Monday, June 25, 2012

Atención Gringo

When we got to Cuernavaca, Mexico this is what greeted me when I got into my room above my bed. If you're not familiar with Spanish phrases, Gringo is not always the most polite way to speak about a white person. I laughed about it for a while, but ultimately I would have no idea how much those words would frame my trip with Youth in Mission's Serving Christ in the World program.

I'm always worried when traveling in a group of other Americans that we will be greeted coldly, judged, considered the "ignorant group of gringos". Or hit up for cash, laughed at, or any number of other things associated with America and American people. Enter "Atención Gringo", where we received many fewer of these than I expected and instead got hospitality and love heaped upon us.

I knew we would be experiencing a new culture, something which I absolutely adore after my first international travel this past winter. I unfortunately did not know much about Mexican culture before I got here. "Attención Gringo". I fell into my own behavior, and didn't research the country I was visiting before getting here. But, I would like a moment of grace, since United States news outlets don't often give information about the goings on in Mexico. Who knew they were electing a president on July, 1.

We had the opportunity to visit an indigenous village, Cuentepec, and meet with a women's artisan cooperative who made clothing and textiles, pottery, and also had a bakery. They sold their crafts to people to support themselves and also were able, as a cooperative, to make more of a living than they would if they sold their handiwork to a middleman. We were welcomed into the home of one of the women artists and got the opportunity to learn about their pottery and tortilla making processes. They then taught us how to make pottery, and tortillas which was so much fun! The tortillas we helped make actually became part of our lunch with these women and their children. As I was experiencing this place, and learning a little bit of a different culture, even from Mexican culture, I was also able to look at myself and the group from afar. We were invited into the home, 24 American youth and adults, and shown such immense hospitality from people who had very little to give. Sure they showed us some of their work, and we bought quite a bit, but when the Pesos were converted to American dollars, I was shocked at how inexpensive everything was.

"Atención Gringo" rang loud in my ears after that thought. These people live in a city where iPad doesn't mean anything at all. And they were selling their goods at a price that was reasonable to them. They had something that I valued, a beautiful candle holder of children all holding hands around the circle, and I had the 50 pesos that they deemed the piece was worth. We exchanged goods and money, exchanged words of thanks and exchanged warm handshakes.

When talking about Justice, I think it's important to recognize the difference between charity and justice. Charity would have been being the "rich American" who gave twice the amount and said "Keep the Change". Justice was what happened, this woman had something that I truly valued, and I gave her the fair price for her work. We spoke to one another (even with my rusty Spanish) and created a human connection. And because I was purchasing straight from the artist herself, I was doing her justice by not having to sell her items to someone else first before I bought it. And in that moment when we all had to say goodbye to one another, I saw the face of God in every single person at the home who sat and talked and shared a meal with us.

"Atención Gringo," God is truly in the midst of this place.

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