White Privilege

The thing about white privilege is that I can oftentimes forget that it’s there.

Of course, that’s a privilege in itself.

Being ignorant to the ways in which my race interacts with society and vice versa isn’t a privilege many can claim to have.

It hits in obscure moments, when I’m not paying attention.

And then I can’t look away.

The advertisements, products in stores, the large billboards scattered around Quito. All with white faces staring back at me, while the population of white citizens in Quito is minuscule.

Why don’t these advertisements, which are burned into the back of our eyes day after day without conscious realization, reflect the skin color of the actual population here in Quito?

Why must we shove whiteness down the throats of every person who walks these streets who glance up at the gigantic billboards?

These billboards which are in your face. To be seen.

To be absorbed.

This is sending a message. That white people are the majority. That white people own the media, buy the products, sell the products.

That you should strive to be like these happy while folk, smiling down upon you day after day.

 

Oftentimes I forget.

I see a white woman staring back at me each morning in the mirror. A white billboard or product isn’t unusual to me, as I’ve been surrounded with a high population of white people during most of my life.

But here in Quito, where I maybe see one or two strangers who are white every few days, this prevalence of white advertisements shakes me.

Disturbs me.

This isn’t a message that children should absorb as they walk the streets of Quito. As they play in the park. Eat ice cream with their family.

 

I shouldn’t be placed upon a pedestal because of my skin. Gawked at. Given “complements” which only succeed in annoying and oftentimes scaring me.

When I go out on the weekends, casually strolling among streets chocked full of bars and clubs, I shouldn’t be hunted down by every promoter.

“Free drink!” They yell as they see my white skin, feminine figure, and blonde hair.

“Free club entrance! Venga aquí! Venga!”

Because of the presumption that the presence of my friends and I in a club will draw in more customers.

Because of our intersections of white skin and female gender.

I’ll admit that this all seems harmless at first glance.

But it’s the deeper seeded message I’m observing.

That white skin calls for some sense of superiority I’ve neither asked for nor deserve.

That my intersection of gender and skin means I am attractive to others, that I will draw people in, that I am a valid target of seemingly harmless machismo “compliments”.

It’s not fair, to anyone.

Not fair to the Latino citizens of Ecuador who are conditioned to believe that I automatically have some sense of power or wealth because of my skin color, while they do not.

Not fair to my friends and I who are often targets of machismo because of our assumed attractiveness to society. That we are targets of theft because our white skin reflects a wealth which we do not have.

Not fair that this racial hierarchy is global. That for some reason light skin was chosen over dark. That there’s strong and resilient human rights and anti-racism movements, but there’s so much more work to be done.

Because just as machismo is rooted deep into the language and society of Latin America, racism and racial hierarchies are cemented deep beneath the surface of the globe.

 

My attempts at counteracting this unfair assumption of superiority isn’t much, but it’s a start.

I start with talking.

To my taxi drivers. To strangers on the bus. To friends and family members who do not recognize their white privilege and the ways in which they have an automatic (unfair) advantage over others of different races in spheres such as the jobs they can obtain, how society perceives them, how teachers and peers treat them, etc.

I do not know how to stop this.

I do not know how to stop racial discrimination. How to make a meaningful impact so that this hierarchy, which we are all involuntarily a part of, is dismantled.

Destroyed.

I think all I can do right now is to notice first. And then to talk. To make race a part of the conversation. To question any embedded assumptions about race we have. To catch ourselves in prejudiced thoughts or actions.

As a white woman, I oftentimes feel that I am contributing to racism just by being white.

But I think it’s time to take a step back from that. To realize that no matter who we are, the color of our skin was not our choice. It is not something we can change.

But it is something we can talk about. Something we can push others to talk about.

And I think that’s how we start.

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Roots

Machismo is a concept I’ve adjusted to with time.

After all, how does one live happily with a pit of hatred and disgust in their stomach, brewing slowly, fermenting with time

waiting for a passerby to give you the well-known look

Of bewilderment. Of possession. Of disgust. Of longing.

I’ve let go of this pit.

Drained it.

Adaptation is a natural human occurrence. It’s aided me in prospering.

But I must not, we must not, forget the thing that we adapted to is still in existence.

