El proceso contínuo de desclosetamiento

Voilá! He aqui la última columna que escribí bajo el título de Border Jumper (cuya idea no fue mía nombrarle así). Me quedé bastante satisfecho con casi todos los temas tocados y mini-ensayos resultantes de esta colaboración entre Queerty.com y yo. Gracias a todos por haber leído:

It was one of my first days at the Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, in Acapulco. Standing in front of level 300 English with around 40 students, they began to shoot me questions regarding my thoughts on ACapulco; where had I been, where had I gone out, what had I seen. It just so happens that I had already acquainted myself with the gay scene visiting a few bars and clubs the prior weekend. Deciding to be a jokester, un estudiante asked if I had gone to Demas before turning to his group of friends and cracking up--sólo faltaba chocarles los cinco. "Actually, yeah I did," I shot back in a very nonchalant manner. The student's demeanor immediately turned from jovial to serious as another asked, surprised, "Wait. Did you really?"

As we all know coming out is a process, and not a single event. I guess in a heteronormative society, it's to be expected. Before traveling to Acapulco, I promised myself that I would continue my coming-out philosophy of reacting in all situations as a straight person would. Imagine this exchange:

Acapulco Taxi Driver: "...and what do you think about the boys from Acapulco."

Heterosexual gringo: "I will begin my response by negating the false presupposition of my sexuality behind your question."

Okay, perhaps that's not an authentic hypothetical response, but you get the message: if someone assumes I’m straight, there’s no reason for me not to casually correct them. Of course at times my nerves or overthinking impede me from fulfilling this goal 100% of the time, but it is something I strive for. Nonetheless, because I was going to be teaching at a school in Acapulco, in a different country and culture, I made sure to speak with my supervisor about the issue. "You mean you're just going to randomly tell the students you're gay?" she questioned. After further explanation she concluded it would be a non-issue...and it was.

Although the topic never really presented itself in the classroom, other than the example above, it definitely did outside of class, usually initiated with a question about my “girlfriend” back home, or what I thought about acapulqueña girls. I guess the “news” traveled fast because, soon thereafter, one of the secretaries in the department, with whom I shared a workspace, approached me one day very concerned. To sum up her comentario she told me to be careful because Mexico was diferente de los Estados Unidos, and in essence being gay wasn’t as accepted. However, based on my experiences I had somewhat of a different perspective.

While living in Guadalajara a couple years ago, the San Francisco of Mexico, I remember having a heated argument with a roommate, an older man in his mid-50's, who believed being gay went against nature. "There are cases of homosexuality in animals," I contended visibly upset. "Right, so gay people are like animals," he responded chuckling it up with another roommate, which infuriated me even more. The following morning I was prepared to give him the silent treatment until he offered me some of his daily banana-chocolate licuado as a sign of peace. I gladly accepted.

That’s not the only example of contradictory machismo. On numerous occasions while being taxied around Acapulco, my main source of transportation, the conversation would inevitably lead again to Acapulqueñas, their beauty, and at times the size of their mammary glands. According to my policy, I didn’t just “play along” with this male-bonding ritual but honestly expressed my sexuality. No taxista ever gave a negative response (to my face), and some exhibited a curiosity about the topic that made even me feel a bit awkward. I told the secretary at the school about these experiences, but nonetheless she insisted.

She said that straight teachers would never share or mention their personal lives, or anything related, with a student. It could have helped my argument if I would have known that I would later attend a school pool-party where one teacher decided to sport a tank top with “Squeeze me” written in the front in English. Aside from the double-standard, my philosophy is based on integrity; fighting that feeling that tells you to hide who you are.

My last anecdote I’ll write about is of another student, who confided in me enough to come out of the closet to me early on in the year. So comfortable indeed that he approached me to ask if I was activo or pasivo, because he and his friends "couldn't tell." Of course this is where I had to draw the line.

Forget Leading a Double Life. Try Wrestling With Double Meanings

This is my second-to-last post I did for Queerty that originally appeared on the website July 3rd, 2009:

One day I was putting up flyers around the school to advertise a scholarship program to the students. I entered one class and began taping a paper — hoja in Spanish — up to the window. I asked one of the students if the hoja was crooked, to which he yells to some girls standing outside the door, "Hey! Brandon wants to know if he has it crooked." ("Quiere saber si la tiene chueca.") I held back the laughter shaking my head in disapproval, while making a mental note of the joke for future use.

Just to provide a little language lesson: La (or "it") is the direct object here and replaces la hoja, or "the flyer." However, one with their mind in the gutter could possibly "misinterpret" the la as not replacing la hoja but la verga—a crude way to refer to the masculine member.

Now in my second stint living in Mexico, I've come to better understand what is now my favorite part of the language and culture: los albures, or the Spanish version of double entendres, usually goosed with a sexual connotation. Remember in grade school when someone would say they were going to “do it,” or had “done it,” and everyone would immediately take it out of context, "Eww, gross! You’re gonna do it with who!?" Well, it's like that, but a bit more complex. Anything you say can be used against you … in the court of social opinion.

