Friday, July 31, 2009


In Hispanic culture, there is no dichotomy for work and leisure; they are a yin and yang. As a consequence, there is not distinction between today and tomorrow, and “Nos veremos manyana un cuarto p’las cuatro.” (“We’ll get together tomorrow at a quarter to four”)really means “sometime tomorrow afternoon if we, by freakish mutual coincidence, happen to both be up for it at the same time tomorrow afternoon.”
Tomorrow is full of all the promise not present today, but tomorrow everything can explode, as it often has in the past. If tomorrow is postponed until tomorrow, than it will always hold promise and the worst will be diluted or left for one day after I die. In the meantime, the promise of tomorrow remains plausible. This is the dreary dreamer strategy: seize the day tomorrow because tomorrow could be worse than today, so you should enjoy life today, all the while rehearsing the delusions needed to feel happy about tomorrow’s potential.
This creates a lifestyle that, to the outsider from a linear culture where tomorrow is traditionally better than yesterday, is exasperating because nothing gets done when it is supposed to –if it ever does. If you come from one of those cultures, you need only one tip: take a book or a beer with you wherever you go.
A routine visit to the bank could take hours and is likely to be closed because a past dictator, who didn’t steal that much money or kill too many women, children and priests died on that day; in other words, it is a national holiday. Or you may find that there is some bizarre rule that has been put in place to make the local branch manager feel like a big man when people come begging to him to make an exception. In any case, the more ordinary, simple, and standard the errand, the more likely it will blossom into an ordeal that consumes at least a day. So maybe carry two books and a six pack.
You may think that the choice between six pack and book is a personal choice, but it is not. It is dictated by strict social norms. First and foremost, don’t read anywhere where being perceived is crazy is preferable. For example, don’t read on the bus. You are going to get mugged or swindled. It says to locals, “I am naïve; please, I deserve to be conned.” If in doubt, it is usually much better to be drinking a beer. This says, “I am not all there; that is why I am riding this bus instead of making millions of dollars a year back in my wealthy home country.” As a consequence, you will meet other crazy people, which will protect you from the rivals of the crazy people you are drinking with. This is better than worrying about all the crazy people. So you better the odds when you signal that you are crazy.
There only two places where a book is preferable: government buildings and banks. These are places where the most anal Hispanic people are likely to be, and a book will flatter them accordingly. Name dropping, if you can pull it off, is the preferred method of greasing the bureaucracy. Say something like, “Don [local oligarch’s last name] lent this book to me. He says I will understand the country better.” Every stamp you need will happen, if the government is right wing or you are in any bank that has not been recently nationalized and plundered. However, in a left wing country, whip out the book of some local left wing hack, and simply say, “Quiero aprender, por eso leo este libro.” Your local left wing 3rd grade educated government clerk-thug, who was appointed to his post because he convinced all his squatter shanty town friends to vote for Hugo Chavez, will soak it up. You are good to go, mi amigo.
In just about any other place, beer is best. Grocery stores, public transit, restaurants, funerals, sidewalks, bathrooms, public parks, archaeological sites, highways, stop lights, commuter flights, army barracks, border crossings, anyplace where you have agreed to meet anyone (who probably won’t show up anyway)… these are all good places to have a beer.
Drink enough and you will quickly assimilate, blowing off appointments, and making life-long friends every day. If you are white or Asian and have come to believe these people need a mano dura, you have the option of becoming a local oligarch or dictator. If you are black, stick to black people and drink; that is all anyone expects you to do. Finally, there is a good chance, if you are the type who saved up $1000 to travel through Spain or Latin America, that you may like beer and books. For that, go to the same cafés you would hang out at home, or just stay home. Whatever you do, don’t be seen with a Lonely Planet guide book. Since the essence of Hispanic culture is to improvise and leave all serious matters for another day (preferably the day after you die), planning your vacation is antithetical and offensive to local culture.

Getting Pregnant

Getting pregnant, for Latin American Hispanics, is the analogous equivalent, for whites, of graduating from college, getting a job, and the long-awaited bachelor or bachelorette apartment. It is the point, for the Latin American woman, when, no matter what her previous accomplishment or lack of accomplishments, she is treated, for the first time, as a mujer realizada (a fulfilled woman). Many women get pregnant to escape living with their parents, who still have the often-exercised right to demand their 23 year old daughter be home by 9 PM. Keep in mind that most Hispanic people don’t leave home until they get married, and that most don’t get married until there is pregnancy. So if you are traveling through the region, be aware that birth control does not work in Latin America. Because birth control does not work, most do not bother to use it. Sex equals pregnancy. If this were not true, latinas could lie about their virginity well past 23.

