I’ll admit, even in the states I am pretty much as white as it gets (although I am technically 50% Mexican); my skin tone during the winter is more or less 100% transparent (thanks Dad). In the states this just means an excessive amount of sunscreen gets used for outdoor activities, but overall I fit in. I am a middle to upper class white girl. I have never had to think about the fact that I might look different, or get treated differently for my skin color. But here in Ecuador as I travel to small villages with large populations of mestizos and indigenous people my whiteness is taken to a whole new level. I stick out like a sore thumb, and I am sure my bright yellow raincoat that I sport frequently doesn’t help much either.
It is such a different experience being the one that doesn’t blend in. I am the target of the stares and side comments. A couple of weeks ago I went with one of my professors and two Ecuadorian students to work on an investigation in which we conducted interviews on conservation practices of farmers. As I rode on the back of a moto through back country roads, it is not an exaggeration to say that EVERYONE turned to stare. And this made me realize that no matter how well I can speak Spanish, or try to assimilate into the culture, I will always stand out.
This idea of sticking out no matter where I go and being the designated “Gringita” has been a humbling experience. Never in my life have I had to deal with not blending in or getting judged based on my looks. Growing up it never occurred to me that I had this privilege while there are many others that are not so lucky. Then going to college and learning about all of the injustices that certain communities face, solely based on their skin color amazed me. Finally, coming to Ecuador and being on the other side of the fence has been an eye opening experience. No, I am not trying to say that I completely understand but I think that my experience in Ecuador has helped me understand just a little bit better what it is like to live in a society where you are not normal (whatever normal means anyway).
Being the target of cab drivers charging extra, the machismo filled whistles from men on the streets, and robbers trying to take advantage of the dumb gringa on the street (don’t worry I am being careful) has given me a peek into the life of someone who does not live with white privilege every day in the United States. I am glad to have this experience, and I think it is something that would be good for everyone to experience at least once in our lives. We cannot change the fact that our society is very much based on looks, outward appearance, and what race we identify with, but with experience we can be the ones to begin making important changes in our day to day lives.
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<p>I am a junior Environmental Science Major with a Peace and Justice Concentration and Spanish minor at Villanova University. I love backpacking, traveling and new adventures. I am so excited to be spending the semester in Quito, Ecuador and I hope that these posts will help you experience the culture and beauty of life in South America through my eyes.</p>