When I first lived in Mexico, in Guadalajara, I didn’t catch on to los albures. Fast-forward to the numerous times where I was the only one not laughing. But, I was indeed aware of them. In fact the first thing I was usually quizzed on when locals pegged me as a foreigner was my understanding of albures: “Do you know what albures are? Do you understand them?” And the fact that they often asked with such pride, like a little kid asking if you’ve seen their bug collection, gave me a sense of their importance within Mexican identity. Armando Jiménez, the Mexican author behind a book about albures’ role in popular culture (Picardía mexicana), champions them as a defining characteristic of the national culture.

Of course, not everyone uses albures. My supervisor at the university where I teach English, for example, never used any, at least not in my presence. And there are certainly times when albures are inappropriate. But, both friends and students albur-ed me so much I began to learn the rules of the game.

My landlords own a restaurant downstairs where, every morning, I order scrambled eggs with frijoles and tortillas. Sometimes I change things up and wander over to the girls selling bagged jugo de naranja around the block. Once I decided to switch up my order and naively asked for some milk—leche. You can probably guess the double meaning. Of course the owner, Don Miguel, jumped at the opportunity, “¡Ora! ¡Quiere leche con sus huevos!” Perhaps I should have clarified that I wanted cow milk before they could erupt in laughter, although that probably would have dug myself even deeper.

Another time, I had just purchased a brand new guitar so I could start taking lessons. I told my friend Blanca that I’d play it for her whenever she wanted: “Te la toco cuando quieras.” If you’ve got a loose understanding with Spanish, you know I just set myself up. Tocar not only means “to play,” but also “to touch.” I just offered to touch it whenever she wanted.

Admittedly, in the beginning this style of humor really got on my nerves — until I realized how fun it is when I join in and torment someone else! But it’s more than cracking jokes; it’s being able to participate in and enjoy an aspect of the culture that many Mexicans take pride in.

As I was saying goodbye to some students outside the school, we decided to take a small group photo. “Me la sacas?” I asked one of the students, which in this context means, “Will you take my picture?” However, knowing that it could also translate as “Will you pull it out?,” I jumped to clarify what it was before they could get me: “¡La foto! ¡La foto!


C'est moi en route a la plage.

I tried to create a seamless trail of photos to the beach, although most of the time it just appears to be jumbled street photos. Oh well. It makes me nostalgic nonetheless. Mission accomplished.



The sun slowly disappeared over the hills surrounding the bay of Acapulco and the water was now freezing. My friend Carlos agreed it was time to get out. In the elevator on the way down to let me out of his apartment building (the pool's on the roof) I noticed in the mirror that my eyes were excruciatingly bloodshot, as if they had just been rubbed with a handful of sand. Carlos saw me off and my tummy began to rumble urging me to stop in a restaurant for a bite to eat. I slipped into a nearby Subway on the Costera and quickly noticed I was the only one without cubrebocas (face masks), including the employees. Not only did I look like the walking dead, but I could feel the "tickly sensation" of an oncoming sneeze. Immediately I released two mists of saliva into the palms of my hands. "Do you need a cubrebocas?" the employee asked. Behind his "face condom" I couldn't tell if he was joking or legitimately concerned.  

Unlike the clientele and workers in the restaurant may have believed, I didn't have the dreaded swine flu; a combination of bad allergies and my eye contacts had caused the inflammation. But who could blame them for their suspicions fed by the exaggerated climate of an incessant media and quick-acting government. Here in Acapulco, within days of the outbreak and at the hest of the Health Department, cinemas and malls were closed, restaurants were ordered to serve only take-out, all classes were canceled for two weeks in some places, up to three in others, and all of it giving the idea that this was an extremely contagious deadly disease.   

I admittedly fell into the trap constantly checking the news online for anything swine-flu related and readily sent it to the other Mexico Fulbright assistants. The WHO raised their "warning" level to the very scary-sounding phase 5-6, Widespread Human Infection, while the media relentlessly counted and reported both confirmed and unconfirmed cases. Then there were the constant images of cubrebocas in newspapers, TV and on the internet, although I could just take a glance out my window to see people walking down the street in them. Family members understandingly fearing for my safety also helped fan the flame. One of my aunts wrote me an email pleading that I return home. Even my dad, who's usually the rational one, sent me an email urging me to consider ending the Fulbright program early to go back to tha U.S. I started to think, "Ruh-roh! This must be serious!"  

But I began to wonder, "If it really were that dangerous the State Department would have evacuated us already...right?" That is unless Obama really was plotting to take over PEMEX and distract the Mexican public by infecting them with pork influenza like one of the conspiracy theories I had heard.  

I had been planning a 14-hour bus trip to Guadalajara but then I chickened out since I had to pass through-- gulp -- "ground zero," Mexico City! However, I started to think about it; Acapulco is the number one tourist destination for Chilangos (those who live in the capital). It could indeed be safer to travel at this time than to stay put in this popular vacation spot. As I headed out of my house with my duffle bag, the landlady was picking mangos from the branches above the carport. I explained to her where I was going, which was met with a dramatic pause. "Cuídate mucho (Take care of yourself)," she said almost as if it were a final goodbye.   

