The fact is that the European has a set idea of the black man, and there is nothing more exasperating than to hear: “How long have you lived in France? You speak such good French.” (Fanon, 18)
Reading this passage brought memories from last Thanksgiving, which I spent in Seattle with family. It was Thursday afternoon and my uncle’s friends were enthralled to have me as a guest in their Thanksgiving dinner.
“We have a special guest coming all the way from Ecuador with us!” the proud hosts uttered to all of the attendees, which included some friends of friends who had come all the way from New Hampshire.
Dinner went on. I was normally rather quiet, as I am not much of a great conversationalist. The people from New Hampshire especially displayed somewhat of a tepid fascination towards me.
“So how is Ecuador? It must be so warm,” commented someone.
“It must be. I haven’t been there in six months,” said I.
Then I went on to explain that I no longer live in Ecuador, and I live and study just a few hours away in Vancouver.
“Oh wow! Your English is so good! Have you ever lived in America before? It must be so hard to go from Ecuador to study in Canada!”
Flustered as I was, showing my feelings wasn’t appropriate–not in a gathering like this one. Dinner went on, and every now and then someone paused to inquire about the ways of the Ecuadorians.
“So do you guys have Thanksgiving?… Oh, and this is turkey, by the way.”
“Yes, we do have turkey there. Thanksgiving is actually somewhat globalized nowadays,” I uttered with an uncomfortable smile.
Then we went on to discuss our favorite subjects in school, as there were about two other college students in the room. Someone made a remark on how English is such an easy subject because you can just “bullshit your way through,” to which I replied:
“Psshh no. English is actually very challenging if you take on the hard stuff. I mean, have you tried reading Johnathan Swift without struggling?”
“Oh it’s hard because it’s your second language,” said one of the young men who studied in some school in the East Coast.
He made me feel as if I were talking about a language and canon that wasn’t mine–a literary tradition I was borrowing from them. It seemed as if that was the sole reason that made me struggle through Swift’s satire.
Of course, I cannot blame their efforts to seem nice and understanding of my condition (if it can even be thought of as any different from theirs), but with every remark they shot at me, they made it clear that they already had a prefabricated image of who I was. Someone even said something within these lines:
“I was surprised when I saw you and you weren’t dark and Mexican-looking.”
I often felt that the fact that I was completely bilingual, educated, pale and yet Latin American puzzled them to great extents. I am not a gardener nor the son of one, I do not speak broken English, and I am well aware of the American way of life. I didn’t fit in the preconceived idea they had of someone who was born and raised on the other side of the Rio Grande. I am glad that I was able to challenge the stereotypes they believed in, and I took great efforts to show them how Latin America, too, is a land of immigrants and great diversity. Nevertheless, these stereotypes follow me wherever I go.
My experience, I think, serves to show how the issues Fanon discusses are alive and well in the society of our time.