28 March, 2006

Mexican Cultural (Mis)Perceptions

While in Mexico we encountered quite the number instances of cultural perceptions and misperceptions of Eve and me, as well as others around us, that I thought would be interesting to share. Here are some of the ones I remember best:

-A Oaxacan Campesino apparently confusing two japenese kids for mexicans, as he turned to them while in the cheap second-class bus we were riding and asked them if they had visited ocotlan before. The Japanese boys looked back confused, carefully repeating the name "O-Co-tlan" inquisitively.

-A Oaxacan Campesino asking me where I was from and, when I said Venezuela, whether they spoke mostly Spanish there. All of this in Spanish and via a pretty successful conversation in a colectivo, esp. given the fact that this very nice old man had a thick rural accent and that your humble blogger spoke with his faded Caracas accent.

-Rural Oaxacans in general wondering where we were from (many of them assuming some non-Spanish speaking country either in N. America or Europe), despite my Venezuelan accent.

-Two different people, a Oaxacan and a Venezuelan, asking whether Eve was from Brazil. Brazilian speakers do have a soft accent when speaking Spanish, though it's a bit different from Eve's admittedly un-American accent.

-Three Mexicans (two on foot, one in a car) in DF asking us for directions.

-Several people in Oaxaca and DF addressing Eve as "Güera" (esp. by street & market vendors) which we've established is a person of "Mexican" appearance with, as a Venezuelan living in Mexico put it, "finer" ('fino') facial traits. In other words, a more European but vaguely mestizo-looking person. Carlos, Octavia the same Venezuelan girl's friend from Veracruz, at first vaguely commented that a güero was simply a person with "culture," and Octavia added that simply speaking some Spanish was enough. She changed her definition to the one pointing to a person's appearance after I offered what I thought what the meaning of the term, namely a person with "tez blanca," or white skin tone (I had failed to add that what I really meant was a European looking mestizo Mexican). I was once or twice addressed as güero, though mostly "amigo" and certainly nowhere as often as Eve. Most interestingly, Eve remembers being singularly referred to as "güera" quite often when she was studying in Oaxaca, two years ago. The rest of her classmates, especially when she was with them, were referred to as "amigo/a" or some other generic term. Eve, it should be specified, is of mixed European and Dutch-Indonesian background. Wordreference says the term can be used by anyone of darker skin to address a lighter skinned person (though one poster says that you can be darker than a black bean and still be called güero). I would add, though, that while the term seems to be used to refer to Americans in parts of the country, in Oaxaca and in DF it seems to be used more to refer to people that the addresser takes to be Mexican, just lighter-skinned ones. Moreover, note that the term appears to be used more for women, almost in a strangely fawning way. Interesting indeed, esp. given the fact that phenotypic terms are not as numerous in Mexico as they are in countries in the Caribbean and northern S. America (e.g., moreno, prieto, trigueño, catire, negro, etc.).

We'll be posting pictures to flicker soon.


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