Friday, June 14, 2013

close encounters of the racist kind

I had an encounter last night that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I went out to dinner with my neighbor Carlos and his friend V. We had a great time, exchanging stories, ideas. We had such a great time we picked up dessert and took it to our local bar to keep up our dialogue. Carlos and V grew up in San Diego too, are Mexican-American and we shared a lot of similar experiences growing up. Last night we had a long conversation about racism especially after what happened to that kid who sang the national anthem the other night. We discussed the movies we grew up with the eighties, how we never saw ourselves except in films that depicted our people/stories in a less-than-positive light.  Overall it was a positive conversation, with a lot of joking thrown in about what we'd like to see in film, books, etc. We were being silly, quoting the most memorable scenes from the films we saw ourselves portrayed in. (And how Lou Diamond Phillips was Mexican to us and the shock we felt when we found out he wasn't. . .)

I've been hanging out at the same bar for over ten years. I'm comfortable there, I know the regulars and bartenders, I feel safe there. There have been moments of tension, privilege, but they happen anywhere. During our conversation last night I walked over to the other side of the bar to ask the bartender something. Seated in from of him were three people I'd never seen before. I was friendly, as I always am. The woman in the group mentioned something about being from Texas. I told her that I'll be in Texas next month for work; she asked where and I said West Texas. She then got a look of disgust on her face, shuddered and said "Oh no, there are so many Mexicans there."

I had one of those Is this real life? moments. I was stunned, I shook my head a little to try to clear my thoughts and said "Well I'm Mexican. . ." She laughed, her friends laughed. One of the men with her said "Yeah just don't make it out to El Paso, that place is completely full of Mexicans."  They all laughed some more. I walked away, feeling sick.

I bummed a cigarette and went out to smoke, trying to shake the disgust, heartbreak. What kind of normal do you have to live to say that, but especially to a brown person? I saw the little group leave immediately after our encounter, I hope they were embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed; but I doubt it. I hadn't reacted in a way that called them out on their racism. I wasn't in that head space. My friends joined me outside, I told them what happened and they were pretty grossed out too. We went home shortly after, I'd lost my social mojo. Crazy how one moment can deflate an evening of joy.

Once home I decided just to go into my feelings to try and decipher the turmoil. I was hurt. I was angry. Mostly I was disappointed. I went back to the conversations I'd been having with Carlos and V about stereotypes, about visibility and other-ness. I sat with it. I tried to go into a place of forgiveness, of acceptance; allowing myself to be hurt and angry but also allowing myself to feel compassion for the people who hurt me. Not easy, there were several other places I wanted to go but I did my best to be compassionate. I didn't succeed but it is called a practice for reason, you have to practice.

I'm reading a non-fictionbook right now wherein the author talks about how he once overheard a conversation in his workplace about how they wouldn't promote him because he was black, that his skin color would harm their platform. The author walked away and started his own successful practice, and a part of his work to get there was going into compassion and forgiveness. Ay, I think I'm not there yet. But I'm trying.

I missed my word count by 200 words yesterday. I'll make up for it today. I'm pretty happy with where I am in the process. I have a friend coming today to stay with me for a week. She's a writer too so we'll give each other plenty of space and I'm sure have lots of conversations about the work. She's working on a novel as well.

Pretty thrilled with this article about Game of Thrones. Yes, yes and yes.

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