Of course I made it to my friend's house in Guadalajara alive and ended up spending a week there because the Health Secretary in the state where I live, Guerrero, decided to push back classes. I was happy for the extended vacation, although with bars and clubs closed there wasn't that much to do at night, except grab my friend's wig and make a low-end remake of Beyonce's "I'm a Diva" video.  

At the beginning, it kind of sounded like the plot from Outbreak, but now seems just blown out of proportion, and I'm still left a bit confused as to how serious the threat is. Mexico's Minister of Health claims to have avoided 8,000 potential deaths with their measures; a total of 66 deaths have been reported. This is hardly the killer Flu of the early 1900's and more than a hundred times more people have been killed by the drug war, but the swine-flu fiasco unfortunately has probably done an equal amount of damage to Mexico's image abroad. Cubrebocas may filter out the virus but it can't filter out the hype.

Confessions of a Taxista

I had to take a taxi to meet with Gabrielle, another Fulbrighter who has been doing performance work in Mexico City, since we probably won't see each other before I leave. She is staying a couple of days at Pie de la Cuesta, where Rambo III was partly filmed. It's a beach about media hora north of Acapulco. I first took a blue taxi to the parada where I could agarrar a yellow one, a taxi colectivo. 

The first driver, who had lived in N.Y. for 3 years with his brother, immediately began to express his disdain for Acapulcan English teachers, especially one of his daughter's in particular who would say "very well" to respond to "How are you doing?"

I told him that people usually don't say "very well" but that se entiende. (Perhaps a literal translation from muy bien)

He tells me that if you go to the states and gesture itching your rear accompanied with a moan of uncomfort también se entiende.


Lost in Translation

Just imagine for a moment that you enter a McDonald's with antojo for a Mcflurry and you're not sure which to get so you review the flavors. Let's see, Oreo, M&M, strawberry... Milch? 

I don't know about you but the word "milch" in my mind sounds like everything I wouldn't want mixed into a McFlurry.

Just thinking about it makes me wanna milch.

(According to this website, Milch is a famous chocolate bar here in Mexico with pieces of hazelnut and rice.)


Confessions of a Taxista

I've always thought that I wish I could secretly record the conversations that I have with the taxistas of Acapulco, or rather, their monologues about life in Acapulco, where they've been, what they've seen. Perhaps I did not mention it before, but even my maestro de arte used to taxistear (my own palabra inventada).

Today I've come down to the Costera to, según, be productive working on my resume and finding a news article for WatchingAmerica.com to translate. It is walk-able or even bus-able, but I opted to agarrar un taxi. 30 pesitos, but we would have to stop in a gasolinera to change my billete de 200. For the umpteenth time a taxista revealed that he had lived in the U.S., Los Angeles, for three years only to return to Mexico because his mother had become ill. He arrived through the Sonoran desert and would maybe go back once the economy turns around. I did not have the chance to ask what he worked in. 

Thinking I was an arquitect at first because I had la pinta de arquitecto he soon realized I was not from Acapulco, which is when he began to speculate that las acapulqueñas were "after me" because I don't look like a local. I look "Hawaiian" or "Caribbean" or "Jamaican" he tells me, while the local people are more morenillo.

He then proceeds to ask me the obligatory "Which is more difficult to learn Spanish or English?" to which I respond with something akin to "No lo sé, o sea, realmente no tuve que 'aprender' inglés entonces no te puedo decir."

Before changing the 200 bill we stopped on the side of the road so he could fill up the tank with gas he keeps in a Coca-Cola water bottle as he explained to me that the vochos-- almost all taxis in Acapulco are old VW beetles-- have the gas tank up front and the engine in the back. Interesante.


Influenza Porcina

As I chill in la casa de Misa en Guadalajara, hace casi 3 años que estudié en la Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, and the news anounces that the influenza está en decenso, me pregunto si debería de regresarme el miércoles o hasta el domingo. Le marqué a mi tutora y básicamente she told me that I could come back Sunday if I wanted ya que no esperaba un gran turnout de estudiantes esta semana.

Mientras tanto Novedades Acapulco reporta hoy que:



What do you do when Acapulco shuts down because of the Influenza Porcelina outbreak? You google yourself of course to see what comes up! 

Last time I happened upon an old article from a BGSU newsletter about my Fulbright grant, and this time I found out that I'm a celebrity.

That's right, I have my own Imdb.com profile page. This is the website that gives all types of information about movies, their release dates, the cast, directors, synopses, etc. It also gives you the work history of anyone that you look up. Just so happens that I had a minor
production assistant role in the small indie picture, "Eating Out" filmed in Tucson and released in 2004. (No it's not a porno. And why it associates me with BBS: The Documentary, I have no idea.)

Not only did I help out with moving stuff around on set, the director practically begged me to use a piece of my artwork in his film. I finally caved in and gave him one of my best drawings. 6 1/2 minutes in you'll see a colored-pencil sketch of a face, eyes nose and lips, on the wall above the bed to the left that I actually did senior year of high school. (Warning: this clip contains nudity and is not suitable for children)

I also make a grand guest appearance in the film playing partygoer #10. Fast forward to around 1:50 into the video clip, and don't blink.

