Being from one of the most well-known, (in)famous countries in the world is not always easy when traveling. While mostly it’s not a big deal, I have been verbally abused and discriminated against for my place of birth.
I have been blamed for the global financial crisis (yes me, personally). I’ve had to have a guy thrown out of a bar I worked at for being totally disrespectful thanks to my nationality. I was also harassed to the point of me leaving a job overseas because my coworker thought it was so hilarious to take the piss out of me.
Bush’s years in office were truly not the optimal time to start a round the world trip like I did.
I also get more indirect slights that are like, “You’re cool for an American,” or “You’re not like the other Americans here.” Thanks – I think.
Look, I have a good sense of humor. I can laugh at myself and take weird things said to me in stride. Mostly.
And I’m not saying that I don’t get it either. The political influence that my country has had in some others and the destruction that it has caused is pretty extreme in some cases. I don’t know how I would feel if roles were reversed and American tourists were invading a place that at some point in the past their government had helped to destroy.
But when I was essentially accused of being racist, classist, and exploitative towards Colombians in an open forum, in Colombia by a Colombian, I thought that there was a blip in the Matrix.
I mean me? Someone who is obsessed with Colombia, and has been since my first day here? Someone who has produced articles about Colombia for various publications and tons on my blog, without a bad word in them?
Even though the event happened three days ago, I am still recovering. But let me back up and tell you the whole story.
In my photography course, we were told to bring in five of our favorite photos. It was an extremely difficult choice, obviously. But the week before, my teacher was drilling into our brains that the photos that are most memorable are impactful.
So I browse my collection of photos, looking for ones that are cool and will make an impact.
My favorite photos are ones that really represent a country or a city or a place. It’s like with just one shot, you get a feel of the essence of said place, and I thought most of my photos did this.
My teacher took offense to these two shots above, especially the little boy. He said that the boy is obviously poor and miserable, that I look at Colombia like it’s the third world, that farmers here have it soooo bad and farmers in the US live like kings. Then he told a story about how his Colombian friend who lives in Spain is called a racist name by some of the locals.
And that I have a grand opportunity here in Colombia to show the better side of the country and not perpetuate what the media puts out. As if I don’t already know that, and haven’t been doing that for years.
That’s quite different from the thoughts and intentions I had about these two photos. As for the little boy, well I met him on my way to La Cueva del Esplendor on the outskirts of Jardin. A friend and I had to pass through his finca on the way. His family allowed us and stayed inside. He, curious, came out to stare at us and didn’t say much.
I thought he was adorable and so I asked him to smile for a photo. He didn’t really know what to do so he twisted up his mouth in a few different ways, none of them exactly a smile, and it was a pretty funny moment. I never even thought about how much money the kid has or doesn’t have until I was told that the child is obviously miserable.
The other photo I like because it seems like it could be some kind of political statement. I also feel it captures an essence of Bogota – the graffiti, the way the guy has his scarf covering his nose and mouth (lots of people walk around like this for the cold and for the smell of the buses). I’m also fascinated by graffiti and I think this was a cool piece.
I am posting this article because writing can be a really cathartic process, and I hope that by getting out my hurt and frustration, as well as my true intentions, I can take the power out of his words.
I’m also dreading class on Tuesday. Do I sit in the back and lay low? Do I explode at him the next time he hints at anything derogatory? Should I pull him aside and ask him to please refrain from mentioning my nationality in class? Do I ask for a transfer?