If Looks Could Kill (29)

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.

streets and shops in downtown Todos Santos

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.

11 thoughts on “If Looks Could Kill (29)

  1. I’m pretty sure I tried doing that later when I walked past, greeting her out loud. She would just stare at me. Eventually I avoided her all together. I’m sure when it happened my face was all kinds of funny—confused, startled, bewildered, blank.

  2. Yes, of course! I tried to make that clear here by saying what a rarity it was for someone in Mexico to not be kind. This is just one of my attempts at talking about this key issue—and I didn’t want to have to try to say all the disclaimers and such. But there was some real hatred directed toward people from the United States in Todos Santos—and for many understandable reasons—even if it was only from 1 or 2% of the villagers. I am going to keep trying to talk about my ideas about this, and my thoughts about it, as I go forward. Thanks for your posts! :)

  3. Your prior entry was fun to read, but this one really gave me a chill and I’ve thought about it a lot
    afterwards. We’ve all encountered unpleasant people and wonder how they got that way.
    This woman seemed so evil. Fortunately, she is an extreme exception.

  4. Yes, it was intense, though I wouldn’t name what I felt from her as evil—just deep hatred. (Though I’m not sure where one draws the line. . . .) I’ve talked in earlier posts about how I want to be able to write about these kinds of things without worrying about softening it or explaining all the parameters, so this was my first attempt at doing so. But just to be clear, she wasn’t just an unpleasant person. I’m sure she was friendly to others. She just hated me because I was from the United States.

    As a white woman, I am not on the receiving end of this often. This is the kind of thing that people of color have to deal with in our country all the time. It happened to me when I lived in Hopland, too, on the edges of the Indian reservation there. There was one household who would stare at me when I walked by with this same sort of malice. I had a few other experiences in Mexico, but this was the most dramatic (and also the first one, which no doubt made it seem more dramatic).

  5. Aesop famously said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted” and I would add that an act of hostility, no matter how small, lodges in someone’s heart. Our intellect says to let it go, and often we do, but we rarely forget them. Thanks, Riba, for reminding us of the difficulties of being on the receiving end

  6. I was so surprised to see you had stumbled upon this earlier post, Bart! It made me stop to read it again. It is a hard/complex thing to tell, and I worried I might have misrepresented it, but reading it again I see I stuck mostly to the specifics of things (so I was not cringing over it! ;-)

    I like the act of kindness idea much better, though. Thanks for your note here! :)

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