White People

Hispanic love of white people rests like an immovable obelisk in the middle of a living room. It is so large that two Hispanic people on opposite sides of this obelisk cannot see each other. Once hidden from each other, Hispanic people will disown their common identities and look to imitate the obelisk; but when one sees the other Hispanic guy doing the same, the common shame becomes shocking. Then one Hispanic will call the other a subservient traitor, at which point a brutal civil war will ensue.
On occasion, Hispanics make a quixotic attempt to assail the obelisk, but it remains stoic and invincible. Others have tried to be friends with the obelisk, but for the obelisk friendship requires becoming just like the obelisk, except smaller and submissive. Still others cope by redesigning the entire living room to make the obelisk look unobtrusive; these orchestrated denials, although loved by elites, tend to give place to implosions of destructive resentment. Traditionally, the best coping strategy has always been to use the obelisk as an ally against fellow Hispanics, who tend to conveniently disappear from view when they are on the wrong side of the obelisk. This has lost favor, as of late. The preferred strategy today is to give the obelisk what it wants in exchange for whatever the obelisk feels like giving. These are known as “bilateral free trade agreements.”
For those white people discontent with this reality, there is the option of joining the Peace Corps. This is more soul-soothing than being a rich white guy. Hispanics will offer rich white guys their daughters, which can make some gringos uncomfortable, as do job requests, or inquiries regarding their connections in the local US Embassy that could expedite their green card papers. As a rule, Hispanics pretend to love powerful white people, but among their own people express hatred to succor their politics of prostration. With the well meaning, in contrast, they feign an open hatred, but then downgrade this to charming resentment and petty petitions once your earnest harmlessness is demonstrated.
So just remember, if you are white you need not worry. You can pretend to be whatever type of white guy you wish you really were back in your homeland, and Hispanics will pretend to hate or love you accordingly. You have it made. Use the word “ojalá” as much as possible. This stimulates a Hispanics neurotic coping mechanisms. Try, for example, “Ojalá que este mundo fuera otro.” (If only this world were another world.) This sets up you Hispanic friend to say something like, “Ojalá que yo tuviera chance para irme para el norte.” (If only I had the chance to go to The North.) In sum, you pretend to not like being the obelisk, which sets up an opportunity for the Hispanic guy to say you are the obelisk. This is soothing for the both of you. Add beer, lend him something you don’t mind never getting back, you will be accepted, and you will have lots of authentic stories.
If you are not into gringo guilt, keep reminding people you are the obelisk and be the obelisk. When this is not enough, smash all who get in the way with money and threats.
This is good advice for white people, but what about non-white?
What if you are a Hispanic who meets another Hispanic at a white party? There is a good probability, especially if you are in California, that she will question how down you are. White people do not find this inappropriate and will not intervene; you are on your own. (Remember, white people only get into Hispanic’s business to make things worse). In this situation, remember how tormented your people are. Her parents probably fled some backwater hell in the homeland; she then grew up in a household where Spanish was discouraged and dating Hispanic men was forbidden without exceptions. If she were in touch with her roots, she would not have to declare them to every white boy on campus; she would not act Hispanic; she would just be Hispanic. In short, she grew up with white people or at least striving to get into a good white school; she has a white lover; she wishes she were whiter; and she wants to make up for all of these things by policing her own people with allegations of whiteness.
The biggest mistake you can make is to be polite when you are accused of whiteness; the second biggest mistake is to respond in English. She probably doesn’t speak Spanish; if she does not, keep going for as long as possible. Some white guy, who spent six months in Managua, will chime in and it will embarrass her that she does not know what the gringo is saying. If she does, get personal. Take it to the gutter swiftly and without remorse. You may be in a white situation where this is deemed distasteful. But remember that white people are in no position to take sides or to judge your manners when you depart from them into a non-white discussion; furthermore, if you are polite, the white people will assume you are friends because of your shared roots and you will run into to her at every white party for the rest of your life.
Okay, now Asian people have it best in the Hispanic world. Hispanics think you are genius –maybe even smarter than white people- and they don’t feel the need to dump their colonial oppression baggage on you. You get the adulation without the loathing. In fact, if you happen to be in a part of Latin America with a large indigenous population, you can become dictator if you play your cards right. It is simple. First, stress your shared racial roots; second, enact the same neoliberal policies that the parties that want to make the country whiter would enact. The elites and the indigenous will love you and you will be king. Don’t, however, go too far emulating white people. Do not push for rule of law or ask local oligarchs to pay taxes so that everyone can be literate and not lose their children to dysentery. Not cool. Also, don’t lose your passport; there will come a time when you must run. Study the story of Fujimori.
Black people have it worst. Just remember non-black Hispanics assume you are no more developed than an HIV positive Silverback in the Congo eating babies for breakfast and burping Ebola on the mothers. You may have a PhD; you may be the Secretary of State, but all will assume you are a dishwasher. They will try to prove to themselves that they are better, more developed and altogether superior to you. They may ask if you are from Haiti. Be afraid.
Finally, gay people, you must remember that the more macho the outside, the bigger the bitch on the inside. The source of this bitch lies in a disturbed love affair with one’s mother. Just like anywhere else. The difference is that, because Hispanics feel themselves morally superior to modern norms of social tolerance (future post), macho conduct must be more extreme to hide the inner-bitch. Be afraid. If possible, don’t act gay unless the guy you are drinking with is closet gay and at least three drinks ahead of you. Even then, you never know when he may blame you for his gayness and get violent. Of course, fruit that you are, maybe you would like that. Maybe that is why you are in Oaxaca in the first place