When a car of teen boys drove by and one of the confident losers barked, I secretly cringed, kept walking and felt something die inside.
I didn’t need Seventeen magazine to tell me I wasn’t in the running; we who weren’t natural beauties already knew. My awkward teenage self turned a bit inward that day. I questioned more, doubted more, hurt more.
Stupid memories stay with me longer than they probably should, but here we are. Two-and-a-half decades later and I can still hear his voice.
I now live in a Latin-American country though. I am a pale version of the beautiful brown humans surrounding my kids, home, church and car.
Never mind the blonde hair in our family—one of our kids has strawberry mixed in, making the color different than anything the natives have ever seen in person. When he was shorter, classmates made fun of it and old ladies touched it; both gestures annoyed the white boy.
Upon arrival to Baja our pastor told us the locals would probably revere us a bit. “They won’t treat you like movie stars—maybe just a step down from that.”
What? Why? I’ve never even taken an acting class.
“You’re white and from the States; that’s all they need to know.”
A few years after arriving some female students and I walked down the dirt road to a neighbor’s house in the dark. On our way home a low-rider car pulled up next to us and the young bucks started asking questions. It’s probably a good thing none of us understood much Spanish slang.
Flirting comes easy when only one street lamp is designated for a whole block. Though they couldn’t see who we were, they knew we weren’t locals. Did they have a clue a leader/wife/mother walked among the young? My students had 18 years under their belts.
I had 34-ish.
Realizing we were ignoring them and their efforts were in vain, these cool cats flipped a slow 180 but then stopped across from our front gate. Our neighbors dealt drugs and they arrived ready to park, pay and partake. We calmly bee-lined into our property with weird, ticking, smoochy sounds following.
The disaster in my head spews forth when I realize I am barely brave enough to admit this:
I liked it.
Not the part when a couple old teens and young twenties whistled at someone almost twice their age… just that no one barked. Sounds like a pathetic way to balance out the memory in my past, I know. But for a second it felt good. Not gobs of good like a long foot massage—just good like a compliment.
I realize I got caught in a case of mistaken identity and this should not have been enough to make my day. It’s pathetic and high school-like. I need to wake up, forget the accidental accolade and move on. They didn’t really see me.
When my director-of-the-ministry husband got word of the night’s adventure, shoes went on, gates reopened and the boys with their baggies got an ear-full.
Did you know broken Spanish sounds much more dramatic when you’re mad?
If you add another eight years to my episode in the dirt road you’ll realize the whistling odds have clearly dropped. That’s why my head shook in disbelief when another such sound rose up from the grocery store parking lot last month.
Don’t worry—this time I didn’t like it. He drove behind me never seeing my face, much less my hand veins or saggy pit skin. He whistled at the whiteness. He whistled at the blondness. He didn’t see a person or a soul, he saw a gringa.
Back off, cowboy; you don’t even know me. I could have shunned my husband last night, hollered at my kids this morning, ignored my neighbor through the chain-link, and rolled my eyes at the town drunk. I’m grumpy when I’m tired, impatient with stray dogs and easily annoyed by incessant sniffing. My paperwork piles like towers, I have an embarrassing amount of stuff I never use, and I don’t call my parents enough.
You see my skin but don’t know my heart. You glance at my hair but don’t know my roots. You think I’m rich because I drive a four-door that passed smog? It was donated. You assume my bank account runneth over because it’s located in the U.S. of A. If only you knew my teller up there—she’d set you straight in perfect Español.
Most of my life I’ve cared too much about how well I folded and taped wrapping paper on my gifts. Except for a few select people, I realize most fly past the outside in order to get to the goods on the inside.
I don’t really care what color God chose to envelop your frame. Your wrapping paper does not matter. Our kidneys all match the bean, our livers are all reddish-brown, and unless you’re a chain-smoker, our lungs all pretty much fall between the Piggy Pink and Cotton Candy crayons.
That tall woman in Denmark and the short man in Indonesia? Their small intestines both claim pink.
Don’t get me started on bladders.
Discrimination runs rampant around the world, yes. Christ-followers have the choice to buck that system though. Are you doing your part?
I’m south of the border trying to blend in while standing out. Are you smiling at that dark woman in the theater? The head-covered teen in Target? That olive-skinned guy buying pita in Costco? The mocha kid in the ice cream aisle?
Flip the country and that’s me. I’m looking at you, wondering if you can ever see past my shade.
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7, The Message Bible
P.S. Your epidermis is showing. And it’s beautiful, just the way God made it.
If you’ve ever been the minority in a sea of a different pigment, how did you feel?