When I first moved to Todos Santos I bought my produce from a place on the main drag, the road the two-lane highway became as it zagged through town. The woman there was never kind to me, a rarity in Mexico. I annoyed her with my questions and my faltering Spanish. She answered me in a sharp, curt voice. She looked at her friends, rolled her eyes, said things I couldn’t understand and laughed. I don’t know how long it took me to stop going there. I found a new place in the north of town, a kind of glitzy store for the expatriates, but the staff were sweet and helpful. I bought produce from a local organic farmer, an estadounidense who camped out on the sidewalk downtown two mornings a week. Once I bought a bag of arugula from him–huge dark green leaves like I’ve never seen before or since. I brought it to my friend Iris at Il Giardino, and someone at the restaurant sauteed it with a little oil and garlic. It’s still a favorite meal of mine, especially with the brown rice pasta I’m in love with now.
One day when I walked past the produce place where I used to shop, the woman made a point of glaring at me. I remember the way she held my passing glance, her head moving, slow and deliberate, to keep me in her gaze as I walked past the open air stall. For a moment, I wondered if she was angry with me because I stopped buying from her. But that was only my logic, only me trying to make sense of what was happening. But logic wouldn’t help me here. Because as I watched her, she bared her lips in a snarl and her cheeks pinched up. It was more fierce than a wild animal might have been, cornered and terrified, lashing out. The look in her eyes was pure hatred, her face made grotesque by it. I scuffed my toe on the pavement, stumbled, her venom like a blow. I turned my back and kept walking. My arms trembled, my cloth shopping bags suddenly too much to keep upright. I let them dangle as I climbed the hill toward home. I wondered how she could hate me that much. She didn’t even know me. But to her I was the ugly American. To her, I was the reason her once-tiny fishing village teetered on an unknown brink, invaded by foreigners building palatial homes north of town, the growing middle class of Mexicans only beginning to get their footing, the huge disparities creating terrible tension just beneath the surface of her world. To her, I was to blame for everything that was wrong with her life. I’ll never forget the look on her face or the shock of that poison spewing out at me.