Sorry Telemundo, Univisión, Telefutura...

As I walked to the Comercial Mexicana to buy some cleaning supplies for the aseo lady, my mind began to wander from counting all the passersby wearing cubrebocas in the street to a posting I had made a month or so ago about the use of Spanish in mainstream media in the U.S. I realized that what I had done ultimately was exclude Telemundo, Univisión and other Spanish media outlets from the "mainstream," which silences the voz and poder of the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. 

I do, however, still believe that networks which broadcast predominantly in the English language need to offer a better representation linguistically of U.S. society especially by including characters for whom code-switching is an integral part of their every-day life.

Influenza Porcina

Swine Flu: Mexico Urges People To Stay Home For 5 Days

Este fin de semana, como iba a ser puente "normal," es mi última oportunidad de volver a Guadalajara antes de que me regrese a los EEUU. ¡Gracias influenza porcina!

¿Qué tan preparado está el estado de Guerrero para combatir contra el virus? Novedades Acapulco explica que está grave la situación:

El secretario de Salud en Guerrero, Luis Barrera Ríos, confirmó la primera muerte de una persona a causa del virus de la influenza, aunque precisó que aún no se puede definir si fue del tipo porcino.

El funcionario estatal calificó la situación de la epidemia en territorio guerrerense como "un problema muy grave", al tiempo que admitió que no se cuenta ni con laboratorios ni con personal capacitado para identificar la existencia del virus H1N1, de la porcina.

Reiteró que en Guerrero se han detectado 96 posibles casos de ese mal, a los que se les aplicó la prueba de identificación, y sólo 14 dieron positivos al tipo A, lo cual le informó Novedades desde ayer.
Meanwhile the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the alert level to Phase 5. What does that mean exactly? Their webpage has a diagram detailing exactly what each level entails:
Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

Acapulco Jukebox



Influenza Porcina

Todo el país sin clases por la influenza


Why am I obsessed with trying to come up with "punny" titles for my blog? Okay, so maybe they're not so clever.

Sitting here attempting to finish up a translation for the Americas Program, I experienced my first earthquake. Actually it was my second, but the first time I was in a taxi with friends and we only found out when someone text messaged me: "sentiste el temblor?". But this time I could feel the house start to shake as I gazed out the enormous windows of my living room leading to the street. I heard the sound of a struggling car motor, which initially made me think it was just an enormous garbage truck about to pass by. The neighbors stepped out from their house and curiously looked around as if to ensure themselves everything was still in place. Probably not a doozy on the richter scale, but pretty scary.

It lasted for about five seconds, and now I'm beginning to simultaneously plan my exit strategy/recreate a scene from an action movie: throw computer to ground; run to door; briefly check for falling debris on the balcony; jump down onto the roof of a parked car tucking and rolling off the hood; shimmy around to the driver's door; somersault away from the vehicle drawing my Walther PPK and taking out the snipers in the window on the 3rd floor as the entire building blows up...

Sigh, back to the translation.

Update: 6.0 on the Richter Scale.

Influenza Porcina


Influenza Porcina

Todavía no se ha presentado ningún caso de influenza porcina en el estado de Guerrero, según las autoridades.  Sin embargo, debido a que el puerto es un destino turístico cada fin de semana para mucha gente proveniente de la Ciudad de México, el virus podría estrenarse muy próxmamente en Acapulco. 


Linguistic Variety Show

If you have a passion for linguistics and language change, then you'd
be interested in hearing about the characteristics of the variety or varieties of Spanish
I've encountered while living down here in Acapulco.  A number of things
have caught my attention but I'll start with one in particular.

When my roommate was still living with me a few months ago and we were chatting in my room, I jokingly told him how disappointed I was that he had failed some exams in school.

"Me decepcionas la verdad..." le dije con gesto reprobatorio que después se hizo risa.

A couple of days later he brought up the comment I had made and said something along the lines of:

"Me dijiste que te dececsiono"

All I could think about was how could I possibly have dissected him. That was really the only word association that came to my mind.  "Perhaps it's slang?" me quedé pensando.

Turns out some people, including other friends of mine, velarize the labial oclusives apparently in syllable-final position.

In other words, the soft drink pepsi may become peksi, and, as demonstrated by my roommate, decepcionar possibly becomes deceksionar.   

Because I'm obsessed with non-standard varieties of Spanish you can imagine my delight everytime I hear this feature.


Acapulco Jukebox

I've been wanting to go see the Orquesta Filarmónica de Acapulco for awhile now, that plays in the centro de convenciones as well as travelling to other regions of the nation.  Unfortunately I no longer have the flyer so I do not remember which songs they played nor the name of the opera singer who took to the stage throughout the performance.  They did, however, perform a number of movie themes including El Señor de los Anillos and the Sound of Music.  I recorded the following video with my digicam:



While engaging in one of the most narcissistic activities in which one can partake, googling oneself, I ran across this article that I should have posted before taking off for Acapulco.  It's an article about my grant from August 11th, 2008, appearing in the BGSU Monitor.  I remember being embarrassed while posing for photos for the photographer in the Student Union right before I headed to work at the Bowling Green Language Institute.  Seems like forever ago...

BGSU graduate heads to Mexico as Fulbright Scholar

A study-abroad stay in Spain as an undergraduate was enough to convince Brandon Brewer to change his major. Brewer, who graduated from BGSU Aug. 9 with a master’s degree in Spanish, will now be pursuing his love of the language and culture full time as a Fulbright Student Scholar in Acapulco.

He will teach English at the Autonomous University of Guerrero, one of Mexico’s state universities. “I’ll apply what I’ve learned teaching Spanish at BGSU as a graduate assistant, and some of what I’ve learned volunteering as an English teacher,” he said. “My goal is to immerse students in the language and also give them the cultural aspect.”

But he is most looking forward to Fulbright’s required community-oriented project outside the university, in which he will work with students in a middle or high school. Depending upon the availability of technology, he would like to arrange a “pen pal” correspondence with a group of students in the United States. “The U.S. is having its presidential election, and Mexico just went through theirs two years ago. I’d like to get them into blogging and email to compare the two countries,” he said.

Originally a media arts major, Brewer grew up in the Tucson, Ariz., suburb of Oro Valley. As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, he surprised his family by choosing to go to Alcalá, Spain, for a study-abroad program. “It was a big step,” he recalled. “I had never been outside the U.S., and I hadn’t known anyone who’d traveled abroad at all.”

He enjoyed the experience so much, he said, that he later went abroad several more times, again to Alcalá as a BGSU graduate student as well as to Brazil and Mexico. “I like languages a lot and I want to learn more,” he said, adding that he is also looking forward to the warm climate and living in a Spanish-speaking culture once again.


Sol tras Sol

I'm not even sure if that pun made sense but this is my latest creation-in-process at Ernesto's home studio.  Solo le falta detallar un poco más la botella-la etiqueta, el logo de Sol, las orillas- y arreglar el cielo en el fondo.  No sé si vaya a ser mejor que mi último cuadro pero creo que es por lo menos digno de ser colgado en la pared, ¿verdad que sí?

Y para q puedan juzgar mejor mis habilidades, que, téngase en cuenta, apenas voy desarrollando, les dejo la foto original que tomé en la playa La llorona de Michoacan...I think.

305 million Americans. One bucket.

Due to the rampant water shortages of Acapulco, especially during high tourist season when the hotel zones get priority, it is not uncommon to turn on the shower only to see a few droplets circle around the edges of the faucet until they huddle up and finally plummet to the ground.  There are three options at this point: go downstairs to kindly ask the landlord to pump water up to the tanks resting on the roof; readjust my hygiene standards for the day; or, grab a bucket and head for the emergency water bin to the side of the back door.

Some may see the bucket method, or bañándose a mentadas de madre as one student put it, as too unbecoming. However, I prefer to view it as a potential Green Revolution that could take the U.S. by storm. Imagine for a moment, if you will,  that instead of showering for 5 minutes (or however long you take), we instead filled up a medium-sized bucket to cleanse our bodies.  Having routinely gone through the experience, believe me, it requires very little water to hit the "hotspots." And although it was a bit awkward at first learning to reach all the nether regions, that's the point! It's very easy to stand in the shower for 20 minutes savoring the relaxing jet stream of hot water on your body, but a little more difficult to lose track of time when you have to squat to splash the soap off.


That's weird...

So the story goes that my great friend Judson came to visit about a month or so ago and happened to meet a certain Mexicano chaparrito that works on the costera at El Zorrito or another restaurant beside Galerías Diana, the most super fashion shopping mall of Acapulco only recently eclipsed by the more uppity La Isla.  To stay in contact with said character during his stay, I generously allowed Judson to utilize my celular.  No big deal, right?  As soon as Judson left this guy would either delete or forget the number, right?


Dozens of calls and litters of text messages later this tarado is still trying to contact me.  I'm sure he's a nice boy-- he and I exchanged maybe four sentences with one another in total-- but when he tells me things like "I love you" (in English!) it becomes rather creepy, even if he isn't aware of the meaning lost in translation.

Today I received another gem:

T vi pasast x my work xke t cortas mucho el pelo tkm


I saw you, you walked by my work, why did you cut your hair off (I just shaved my head)

tkm is shorthand for te quiero mucho 

Tonight after dinner at Los Tarascos my friend Rubi had the brilliant idea of calling the pobrecito to pretend as if she had found my cell on the street and had been using it ever since as her own.  She then told him to quit calling and sending weird texts.  He simply hung up.

Going Loca in Acapulco

I am thoroughly enjoying my stint as a guest columnist over at Queerty.com.  My second column is now up in which I discuss how Spanish has allowed me to express myself more openly in ways I wouldn't necessarily dare back home.  Check it out and increase the number of views!

The third topic will be Spring Break set to run in two weeks.


¿Dan Restrepo Makes Historia?

Recently I wrote about lil' Ethan López and my dream for Spanish breaking into mainstream media in a big way.  While I, along with Robert Gibbs, am admittedly ignorant as to if this was in fact the first time a foreign language has been spoken from the podium during a White House press briefing, I sure hope we see a lot more of it in the future.

