The other day I walked into a neighborhood restaurant.
The soft, quick count of salsa wafting its way over flat grills and around containers of poco de gallo and into my ears mixed with the scent of perfectly seasoned carnitas. I ordered, grabbed my tamarind Jarritos and sat down. I heard some other patrons speaking Spanish, and heard little bits of their conversation. The delivery guy had recognized me from the other day, and pointed me out to them. A few moments passed, and the delivery man left while they continued. I felt a bit strange and noisy, so I went to pull out some headphones and give them privacy, when “pinche mayate” can spewing out of the patrons mouth like a venom, aimed straight for me.
I felt it in slow motion.
P I N C H E M A Y A T E.
PEEN – CHAY MY – YAH – TAY.
I froze. I felt like google had hacked my brain and was now live translating.
“Dude seriously? That’s not okay. I heard she speaks Spanish.”
“So what? I don’t care if she knows.”
“That’s so uncool, man.”
I sat there, stunned and speechless. There’s no way this just happened.
I asked the employee if he too had heard the man. “Did he just call me a fucking nigger?” The boy shook his head, and with a pinch of relief I said, “oh okay sorry. I thought I just heard ‘pinche mayate.” My eyes caught the perpetrators, and immediately I was overcome with anger. He had said it and he had meant it. He was proud of it. Thrilled that his hurt had permeated through the skin he so hated, and had poisoned me.
I could feel the dam behind my retinas splintering, and all I could focus on was escaping. I could feel my body trembling, and soon all I could see before me were blurs of the outside world, tinted red. I could feel it rolling around inside of my soul, quickly consuming the dopamine and serotonin I had laden myself with. I felt instantly less than. Instantly worthless and forgotten. I saw the flames of the cross that burned in my honor so long ago. I saw the police officers that harassed my mother and I. I saw the woods where they hung that man. I saw white coats and red flags with stars striped across its body. Two words reminding me that I am prey.
I heard someway say “we weren’t even talking about race” in the street the other day. I say to that, therein lies the problem. If we are to truly understand our own neighbors, how can we force them to remove a piece of who they are? There has been a long history of discriminating against those with darker skin, at the command of the colonalizing country. Racism within oppressed countries has created a plague that teaches children it’s okay to hate. If the people who swapped blood via a whip can’t break free from the grasps of racism without talking about it, what makes you think the whipped and the whipper can be any different?
I hadn’t done or said anything to those men to deserve to be demeaned and persecuted. They simply saw a dark girl and knew she had to be reminded that she will always be a pinche mayate.
Will you do the same?