Still has roots which are buried deep within the ground

Which seep up from the sidewalk cracks, occasionally attaching themselves to your pant leg like vermin. Snaking up your body until they reach your ears. Wiggle beneath your earphones. Whisper softly. Beckon you to look. Make eye contact with the man that is staring at you, willing your eyes to meet his so that he can see your mask lift, watch in awe as his vulgar “complements” pierce beneath the armor you’ve so carefully woven.

Denying your attempt to be blissfully ignorant

In adaptation.

 

We must not forget.

 

It starts with language.

Language is the construction of our reality. It’s how we communicate. How we reach out or how we push away. You cannot fully understand a culture unless you delve into its language.

Take machismo in the Spanish language, for example. In Spanish, words can be masculine or feminine, depending on the gender of the noun you’re discussing or the definition of the word. Below is a list of some words and their definitions when in the masculine and feminine tense. Masculine words usually end in -o and feminine words usually end in -a, but I will bold the feminine words for emphasis

Zorro – Hero

Zorra – prostitute

Perro- a man’s best friend

Perra – prostitute

Ambicioso – visionary, with clear goals

Ambiciosa – prostitute

Rápido: intelligent

Rápida – prostitute

Regalado: participle of the verb “regalar”

Regalada – prostitute

 

Feminine words are vulgar

Unacceptable

Words that mean valiant and heroic things in the masculine form mean prostitute in the feminine term every. Single. Time.

Evidently this is not the entire Spanish language. But this glimpse into the way feminine words are portrayed in the context of language, in the roots of society, demonstrate that

This machismo

This subordination of women

This masculine power

Is deeply rooted in language.

In order to change a culture, to change machismo, I believe that language must be changed. Definitions must be altered.

But of course, this kind of change comes with time. And it’s not up to one or two people to solve. It is a societal decision I hope will blossom with time.

 

But if we are to try to make some alteration ourselves, it will start small.

With me. With you.

 

It starts with not giving in to machismo.

Not laughing at jokes that aren’t funny.

Not smiling at compliments that aren’t wanted.

Not dancing or kissing or agreeing to go out with men because of obligation.

Because this is not a joke.

Feeling afraid to step outside your house at night. Being obliged to dress a certain way to avoid attention. Acting favorable towards machismo comments because you’re by yourself, and terror is slowly creeping up your spine. Having a smaller say in decisions. Experiencing a lack of respect. Being thought of as fragile, incapable, in need of a man’s protection. Having heterosexuality shoved upon you. Feeling guilty for being a woman. Wishing you weren’t sometimes.

It’s not funny.

It’s not okay.

It cannot be accepted.

 

The roots must be dug up before the tree is fully dead.

And it starts small.

With me. You.

Us.

Queer in Quito

I glimpse two male teens

Seductively hiding their attraction

During our bus ride

Caressing the shoulder

Of the other

With each swerve and

Sharp slam

Of wheels into concrete

The others forehead

Resting softly

On his shoulder

 

The bumps brining

Togetherness

In place of

Separation

 

I smile

Knowingly

Admiring

The bravery

The need to hide

Yet to risk being

seen

 

Thinking how

Within this society

Where my sexuality is

Supposed to remain

Invisible

I have become

More adamant

In making it

Known

 

In a world dipped in molten

Injustice

Drip

Fear

Drip

Despair

Drip

That hardens with time

With ignorance

With acceptance

 

Who is to say

That his hand can relieve my

Suffering

More than hers?

 

The soft embrace

Of flesh on flesh

 

Human comfort

Sees no gender

 

As if you assume that

Being of the same sex

Should cause us to repel

Not attract

 

Who are you to tell me

That because this is different

Not expected

Not yours

That it is wrong
This does not feel mistaken

 

It fills me

With light

My roots of self-acceptance

Burrow deeper

 

This is radiant.

 

A seed hidden for years

Sunken with conformity

self-loathing

confusion

Slowly

Ever so slowly

Given tenderness

Time

Love

Shooting up from the scars

That suffocated its surface

From embracing the

Light

 

It became me.

And I knew I was always it.

 

Do you know how it feels

To hide

From yourself

Unknowingly?

