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On Being Asian-American in Mexico & Student Poetry

This is a guest post by Augsburg student, Mina, about her time abroad with CGEE in Mexico and her poem, Los Feminicidios. Thank you to Mina, for sharing your experiences with us. 

On Being Asian-American in Mexico

Mina Himlie, Augsburg class of ‘23

I am used to being the only Asian person in the room. I grew up in a small town that is 99 percent white, including my parents. I don’t have many Asian friends, and even in the Twin Cities I haven’t made any Chinese American friends. Before the start of my study abroad semester, I didn’t give much thought to how being Asian would affect me while I was in Mexico because I didn’t think being surrounded by a different race would be any different from my everyday experiences. Through the Global Twin Cities Scholars program I learned about Mexican culture and realities in terms of immigration. Between the cultural preparation and the completion of my intermediate level Spanish classes, I felt as prepared as I’d ever be to spend a semester abroad in Mexico. Even so, I was not prepared for the different way that Mexican culture constructs race and racism.

In my time in Cuernavaca, I have not seen many people visibly of Asian descent. I have, however, been asked many times by strangers where I came from. On its own, this is usually an innocuous question. People can usually tell that my friends and I are tourists, whether that’s from our English, our accents, our clothes, or something else, and they like to make small talk. However, it starts to come across as racist when they don’t accept “the United States” as an answer to their question.

One day I was out with my sister (also Asian) and her boyfriend (white). They were looking at some notebooks, and I was making small talk with the vendor. He asked where we were from, and I replied that we were from the U.S. He shook his head and pointed at my sister’s boyfriend. “He’s from the United States,” he said in Spanish, “but where are you two from?” This was the most direct anyone has ever been with me about my ethnicity. It also reveals something that we have talked a bit about in classes and discussions with Mexican students from International House: the popular idea in Mexico that only white people are from the U.S.

I could go on with countless other incidents like this one when people have asked, “Where are you from?” and gotten an unsatisfactory answer, so they proceed to ask, “Where are your parents from?” and “Where were you born?” until I answer with an Asian country, but I won’t. It is clear to me that when they ask, “Where are you from?” what they really want to know is my ethnicity. If it was just once or twice, it wouldn’t bother me. But it happens a lot here, possibly due to the social construction of race and racism.

One of the first guest speakers my group received was Dr. Raziel Valiño. She spoke on the topic of the social construction of race and class in Mexico. Dr. Valiño’s lecture introduced us to a phrase that I’ve heard too many times to be comfortable in the discussion of race: “Racism doesn’t exist in Mexico.” She, I , and the rest of my classmates disagree with this sentiment. She explained that because there was a lot of mixing between races in Mexico, the way Mexican culture constructs race is different, and almost everyone is considered “mestizo” or mixed race. So though it might not appear in the segregated way that it exists in the U.S., racism still shows up through colorism and classism.

Because of this mestizo reality in Mexico, it is not generally considered racist to comment on someone’s physical, ethnic appearance the way it is in the United States. Despite knowing this, the number of times it has happened makes me feel frustrated and exasperated. Like a microaggression, intentional or not, it builds up. 

In situations of intercultural communication like this, I feel that the CGEE program does a good job of emphasizing empathy and seeing things from the other culture’s perspective. What I had to remind myself of is that my perspective matters too, and both things can be true. Those strangers might not be intentionally saying racist things, and they still bother me because I interpreted them as microaggressions. They are allowed to bother me, but I’m not allowed to go off on someone for saying something. Being in Mexico, or any new cultural environment, requires self-reflection, not just cultural understanding.


Los Feminicidios

By Mina Himlie

In 2019 there were

10 cada día.

Yo no pude encontrar

More recent numbers,

Pero, does that matter?

No matter what

Hay demasiado.

 

Son un gran problema aquí en México

But they happen in the U.S. too.

We just don’t have the language for them

Escrito en nuestras leyes.

 

The United States

Ha declarado una guerra contra las mujeres

With the draft to repeal Roe v. Wade.

But that’s just the most obvious declaration of war.

What about las mujeres indígenas

Who are 10 times more likely to be disappeared

Or murdered.

“Missing” and murdered indigenous women are not missing.

They are disappeared.

 

What about las situaciones de violencia doméstica?

Las violaciones?

El abuso?

El miedo que sentimos when we walk alone?

Las cosas que hacemos para protegernos 

Without a second thought:

Keys between our fingers

Llamadas con amigos, reales y falsas

Theorizing escape routes

Mirando la mapa 

To be sure the Uber driver isn’t kidnapping you.

 

All of these things are part of

La guerra contra las mujeres

In both the United States y México.

Pero en los Estados Unidos and Mexico

We are fighting back.

We take to the streets.

We make our voices heard.

And we demand the right to live.

 

El futuro es feminino

So fuck the patriarchy,

And do it like a girl.