Restrepo, formerly of the Center for American Progress, used two languages on Monday -- fielding questions from the American and foreign press. On several occasions he offered the same answer twice, catering to, for instance, the Latin American television crews that couldn't broadcast important policy announcements in English.

Acapulco Jukebox

When the galería that I began my painting lessons in was still open (it's now Dubai, a súper fresa karaoke or cantabar), we would listen to a variety of songs from Pita's iPod during class. A retired club owner whose brother and sons have taken over family operations of Clásico, Nenas and the now defunct Salon Q, among other business ventures, she always filled the studio with the stylings of Karen Souza featuring renditions of 90's classics like "Creep" by Radiohead and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun."  

I miss the ambience of the gallery with its windows to the costera and the random tourists parading by, just around the corner from Starbucks and across the street from unlimited órdenes of tacos al pastor.  I always felt like a free-spirited hippy when I passed through the doors and took a seat at one of the many easels scattered about.

Currently, the classes of pintura have been relocated to the former telenovela star who is my maestro's house, which also allows me to paint very a gusto as the packs of mosquitos attack my sandaled feet.  It's an open-aired house with an long, palm-lined walkway to the door frequently traversed by Ernest's adopted street dog.

Since the move in January I've had a total of 6 classes and am well on my way to finishing my next painting, which is acrílico this time instead of óleo.  Needless to say the process requires a great amount of patience and minute attention to detail.  That is to say if you're a perfectionist.  You could very well chuck a bucket of paint at the wall and call it art, and a day.  I've found persistence and focus is mostly what I need to produce quality paintings.  And of course the proper soundtrack:

Jagged Little Pill is indeed the perfect companion to the strokes of a brush but Ernesto also mixes it up with Eros Ramazzotti and friends:

The only thing better than the pairing of Eros Ramazzotti with Andrea Bocelli, is the matching of the former with Tina Turner.



That's weird...

A while ago the button on my favorite pair of jeans fell off and I went to the lavandería to see if they could fix it.  One of the women there told me she would go to the centro to get me a new one and slap it back on free of charge, since of course I'm a regular customer.  I was very grateful but a little perplexed by her choice...

Tengo mucha suerte de tener una lavandería supercerca de mi casa, two doors down. Les llevo mi ropa cada dos semanas como mínimo porque no sería capaz de limpiar mi ropa a mano con esa madre de piedra que usan mis vecinas. "Qué huevon eres," me dicen. Las mujeres que me lavan la ropa son muy buena onda y cada vez que paso por su tienda nos saludamos. Ayer me encontré con una, la mamá, en el oxxo y platicamos un poquitico. Ella compraba algunas meriendas antes de ir a agarrar un autobús para Cuernevaca u otra ciudad que se me olvida. 
Ésta ha sido completamente representativa del carácter amable de la gente de aquí porque al caérseles el botón a mis jeans favoritos le pregunté a ella dónde arreglármelos. Ella fue al centro y me consiguió un botón gratis como de favor, supongo que gracias a que soy un cliente ya preferido.  Obvio.

Acapulco Jukebox

A few entries back I mentioned the sounds of mangos slamming on the roof outside my bedroom window.  I would love to record that ruido, and in fact one just dropped before I started writing, but it's a little difficult.  Por eso I captured another "sound of Acapulco," this time me refiero al garbage collector.  

That's the cue for me to run downstairs, via the spiral staircase exit not through the carport, which doubles as school restauran on weekdays, with trash bags in hand to make it before the basurero passes by.


Vermont and Iowa Destroy Traditional Marriage

If you haven't heard already in the past week or so, both Iowa and Vermont have given the neon rainbow light to gay marriage while D.C. just voted to recognize out-of-state marriage licenses. As my mom would say, thank you Jesus!

Perhaps they saw this video of hermaphroditic snails mating and realized that "same sex unions" are natural and beautiful... eh awkward.



You know I forgot to blog about one of the most talked about times of the year here for Acapulqueños- Espring Break.  Not only for some of my girl friends who can't wait to flirt with the hot gringos guapos, although I don't think they ever did, but also for the tourism industry hoping for a surge in sales from all the college students looking to spend money and have a good time.  Ever since I got here repeatedly people would tell me, "Oh you just wait until Spring Break!  It's crazy!"  "The gringos come and hacen un desmadre," they claimed.  "Why are gringas such ho's?" one of my friends questioned.  "How many do you know?" I asked her.  "I know some... a few...one" 
Needless to say there was a bit of hyperbole surrounding the whole situation, razón por la cual I started to brace myself at the beginning of March for hoards of wasted espringbrekers roaming the streets and fornicating on hotel balconies (another common complaint).
Finally, the week arrived.  I don't live on the costera but head down there a few times a week.  I saw a couple groups of students.  Heard a lot of English speakers walking down the street scoping out the town.  A few gringos in bars, and I admit I'm guilty of stereotyping myself when it comes to guessing or assuming who's gringo and who's not.
The only desmadre really came from a closed-off pool party in one of the hotels.  I thought about haciéndome el gringo tarado and saying that I had lost my bracelet just to investigate but probably nothing new that I hadn't seen on an MTV or Wild on E! special.


And now for your... buttocks?

Today, one of the other teachers at the LEII where I teach English approached me with a question.   He pulled me aside to make sure that he was telling his students, massage therapists with English-speaking clients, the right terms necessary to do their work and communicate with the tourists.
"So when the massage therapist is about to massage the..." he points to his rear-end, "what term do they use?  Because they don't say ass, right?"  
"Yeah, they don't want to use that term."  I knew ass was not the right fit, but I was literally stumped.  He then asked me what the polite terms were for ass or butt.  "Well," I thought.  "There's rear." 
"But that's the lower back isn't it?" he questioned unconvinced.
"No, you can say rear."
But then I pictured a massage therapist moving down the back declaring, "I'm going to begin to massage your rear."  That can't sound right.  What about "to massage the rear"?  Nope, not that one either.  
I propose, "I think gluteus may be the best fit in this situation."
"How about buttocks?"
Now imagine the therapist, as he or she begins to move towards your gluteus maximus, exclaim, "Alright, now I'm going to massage the buttocks"?  I think this would be more than cause for laughter, would it not?
So, I told them that probably the therapist should stick with "the gluteus muscles" or "gluteus maximus" or "the gluteus" as it manages to both speak in scientific terms and depersonalizes said under-region of the body.  Let's hope it was good advice.


Student Jokes

One of my students told me this joke that she made up for a class the other day:

What do you call a bee that produces milk instead of honey?

A boobee



Yo corazon Ethan Lopez

You can probably imagine my glee when my sister-in-law told me that she and my brother were considering placing my nephew, Jalen, in the Puente de Hozho Bilingual Magnet School of Flagstaff, which has one "track" for Spanish/English and another for English/Navajo. Nothing could be more exciting knowing that Jalen would have the benefit of growing up bilingual, something that I could only dream of and still do... in retrospect.

When me and my bro were little we had a number of nanny's and babysitters that I can remember, April being a particular favorite. Mrs. Huff though was the only one, from what I recall, who spoke Spanish and had a particularly strong accent in English. However, she never spoke the language with me and my brother, or at least enough for us to have acquired it. It brings a lágrima to my ojo.

Another missed-out opportunity concerns Creole Portuguese, which you may know is the language of Cabo Verde, and usually spoken by the older generations on my mom's side of the family.

Never heard Creole Portuguese before? Here's a taste provided by world-famous Cape Verdean artist Cesaria Evora:

The youngans you see have mostly missed out on this beautiful language. And ultimately its because people find a need to, or are forced to, accept the idea that U.S. culture is monolingual when it's really not and never has been. Oh well, at least I am able to do some guesswork from my knowledge of Brazilian portuguese to try and communicate with my mom and Auntie Laura. Ago, N podi fra un poku di kel kuz, hence the title of this blog: Marikan di Kor (American of color), which so neatly expresses my dual identity as black, or person of color, and Cape Verdean, as its written in Creole.

Nothing to do now except set a goal of taking every opportunity to speak Spanish and, in the future, become conversationally fluent in Creole Portuguese. The ones who do always have a second-chance so to speak are the newest generations. During a town-hall meeting Obama attended, introduced by the governator himself, a little boy was given the chance to ask Mr. President the final question. If you watch the video (about 1:20 in), as the little boy says his first name, "Ethan," he says it in standard English as you would expect.

But his last name comes out "Lopez," undeniably in Spanish. I was watching it the other day and it hit me like a ton of bricks...in a good way, and here's why: in all my years of watching media in the United States, mainstream media, far too little do we get to hear the code-switching that so many Americans utilize to communicate to one another. Does Dorah the Explorer count? Yep, and my nephew highly enjoys her and her brother Diego as evidenced by his backpack, scooter, thermos, etc. But I don't want just random words here and there. I want full-out in your face evidence of bilingualism, that I feel is such an important part of this country and its history.

I say put a character on a sitcom or a drama who occasionally speaks in Spanish to his friends or others... and without subtitles. The message isn't so much that you understand what they're saying but that millions of people daily are switching in and out between inglés y español. I certainly would not claim code-switching abilities, but know many who do and it just absolutely amazes me. My mom ups her Creole output especially when visiting her relatives outside of Boston, along with the East Coast R droppage, in part to express that part of her identity. Why can't we catch a glimpse of similar language shifts in movies or advertising?

Word on the street (digo, Wikipedia Boulevard) is that President Obama himself speaks Indonesian, although we do not know to what degree. Why isn't this covered in the news as something amazing, awesome, worthy of celebration? How many other presidents spoke a different tongue, fluently? Imagine the message that it would send if he suddenly switched into Indonesian during a press conference (of course later translating what he had said).

I don't know if my nephew will end up attending that school, but when he grows up, I hope that overall attitudes have changed and being bilingual will be something more publicly visible and valued in the United States.


Bubble-gum Bubbles

I guess my lil' nephew Jalen was randomly asking people how to blow a bubble with his gum, and then it occurred to him that perhaps Uncle Brandon would know how to do it.  So I decided to make a little how-to video to show him.  The wonders of technology!


