#306: For the most part, people are ok with me being brown and American.
Most people in DC are smart enough, respectful enough, not to assume that because I am brown I must be from somewhere else (or unable to vote here or both). The times when they do think this and they assume that I am from wherever they are from, I’m fine with it. It doesn’t offend me at all. The times when I get asked “where are you from?” and I answer “from here” or “what do you mean?” and they ask again because what they really want to know is “why are you brown?” I say that I’m from Venezuela and we move on. It’s fine. Those are the people in DC and I am used to their questions and have answers ready like (1) “I’m from Venezuela.” (2) “I am from here and before here I am from Venezuela”, (3) “where are you from?” and (4) “did you think I was from [India, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Iran or wherever the other person is from]?”
Sometimes though we get people in DC that are not from DC, are not respectful or smart and say dumb things. I frequently have to answer these people’s question with secret answer (5): “I was born in New Jersey.” This is by far my least favorite answer because it always comes out defensive because most of the time it is either a response to something mean or meant to deter* a mean comment. Yesterday I had to use my least favorite answer.
We were at some bar in Georgetown making conversation with people from out of town. Then one of them started a whole “bargument” (apparently this is a thing) about whether you would rather give up pizza, porn or pubs. I said pizza and then changed my answer because I hadn’t really understood the question. Everyone else said pizza, offering various supporting arguments about how they could not possibly live without porn. At some point I said something like “I don’t see the point of porn.” To this a girl at the bar said “well, we Americans love porn.” I hate all “we Americans” statements mostly because the “we” in that sentence seems deliberately exclusive of me, which was undoubtedly this girl’s intention. I replied to her “I’m sorry? I was born in New Jersey.” The jaw of the guy next to her hit the floor and against my better judgement I did something I had never done before: I called her a racist. The whole thing might have ended up in a movie-like bar brawl except that I don’t hit people and that jaw-to-the-floor tried to change the topic quickly by basically asking what turnpike exit am I from. The girl still tried to defend her point by going on a pretty long speech about the importance of porn to American culture, explaining that she was defending the cultural value of porn to Americans, not excluding me from the group of Americans. Still, the point, the wording and the looks were not lost on me.
I don’t particularly want to be part of a culture that considers porn the definitive art form of its people, but I want to be -and am- American because I was born here. Fortunately for me, I am also Venezuelan -I speak the language, dance the dances and grew up in that culture- so when I feel rejected by Americans, I take comfort in knowing that there is a second place that I am from, one where nobody would ever ask why I am brown or make statements like “nosotros los venezolanos” no matter how long I have been away for. I am lucky that way. I am many, many things two of which are American and Venezuelan and none of which are ignorant bigot.
So go ahead girl from the middle of nowhere, say whatever mean things you want to say at a bar in DC. I have been here for 5 years and never been subjected to this by people from here, so at the end of the day it is I who know that you don’t belong here. Go back to wherever you came from.
*I am supposed to be writing a short IR paper about deterrence. I have been using this word a lot today.