Are you racist?

On Thursday, in one of the border cities we work, and while police 11 blocks away were confiscating 5 tons of marijuana (more on the drug war soon), I was asked if I was racist like my paisanos (countrymen). I had struck up a conversation with two men, stoop sitting because they said they work nights. Two totally normal guys, a little cholo (gangsta) as is the style here, mustached, and munching on chicharonnes (fried pork rinds). As most conversations start in Mexico, we talked briefly about the weather (no, no I wasn’t very cold), and then as if we were still casually talking about the weather, they told me that my countrymen had treated them real bad. Just a few years ago they had been working several hours north picking chili peppers, when they got picked up and shipped to the border. They were told not to try crossing again and if they did in the next 20 years, los encierran (they’d be locked up). We just wanted to work, they said, but they don’t love us, your countrymen. Yes, I said, unfortunately there’s a lot of discrimination and racism. A short pause. Are you racist? Claro que no (of course not), I said casually, as if they asked me if I liked Hawaiian pizza, another Mexican favorite. They laughed and agreed. After all, if I were racist, I woudn’t be working in Mexico, would I. Why then wouldn’t your paisanos let us work? They asked if I’d heard about the May 1st protests when Mexicans didn’t come to work and businesses and restaurants had to shut down for the day. Yes, of course, I said, surprised, and then guilty for being surprised, by their awareness. I remembered the spirited march in college, 2,000 miles north of where we were having this conversation. It’s strange but with these guys I didn’t feel the sting I often feel when I read deportation stories in the news – mothers separated from children, born-and-raised Americans sent back to their “home” country and forced to start new lives. These guys were doing alright. They had jobs and were doing well enough to treat the women we were training for the project to chips and snacks. What I was, was intensely embarrassed to acknowledge that many of my countrymen, who I love for many other reasons, don’t love Mexicans, don’t want them in our country and are racist.


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