes.