Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
I Shall Always Be A Gringa
My skin is a porcelain color that never tans, always burns. And my eyes are a blue/grey. And in this land of beautiful brown-skinned and brown-eyed people, I shall always be a gringa. I may get my “permanente;” I can even study and become a citizen of Mexico. But from the outside, I’ll always be a gringa, even though in my heart belongs to Mexico.
Sunday’s are my day to walk through my neighborhood, and visit with my neighbors. They put up with my poor attempt at Spanish. I tell everyone I actually speak “Spanglish,” because I am now stuck using a mixture of both. Where I volunteer there are seven Mexican employees who are very forgiving of my Spanish. I understand more than I can speak. But I continue to try to speak. Sometimes my husband, who because of a brain condition, doesn’t understand Spanish, will ask me a question and I will answer him in Spanish and he’ll look at me as though I’ve lost my mind. I live in two worlds.
Meanwhile, my English is getting worse, and my spelling, which wasn’t great before, has become worse — English words no longer look right to me. Have you ever noticed how many double letter combinations there are in English? Not in Spanish. They have double L’s and double R’s. In English we double just about everything: o’s, t’s, s’s, m’s, n’s, p’s, r’s…. so nothing looks correct to me anymore.
After nearly six years here, I am still learning the nuances of the Mexican culture. I have learned, even experienced, the true meaning of a “Mexican stand-off.” Neither side will compromise, and yet life goes on. But there is point that they will cross. Mexicans could teach ALL foreigners a lot about being polite and respectful. Things like when walking into a small store–it is considered rude not to greet the staff. It is rude to pass someone on the street without greeting them. Once I had two Mexicans laugh at me when one came in to pay for an ad. I had not greeted the gentleman, asked how he was, or introduced myself. I just jumped right to business violating all their polite rituals. What did I know? I was just a gringa from America and I had a business contract to complete.
As an American businesswoman, I’ve dealt with men in business my entire career. That discussion is a book topic. But as an American woman dealing with Mexican men, I have had to learn some hard lessons. I had to learn their complete dedication to family, their extreme pride in their work, and their dedication, as well as their humor. The Mexicans I know do not warm to people instantly. It takes time to earn their trust. They learn to know you; make judgments on you based on their own experiences and base opinions on how you handle each situation. Criteria vary according to individual experiences, but I had to earn the trust of the people I work with, and they daily teach me lessons about life in a Mexican business culture. They are incredible teachers if we take the time to watch, listen and learn. I have learned to respect their ways. I don’t always understand those ways…yet.
Yet some Mexicans have adopted my husband and me as family. They have cared for my husband and me through illnesses, and they celebrate our birthdays and special occasions and love us despite the fact we are gringos. They have captured our hearts forever.