There But for the Grace…

December 18, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Righteous Indignation, Self, Working | 2 Comments

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a forum whore.  I’ve lost entire hours of my life giving the same advice over and over again on forums such as those found at Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree.  Every now and again, I see posters make comments about visiting Isla Mujeres (invariably spelled Isla Majeres or Isle Mujars or some such massacring of the place name) or downtown Cancun so that their children can see how poor Mexicans live and realize how lucky they are.

No manches, this gets my panties in a wad.  Such condescension cloaked in the guise of searching for “authentic teaching experiences.”  It reminds me of those tours of favelas in Rio, where tourists ride around in buses to gawk at Brazilians living in abject poverty.  And they take pictures! 

How dehumanizing! How flipping arrogant can people be, that they take their tots to the “other side” in the hopes that their children stop sniveling about the inhumanity of not getting an iPhone the moment they are potty-trained. 

This gawking, this objectifying of the poor that makes me all twitchy with discomfort.  But I think it makes me so because I have some of it in me.  I was reminded of my nauseau at reading comments from forum posters that there’s nothing like seeing a small, shoeless brown Mexican child playing in a charco to teach their kids what it means to be grateful because of thoughts I had at work today. 

I had been doing intake for a Cape Verdean youth who lives in a group home and reflecting on how I’d be able to work with him on getting a job when he obviously has difficulty completing simple paperwork himself.  And I thought, “Man, I think I have it tough.”  And then I thought, “No mames, Gabacha, you’re just as bad as the rest. No wonder you recoil when you see comments from the privileged revelling in their privilege at the expense of the poor, overlaid by sympathy.”  Well, actually it didn’t come out quite so wordily in my head, but you get the idea.

How dare I use my interactions with people to pat myself on the back for not having a scary, dangerous, and difficult life. 

I’m lucky, damn lucky.  But the day that I compare myself to someone and consider that I’m superior in any way and think that it’s okay is the day that I hope someone smacks me upside the head for being the worst kind of colonizer. 



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  1. Two issues: you and them tourists.

    You: Your title says it all. We all measure our success or misery in comparison to others. Annoying? Maybe. Human? Entirely.

    Them Tourists: I believe for exactly ZERO minutes that people go to Isla de Mujeres to gawk at poor people. Seeing poor people might be something they DO when they’re there, but I can’t see building a trip to Mexico around the pursuit.

    I think what’s so dehumanizing about the phenomenon is how far removed these poverty tourists put themselves from the “poor” people. Poor people are in another country and you have to take a bus to find them.

    In reality, people from Lincoln and Cumberland could go to, say, Pawtucket to find poor people, but that would be admitting that poverty exists where they live.

  2. Thanks for coming by to share your perspective, Frymaster!

    I think that it’s a lot easier for people to “deal” with seeing poverty when they can do a drive-by and then go back to their all-inclusive hotel. And you’re right…visiting Pawtucket from Cumberland would be hitting too close to home.

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