by Joseph Toone
Back in high school I wrote a term paper for Algebra class called Perspective in Art, highlighting how one’s perspective influences how you view a painting. The topic was vague enough I repeated the paper all the way through graduate school in a variety of classes including film, statistics and biology.
The main thing I walked away with (aside from an easy to replicate term paper topic) was that perspective projects out while at the same time being deeply internal.
For example, a local ex-pat wrote on the Civil List recently. (Civil List is a continuous email chain, in the form of a Yahoo Group, to help foreigners find cranberries or a good gynecologist. However, lots of complaining happens in the emails’ postings earning it the moniker Snivel List.)
The writer used a made-up name for her post, then posted using her regular email address, which clearly states her actual name, making the subterfuge not really a subterfuge at all. Her post described how she had been attacked mid-afternoon on a busy street by a Mexican woman who slapped her glasses off her face. The woman then fled and witnesses didn’t help the elderly foreign woman who was attacked, but helped the attacker escape.
I was very surprised to view this post, mainly because the writer’s point was that Mexicans attack elderly Americans with the protection of fellow Mexicans. In the Trump era of US/Mexican relations broad generalizations are not the firmest ground on which to stand, especially if you are assuming that the ex-pat community will be on your side.
In this instance, largely they were not, adding insult to injury for this woman.
Suffice it to say the author/victim was chastised for blaming all of Mexican culture for her situation. Others simply questioned the situation having themselves been helped by bystanders in similar circumstances. Many simply called her out as racist, and thereby having, on some level, provoked the attack. I’m sure this was not the level of support the author anticipated.
She took particular offense at being called racist, stating she volunteers for an NGO (Non-Government Organization, too often, a business that may also provide a charitable service when, after everyone has gotten paid, they have excess income.) Somehow, in her mind, being a volunteer implied she was not racist. Having trained and worked with the person numerous times, I already knew that in fact she was. She's not racist in an aggressive Archie Bunker manner, but she is in a soft-spoken, “aren’t Mexicans silly” way, as you might hear a kindergarten teacher describing the antics of her students.
For example, after hearing and seeing the complex symbolic perspectives in Guadalupe's image as the mother of Mexico, this gal still only refers to Guadalupe as the image placed in her car to scare folks from breaking into it.
Now, on a surface level, what she states about the car is correct; it simply misses the point of why. Instead of explaining why Guadalupe forms Mexico’s national identity, her view of Guadalupe’s image is simply as a talisman, preventing these darling local folks from daring to touch her car. Her tone is the same as my fellow Southerners expressing “Bless his heart,” which is a not so subtle code for “He’s an idiot.”
Her racist and entitled attitude, I think, is the cause of this entire incident. I can’t help but wonder what she said to her neighbors that would elicit such anger and implicit condoning of the slap. As foreigners, it is so easy to insult and offend, often with zero intention. God knows, I find I do it at times, and then must rely on a mountain of previously accumulated emotional good-will for folks to realize that I’m simply ignorant of an aspect of Mexican culture that must now be explained to me. For this gal, I can’t help but wonder what she stated to her neighbors, repeatedly, in her day-to-day life to cause them to strike back like a provoked kitty with claws.
As a culture, Mexican women don’t rely on physical violence as a preferred method of communication unless they are starring on a televnova. Nor have I ever seen, or heard of, a (great?) grandmother being physically harmed as they gambol down a busy street in broad daylight, by another woman.
Again, the entire situation all ties back to perspective. The gal sees herself as a victim of a cruel culture advocating violence against ladies in their last days. Others on the Civil List felt she was racist for being oblivious as to why the attack even occurred. For me, I simply feel sorry for an elderly woman whose intentions are, sometimes, good, but frequently offensive and insensitive to our hosts.
Growing old is tough enough, as is being a perpetual foreigner. However, part of the fun is the challenge to learn more, forever allowing yourself a fresh perspective on most any situation. Methinks this little old lady is simply completely unaware of her racist attitude towards Mexicans, and that her neighbors are all too aware. Perhaps she’ll find the root cause of the incident and grow as a person, or else she’ll simply moan about Mexicans being bullies and move away. Perspective defines our actions.
Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact email@example.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.