“Those dirty foreigners!”

Posted when I lived in Finland.

I’ve always tried to consider myself an open person, and have tried to receive and analyse new ideas as they come. I was reading Tecosgirl’s blog and it reminded me of some things that have happened to me throughout the years.

The first one was when I was 17, we were invited to debate to the Harvard Model United Nations, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. As a high school senior, I was very excited to go to debate in that “temple of education”, and to match my skills with the people there. You can imagine our surprise when we reached the place. Imagine the following conversation in a circle upon entering a conference room before the actual sessions start:

Boy 1: “So, where are you guys from?”
Boy 2: “Well, I’m from Rhode Island.”
Girl 1: “We’re from California.”
Boy 3: “We came from Florida.”

And so on and so forth until it was our turn to say: “We’re from Mexico City.”, point at which the rest of the group would turn around and leave. Not because we spoke with a funny accent or anything, but because we were Mexican and we were at the same level as those kids. It got even “better”, as the topic that we discussed was the Taleban government in Afghanistan (you have to picture that this is 3 years or so before Sept. 11), and the Afghanistan delegate was agreeing with the United States, and everybody else cheered them on while we said that it was just a completely unrealistic position (a.k.a. bollocks). Most of my delegation who did the trip with me left the sessions as a lost cause and spent the rest of the trip going around Boston, but I still tried to instill some sense, with no success. That experience made me change my goal from studying in the US to studying in Europe.

Some years later, I moved to study Engineering in Finland. While I have to say that I really love this country (otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here), have generally found acceptance after proving myself, and have a family and friends that truly own a place in my heart, I have found a couple of examples of people that react to (my appearance, my being?) with marked discontent, especially among the older generation and the less educated. Why? Because they don’t know where I’m from by looks only (I’ve been told that I’m half Thai, half Finnish, that I’m Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Arab…) and, let’s face it, there’s not that many of my countrymen here (around 180 last time I heard). I don’t have it that bad at all either, some of my black friends have told me worse stories .

Then there is Mexicans as well. We tend to receive foreigners with gusto, but are also quite reticent to fully accept them. The latest controversy has been about Naturalised Mexicans in the football (soccer) national team (I’ve posted about it already). Then there are reactions like those that Koreans get in Mexico City, where they’re charged with being the crime bosses of the Tepito area. Or the sterotype of Americans in Mexico as being pale, blonde, untrustworthy and stupid. As they say in Spanish, en todos lados se cuecen habas, loosely translated as shit happens everywhere.

Our biggest problem as a society (or societies) is that even though we’re becoming more and more part of a globalised world and there are more and more interconnections between the different parts, places, countries and people, we understand very little, if anything, of each other, the little that we know is usually clouded by stereotypes, and saddest of all, there seems to be no will in our societies, in us, to change.

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