 

As if you’ve been seeing

Without details

Hearing

Without music

 

And now

To be filled

with this

Unknown

Undiscovered

Knowledge and resiliency

Of myself.

 

Your stares

Do not frighten me anymore.

 

Now that I am sure of me

Within a culture

That condemns

My essence

 

I will not wear your chains

 

The corners of my lips rise

With each glare

As I hope that

You will notice our differences less

And less

Each passing day

 

You will see one more person

whom you do not relate to

And eventually

 

Within the midst of

This cloud of

Unconnectedness

Of something you do no agree with

Because of religion

self-constructed versions of morality

societal pressure

 

you will forget to see us as

evil

you will see us as

people

 

In the same way I have accustomed to your

Hatred

How I now see the sheen of pain

behind your outrage

I anticipate

That you will connect with my self-love

 

With the deep-rooted longing

To be yourself

 

And just as I battle the line between

Adaptation and

Acceptance

 

I hope you will slide into both

 

As your fury

Judgement

Of that which you do not know

Is too heavy a burden

 

It’s a lot easier to relieve yourself

Of the weight

You carry with you

And to accept that

We as humans

Are all allowed to be

 

Unapologetically ourselves.

Rise

A majority of us humans go through this phase at some point in our lives.

At least I have

I do.

 

Where the relief sleep brings oftentimes wins the overarching struggle to rise.

To begin.

 

You lay in bed, eyes fluttering open with the trickling of sunlight through the slits in your blinds.

There’s this one millisecond. Before everything hits.

 

Breathe in.

 

Body rested, mind blank, the soft scratch of the blanket caressing your bare skin.

Perfection.

What a beautiful day you are about to embark on.

 

Breathe out.

 

With the outward flush of air from lungs, there is now space for reality. A brick, coarse and dense, collides with you. The force of the impact leaving no room for the air that panics, begging to be let back in.

The memories of yesterday and the dread of today sink deep in. They begin to weave, thread, interlace with every cell of your being.

 

Anxiety paces back and forth.

A black panther gnawing at your stomach

Scratching to be let out

For relief

 

You don’t want to get up.

The people who have hurt you will hurt you again. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today. You just know it.

The work and responsibility and burden. Of life. Of living.

It’s here.

And it’s so much easier to just stay.

I’ve sunken into this deep pit many times. The effort to scrape your way to the top, just to be disappointed, doesn’t seem worth it.

Sometimes isn’t worth it.

But it just happens. You wake up one morning and realize you have a piece of chocolate on your desk from last night. A small incentive from an older and wiser past self.

To rise.

And so you do, and you’re a little happier.

And as every day passes, you get a little more clever. Incentives, motivation, calls from friends. It’s difficult. One of the most grueling things one will ever do.

But you make it out.

And then you have to find a way to stay out.

A constant item or person or place. Cemented deep within you. So when your will to rise, to breathe, to be, tries to crawl out of the crevasses of your bone, muscle, flesh. This thing will stop it.

It’s not always your job to mentally muscle through.

It’s okay to turn some power over to something bigger.

For me, in Ecuador, that something bigger is the mountain I see out of my window every morning.

Pichincha.

Rain, shine, despair, elation;

 

I rise.

 

Open the blinds.

And there she is.

Mother nature. Pachamama. My beautifully radiant mountaintop.

I know she is strong, so sometimes I don’t have to be.

I know that in times of grief I can turn to her. Ask that this veil that masks my resilience, replaces it with the delusion of weakness, is lifted.

Destroyed, even.

For this burden, whether it be buried deep within or gently resting on the surface, to be turned over to something bigger than myself.

When I see her in times of pure happiness, I feel hot tears carving lines atop the flesh of my face. Giving thanks to this spectacular creation in the only way I know how.

With silent awe.

As I define myself as spiritual yet not religious, this act of giving part of myself over to the universe, to nature, to something outside of myself, has been essential.

This mountain, now drawing lines of hope through my flesh para siempre, is my reminder.

That I can rise.

I am worthy.

I am always strong and resilient no matter how weak I feel.

We don’t have to carry our burdens alone.

Sometimes it’s a mountain. Or a dog. Religion. A best friend. A street that you walk every day.