Un-edited Article on Colorism

So they asked me to make some changes and did some altering of their own before putting up my column about colorism here in Mexico.  To offer a bit of self-critique, I admit that I silence the voices of those who do break the color barrier, actors who are darker-skinned and yet enjoy prominent roles in TV shows, movies or advertising.  Also, although I do give a link to a New York Times article over the subject, to some it may appear that I give a holier-than-thou criticism from a non-Mexican perspective since I don't go any further into the issue stateside. Lastly, I do not mention class and the role it plays in maintaining the colorist system.

Here's my original writing before all editing

There's no doubt that one of the most important issues facing Mexico today is the drug war. It's a problem that deserves as much attention and debate as it has received in the national media if not more. However, there's an entirely different subject that merits some discussion, which has been, at least in my opinion, completely absent in the national discourse: the very conspicuous exclusion of darker-skinned Mexicans in everything from telenovelas and commercials to all kinds of other advertising. I hesitate to use the word racism only because I risk conflating the two very different racial systems that exist between the U.S. and Mexico. Colorism is a more apt term; rampant colorism.

It's something that has always irritated me, especially being myself a person of color, since I lived for the first time in Mexico in 2006 in Guadalajara. One immediately notices that the models in advertisements on billboards, in store windows and bus stops have surprisingly white complexions in comparison with the people actually passing by.

In fact, if you were exposed to this imagery and never stepped foot in the country, you would probably think that Mexico had no mulatto, mestizo or indigenous population at all. Go ahead, turn on Univisión or Telemundo, which often run Mexican-produced telenovelas, and you will see exactly what I am referring to. You have actors such as Christopher Uckermann of Rebelde fame or William Levy Gutierrez (actually a U.S. nationalized citizen born in Cuba) from Cuidado con el Ángel who, although they may indeed be fine thespians and perhaps ridiculously good-looking, also seem to have passed along with every other telenovela star the Mexican equivalent of the brown-paper bag test; or in this case more like the white milk-carton test.

After the soap operas, stick around for the commercials if you want to witness even more "whitewashing," such as this commercial for a new shopping plaza in Guadalajara called Plaza de Hierro. I guess just to add insult to injury, as Alejandro Fernandez's love ballad swoons for that girl from Guadalajara with beautiful "ojos negros," we get a close-up of two green and blue-eyed models.

Now I know that some people may be thinking, "What are you trying to say, that all Mexicans are brown skinned?" This is, in fact, a common response from certain Mexicans when I bring the topic up to them. Of course not, but even if the Mexican population were say 50% "light skinned" and 50% "dark skinned," there should be an at least somewhat similar representation in the media, right? Well, currently that ratio seems to sit at about 99% "very light skinned," far from a faithful representation of the country´s actual population.

It's a preference that's also echoed in every-day conversation, something attested to in this ethnographic study on skin color in Veracruz, Mexico. A few months ago I went to the beach with a group of students and upon asking one of the girls why she wouldn't come in the water, she replied, "I don't want to get dark." But avoiding the light isn't the only way to stay "light". While walking to the supermarket the other day (I currently live in Acapulco, Mexico), I spotted some quinceñeras portraits outside a photo developing center. An abrupt change in skin tone from the chin up can only mean one of two things: either they used foundation to whiten up their faces, or to darken up their necks. You be the judge. A common Mexican saying, although also heard in other Latin American countries, puts it even more bluntly: mejorar la raza, or "bettering the race," which refers to marrying a white-skinned person into the family in the hopes that the next generation is ligher-skinned.

It's not my intent to belittle any voices who are indeed speaking out against this injustice, but where is the outrage and criticism? I wonder how many people even acknowledge its existence. One study puts the figure at 40%. However, there is a difference between acknowledgment and public protest. When I do try to bring it up with people, the usual response is to point out that the U.S. is a lot more racist than Mexico, which may or not be true. However, having a racism contest between the two nations is besides the point, although yes, colorism is also alive and well on this side of the border.

So as I really do hope Mexico finds an effective approach to ending the recent rash of violence, I believe that there needs to be another healthy national debate to draw focus to the plight of the slightly-brown-skinned-and-darker and their apparent lack of representation in all forms of media. If you're still not convinced it's a worthy cause, think about Michael Jackson or watch this ridiculous commercial for Pond's "White Beauty" cream from India, and you'll realize how damaging colorism can be.


It's very interesting how having written for a popular blog that apparently thousands of people read, or at least the number of hits for my post seems to reveal, I can google search it to see who has commented on their own websites, like Santo Gay.

Here we go again.  ANOTHER White American writing about color discrimination in Mexico!  Give me a break.


Well, besides the fact that I am not a "White American," I can agree that I don't want to be THAT Gringo who goes into other countries waving their uppity finger at the host culture. However, I certainly do feel that as a brown-skinned individual--black, mixed, half-Cape Verdean-half-Black, etc.-- I should be able to voice concerns that I feel somewhat have affected me while living in contact with that culture.  Any person from a country where Spanish is the official language who journeys to the U.S. only to witness that Spanish speakers are very poorly represented in our media, by all means, criticize away.