the power of looking

March 22, 2008 at 7:11 am (aboriginal, chiapas)

the tourists have invaded for the past week and in our humble posada there is not a habitacion left. today we watched jesus being dragged through the street being whipped…

spring is coming over the mountains. chilly nights. it rained yesterday and the temperature dropped into the bones…

some of the things i love and critique about san cristobal: the youth culture here. how it embraces (and exoticizes) its afro-links…afro-cubano, afro-colombiano. the music latino hiphop and reggae. how they lean and embrace the natural beauty of themselves, the crazy mix of cultures born out of slavery colonization voluntary migration…how timeless and influx it feels…

how middle aged couples cuddle in bars and are in love and showing that love that physical love

how tourism runs the economy here

indigenous women their babies slung on their backs wrapped in bright colored rebozos selling bright colored rebozos to tourists.

little children with black plastic shoes carrying hand made belts and bracelets run through the streets laughing steely eyed hawking their wares

how some moments it feels like everyone has something to sell…

the huge ornate churches built to impress and yet it is their dark corners where i can actually imagine mary praying

how mayan spirituality is for sale and mayan zapatista politics is for sale and mayan art culture is for sale and yet the maya are not for sale and how do they keep themselves from being on the market as another commodity?

how everyone comes wanting something from the maya and think that their pesos should cover the cost…

walking into the chamula church and trying to convince myself that it was okay to stare at women praying and not understanding if this was a show they were putting on for the over hundred toursits with their khaki shorts and cameras or if they just didnt see us or if they saw us as being part of the landscape of the church like flies hovering over the candles or if we were disturbing them but they didnt have an economic choice anymore or…and just needing to leave cause in my heart i couldnt watch them pray without denying them some measure of their dignity…

and then talking to others about it and they praised the people in the church. and didnt imagine that tourist were disturbing at all.

and living in a house here, where the owner gave tours of the house and quickly realizing that i and my daughter and our friends were part of the tour and tolerating it and laughing at it and being annoyed by it and hoping that the tours would go away. but also realizing that it was partially that we were interesting to watch was why we were allowed to live there.

and the realization that i came to one day as i was walking through the streets, feeling stared at, that everyone stares at everyone and i had every right to stare back and so i started looking at whatever i wanted for a few minutes (feeling incredibly rude and liberated) and that to look to see is powerful and that to some i am an object and to others a subject.  and that whether or not i am an object or a subject is not solely dependent on the intention of the viewer (for what do i know of others’ intention?) but on the relationship that is created between my look and theirs.   whether or not i want a relationship, or engage the look, and whether they insist upon looking without reading my eyes, my body, my walk.

and how once i was walking in the centro and three guys walked passed me calling : negra at me and i called back : hijo de puta.  and they hung their heads slightly and walked faster out of my sight.

and how foreign white women they kinda shrug their shoulders when i talk about all the extra attention as if they think i might be exaggerating or that if i am going to travel i should get used to it.  as if i should know how strange and exotic i am and maybe i should feel lucky to get extra attention.  or better said: they shrug their shoulders as if to say: its not my fault.  i dont see you that way.  and i cant do anything about how others treat you.

and i hope that my look says back to that shrug: i am not the one playing victim– you are.

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