Hey White Girl, Wanna Buy a Sofa?

When Brendan and I attended language school in Cuernavaca, we stayed with a family. One of my favorite people in our large pseudo-family was the abuelita, the grandmother. She was diabetic, well into her later years, wore thick glasses that frighteningly magnified her eyes, and shuffled around in house shoes and a housecoat. Since she spoke with a garbled lisp, I couldn’t really understand most of what she said, but she smiled and laughed a lot. (She instantly taught me the word mosca (fly) by dramatically swatting away any gnats and warning everyone around her that “moscas!” had snuck inside.)

One night, as we wrapped up watching a telenovela with the entire family, Brendan and I stood up to go upstairs.

Us: Buenos noches a todos!
Abuelita: Buenos noches los gueros! (Good night white people!)

OK, I thought. She’s old.

Then, on another evening, Brendan needed to go back downstairs for some water. The family was still sitting around the kitchen table, chatting. Abuelita spotted Brendan first and warned the family that he was approaching by semi-shouting not his name, but Guero!

Abuelita, in other words, was the first person to introduce me into the weird world of racial relations in Mexico.

—–

But then, as my Spanish improved, I noticed it wasn’t just abuelita who called us out on our skin color, it was also vendors, including the guys who roam around in trucks trying to sell complete furniture sets.

Pssss….Guera, guera, blanca, blanca,” one man said to me, “Quiere comprar una sofa?” (wanna buy a sofa?)

As I’ve learned to do with all street peddlers, I smiled and said “no gracias.” And tried to not fume over the way he got my attention.

—–

Mexicans handle race and skin color much differently than we Americans. It clearly takes some steeling-of-the-soul to be called “white person” so pointedly, and I’ve been assured many times over by locals that it’s meant as a term of endearment. You could say I’ve come to accept my lot in life here. Sometimes I blend in (people ask me for directions somewhere, in Spanish) and sometimes I don’t (“hey whitey whitey whitey whitey, wanna buy a sofa?”)

I have often wondered what it would be live to here as an African-American (or even just visit as a tourist) both because it’s rare to see a black person in Mexico, and also because, like white people, black people too are called out for their skin color.

Case in point: An extremely wealthy Mexican bread company has started selling “Negrito” twinkies, and they’re as every bit as tacky as they sound.

8 thoughts on “Hey White Girl, Wanna Buy a Sofa?

  1. dregina says:

    When I lived on Dineh nation, I got called “bilagana” (white girl) ALL the time, and sometimes when Cristian and I go out tejano dancing the men there will call me “guera”. I love it, but I like to be teased, so there you go. I also wonder how much of it has to do with the difference between South Texas culture (SO FREAKING POLITE) and social norms in Mexico – maybe it’s more ok to tease people you don’t know? The native cultures I’ve worked with (Dineh, Mexican-Indigenous, and Native Hawaiian) all feature some pretty direct, almost New York style attitudes. Especially towards white people.

  2. BV says:

    I don’t quite understand it, but I think “guera” is suppose to be a compliment. So yes, one wonders what happens to black people. Maybe, it is just a means of quick identification.

  3. gloria says:

    Hi there. I believe that “guera” does mean a compliment of sorts. I wouldn’t worry about it, just a manner of speaking I guess. Even my dad used to call mexican women that were light complected a “guera.” Take care.

  4. DKN says:

    God I LOVE the guero story!! Yeah, I just don’t think they are nearly as hypersensitive about recognizing the differences in people, such as race, as Americans are.

  5. R says:

    First of all it is spelled Güero/a. Güero means blond and since blonds tend to have fair skin it is why fair-skinned people are called güero/a. Originally it was an insult because it meant pale (as in sick) but the meaning changed to blond. The word güero can also be used to describe eye color “ojos güeros”, (light colored eyes).

    You and your husband are not being called güero/a because you are American but because of what you look like. There are a lot of fair skinned people in my family but we do not call them güero/a all the time. Do not take it as insult unless they a curse word along with it.

    Second, Bimbo did not start to sell “Negritos” recently, the product has been around for many years I’m 23 and I remember eating them as a child.

    It took me while to get why they changed the name of the product to “Bimbolete” when it was exported to the US.

    To me race relations are weirder in the US than in Mexico. People in the US are obsessed with knowing a persons race, every form you have to fill asks for race.

  6. Jorge says:

    We (mexicans) are rised in a mix culture, I’m black, or the closest thing to a black mexican, my mom is brown skin, my brother is white, my grand mother is white, I have uncles and cousins black, white (blond white), brown skin, asian like so is a mix. So we have no problem of calling each other acording to how they look.

    One of my cousins that looks like asian we called her Oyuki, but her name is Martha, an aunt that is fat, we call her “Tia Gorda” (fat aunt), friends that are dark skin, we call them “Negro” “Prieto” and nobody see it as incorrect.

    In the USA everybody is so frightened of racial stuff (because of their history) the racial separation existed in the 60’s of the 20th century, and mixed race marriage is a taboo there.

    the racial problem in Mexico is with native people, the ones that still has the cutoms of indians, they are seen as “not civilized” or uneducated, because they have indian traditions.

    Also the problem here is more of rich vs poor, than racial.

  7. Yorch says:

    As Jorge said: “So we have no problem of calling each other acording to how they look…”

    Race in Mexico is seen from a very different point of view it is seen in the US. We use those adjectives as dearing words. May be in the States it’d be offensive to call someone Fat or short, or skinny or black or brown… But here “gordito, chaparrito, flaquito, negrito, morenito, güerito…” are used in a very different way.

    As happens in Jorge’s family. Mine has Spanish (Catalan) and Philippine origines. So I do look as an Asian, my mother is white, my father is typical Mexican and my younger brother has blue eyes… Based on this with multiracialism within one family we do have to see racial issues from a very different point of view.

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