 

I urge you to find your mountain. And to never let it go.

tat
Pictured above is my tattoo of Mt. Pichincha. What I once thought would be a temporary validation of my worth will now be with me forever. 

 

 

Why I walk.

Realization comes in stages.

 

A few weeks ago, I was impatiently rocking my weight from heel to toe, heel to toe. The Ecovias were sparse, and the anxiety of stumbling into class late slowly creeped up my spine.

When it finally chugged up to my stop, I was relieved, so much so that I paid no heed to the hurd of people already shoved into the bus and snuggled myself tightly in.

I hugged my backpack to my chest.

After some time, I noticed a man, pressed tightly against me. Eyes darting.

He tossed his jacket casually over his forearm, leaving half of the fabric draped on my backpack.

His eyes glinted.

I thought it was just the sun at the time.

Or maybe curiosity to have invaded the personal bubble of someone who looked different.

But now I’m sure it was greed.

My mini notebook was shoved to the bottom my backpack, the same size and shape as an IPhone (ironically it was my notebook that I used to record accounts of machismo). I’m now sure his fingers more than grazed it.

I thought nothing of this encounter, quickly moving to a more open area as the bus drained of its passengers.

Until I sat down and saw it. A lengthy slit ran through the bottom of my backpack.

It was a violation. Of my property. An acknowledgement. Of my vulnerability.

I chastised myself for not noticing the signs earlier. Yet thankful I didn’t, for fear that the slice of my backpack could have gone hand in hand with the slice of my skin.

I was shaken. But I was lucky.

I decided to walk because of

FEAR.

If I take the Ecovia during my usual time, I see him. Our eyes lock. My hands move lower on my backpack. Feeling the scar, the stitches, that disrupt the smooth surface.

The thirty-minute walk to the station soon became a routine.

A relief.

With time, I built up my armor.

I did not look for his face in a crowd. I stopped cradling my backpack as if it was my child, my innocence, that everyone and anyone could steal from me.

I continued to walk because I was starting to

NOTICE.

At first it was because of the dogs. The fluff of an undercoat, the perk of an ear, the smooth gate of four paws in harmony, the floppy posture of pups. An instant spike in the emotional timeline of my day.

Then it was the stores.

I am on a constant search for pumpkin flavored anything, a quick flash back to fond memories. To the apple orchards, to best friends, to laughing so hard I snort. To my library, and the countless hours of dimmed lights and tired eyes. To crisp leaves with a satisfying crunch.

While walking, I came across it.

A pumpkin milkshake.

Rainbows, unicorns, babies, puppies, and all things happy. That’s how much magic was in that one milkshake.

As local shops slowly became landmarks, I walked because of

CURIOSITY.

Of people. People are weird and special and spectacular and different. And everyone’s a person.

Sometimes I forget that.

With the blur of winks and whistles and eyes that scan me up and down, I’ve grown accustomed to ignoring.

Avoiding

Keeping my head down.

Walking lets me look.

Now it’s my turn.

I see a small boy and his dad, walking ahead of me. They hold hands, the dad offering encouraging words as the boy drags his feet on the uneven sidewalk.

A young girl. A portfolio in her hands. Off to an art show I image.

An older couple. Hunched over. Trudging along hand in hand.

Now, I walk because this is my

HOME.

I feel as if I belong.

Not just feel.

I know. I do belong.

I have been put in my place by this city. Learned I am not invincible.

But I am fiercer because of it.

And as the soles of my shoes become worn day after day, mile after mile, this city becomes known and loved and treasured

And mine.

What’s in a gaze

I am yarn.

 

I’ve worked relentlessly over the years

Perfecting this ball

Holding myself in

I am strong

Some may even say fierce

 

You are scissors

 

Your sharp medal blades

Grinding together as you

Open and close

Open

And close.

The sound hurts my ears

 

Nothing can unravel me

Not your pictures

As I walk, run

Minding my own business

Nor the slice of your knife through my bag

As you see my white skin

And assume wealth

 

Yes

I am a bit shook

Maybe my ends get tangled

But I’ve developed these skills

Year

After year

I know how to put myself back together

 

But then you trick me

Find a way to wiggle

Into the recesses of my core

I cannot forget

The way your eyes pierce mine

 

How I can feel your glare

Red hot

As if I’m being branded

I am vulnerably at your mercy

I am yours

 

At least that’s the seed you’d like to plant

Within my soul

Hoping that with time the gazes of your brethren

Will feed it sunlight, water, air

The seed will prosper until

It is me

And I am it

 

And so what

if you look?

