last friday, i tagged along with patricio to work in the morning, our plan being to later catch an x-men matinee. we headed into downtown tlalnepantla, parking the jetta in an un-metered street and ambling our way to his client's office. we were early, and hungry, and patricio was in the mood for fried fish; we changed our course and made a beeline toward the market.
smaller than the market here in san pedro, it still boasts a wealth of fruits and meats, herbs and treats, and i would soon be agreeing with my husband about a certain stand's battered and deep fried strips of sierra. sliced open to make room for lime juice and valentina salsa, the tender, white fish quickly disappeared from the plate, appearing immediately in my personal list of favorite fattening foods.
before and after the fish fest, winding our way past tortillerías, butcher blocks and produce boxes, vendors asked me as we passed, "¿que le doy, güerita?"
"what can i offer you, little whitey?" is more or less how it translates, but the literal change of words leaves a lot of subtle, important meaning behind.
having grown up in a country where few are named by their appearance, where the cultural baggage is often packed with political correctness, it took me awhile to realize that being called güera (pronounced kind of like "weh-dah") wasn't necessarily a bad thing. it isn't a synonym of the often pejorative "gringa," but an adjective to describe a person with light-colored hair, skin or eyes.
and physical characteristics are prime material--and perfectly acceptable, at that--for addressing a person or forming nicknames here. my brothers-in-law, alberto and daniel, are chino and chaparrito (curly and little shorty, respectively), and chaparrito's wife is la flaca, because she's always been skinny. our friends pedro and laura call each other gordo and gorda (fatty) as their terms of endearment, and most people i know have a negro in the family, the uncle or brother or cousin with the darkest shade of skin. one of patricio's old buddies is canelo for his cinnamon-colored complexion, and his dad, indalecio, is well-known as güerito for his genetically fair and ruddy tones.
many folks even name their businesses with their own appearance-based monikers, as the fondas and taco joints with a sign reading "el güero" are impossible to count.
but that word, güero, sometimes goes beyond just a description of a person's fairer hair, skin or eyes. when parking his car with an attendant or walking down market aisles, patricio also hears himself being called güerito, too, just like every potential customer that passes by--dark, light, and every measure of melanin in between.
it's well-established business practice to be friendly to the consumer, but what does it mean when that friendliness has taken the form of calling everyone white? in this new country of mine where many of the most wealthy and famous are also fair-complected, it's easy to draw some quick conclusions.
but i know i'm looking at the situation through lenses not made in mexico, and i'm learning that a friendly word can be, in spite of its origin or seeming cultural connotations, simply that--friendly.
like the simple friendliness that, beyond doubt, helped make our fish taste so good last friday.