You do not touch

There is no police report

To dot the I’s and cross the T’s

But it’s within your pupils

 

A black hole sucking me in

 

Like I am yours

And you know it

While I have yet to accept it

 

My gravity cannot hold me here much longer

Before I am

Devoured

 

I am a jaguar

Foreign and sly

The type of different that catches your eye

That you have been searching all your life

For the glimpse of

Yet now that you see me

You pull out your rifle

 

This was never a harmless game

 

Though you’d like to make it seem like such

 

You cement deep into the brains

Of him, her, them, us

That this is okay

 

It is MY fault

That I choose to keep my hair blonde

And my skin white

It is MY fault

That I am a female

Trekking across territory

Which you’ve claimed as your own

It’s MY fault

That I want to learn, to grow, to explore

Experience this culture

Call it my own

For a few short months

It is MY fault

That I am me

 

It’s my fault that I turn my head in just a way so that I

Catch your eye

 

And I see that smirk, that glimmer

Of possession

And I turn the other way

 

But my eyes still see you

 

And that part doesn’t go away

 

Yet I will continue to wind myself

Tightening the gaps

So that hopefully one day

You cannot slip through

 

And so that hopefully

One day

You will not want to

 

One day

Society

Will

Condemn

You

 

And it will not be my fault.

 

It will be yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buenos Días and Doc Martens

Last week I decided to make a change.

Maybe it was the chill breeze that reminded me of a fall I wouldn’t experience in Ecuador. Or the morning harmony of the local dogs barking. Or perhaps it was my socks, which proudly stated “More Feminism, Less Bullshit.”

Whatever it was, I was feeling daring.

I dug to the back of my closet, pulling out my Doc Martens instead of my usual ratty Nikes, which were more suited for the few miles I walk to and from school.

I slip them on, stand tall, and suddenly feel about 37% more badass.

I was going to take machismo and squish it under the sole of my boot.

But instead of yelling or swearing or rugby tackling the men who catcall me, which is usually my first instinct, I decided to just utterly confuse them.

Every time someone made eye contact with me, I wouldn’t dart my gaze forward, trying my best to squint one eye so as to block their ravenous gaze.

No friends, instead of trying to ignore machismo, I decided to smother it with positivity.

Doc Martens snugly secured, I marched out the door, slightly more invincible.

I started with the guard who stands at the entrance to our community, whom is already the highlight of my morning.

“Buenos días!” I say, which means “good morning” in English.

As per routine, he greets me not with a wink and a whistle, but with a kind-hearted hand shake and a “welcome, have a good day!”

Now that my practice round was successfully completed, I moved on.

I stared blatantly at the next person I pass: a woman and her child waiting for the bus. “Hola, buenos días!” I exclaim. Her face lights up as she returns my greeting.

My step becomes a little more sure.

I pass a bus stop, blatantly staring at anyone who will look at me. “Buenos días!” I say, time after time.

Sometimes I’m ignored.

A few times an arrogant man high off machismo will just smirk, slowly scanning me up and down, from blonde braids to Doc Martens.

But usually, the people I pass go through a few different stages.

  1. Surprise that I, as a gringa, can speak Spanish.
  2. Acknowledgement of my existence as a local in their neighborhood.
  3. A huge smile, as two strangers share a beautiful human moment.

I arrive to school that day with a bounce in my step and my chin held a little higher.

Ever since then I make my best effort to say buenos días to most of the people I pass, whether I’m in Doc Martens, my disheveled sneakers, or sandals.

I think that somehow, through tight laces and tender moments, the confidence I extracted from my Doc Martens has stayed with me.

Although this tactic isn’t fool proof, it fills my heart with joy, and deflects any negativity (i.e. machismo) that comes my way throughout the day.

I am filled with love for human moments.

Love for connections with strangers.

And of course, love for Doc Martens.