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Expat Life

Why do some people accept their non-existence?

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on  

— “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye

On my first trip to London, I experienced something I’d never encountered while living in the States. No matter where I was in America, whenever I met another African American man or woman, we would mutually greet one another. Sometimes the greeting would be verbal, while other times it was non-verbal. I didn’t realize it, but it was a subconscious acknowledgment of our mutual existence.

There were times when I experienced this with Latino Americans, but I never experienced such kinship this with any other ethnic group. I was never hesitant to acknowledge an African American or Latino. So, when I arrived in London and saw people of color everywhere, I, of course, acknowledged them, but I was surprised that this acknowledgment wasn’t reciprocated. It was strange to me that those whose complexion resembled mine behaved in a way which imitated European culture. It was as if I was being told that I was invisible; my dark skin was unseen.

I didn’t exist in this world.

Invisible in London

When I returned from London to Dulles Airport in the States, I stood on the shuttle which ferried me to the terminal. Three African American men were standing nearby, and as our eyes met, we acknowledged one another! I was so relieved that I shared with them what I experienced in London. It was hard for the four of us to fathom that those who resembled us differed merely from geography. It got me to thinking:

Was European culture responsible for influencing people of color to accept their non-existence?

I realize that to a European or Westerner, this may seem trivial, but your existence has never been in question; so it’s understandable if this makes no sense to you.

Here in Cuenca, I’ve learned that it’s customary to speak, even to a stranger.

¡Buenos días!  ¿Cómo estás ! ¡Buenas tardes!  ¡Buenas noches! ¿Qué tal? ¿Qué pasa?

Now I haven’t found this particular custom to be uniform. I’ve been places where people won’t even look in my direction. Other times, people will look, but they won’t speak.

I’ve never spoken to anyone who won’t make eye contact with me.

I insist upon being recognized. I require it because I exist. I am.

I’m a risk-taker; I’m comfortable doing what I’ve never done. So, I will conduct an experiment and begin to speak to Cuencanos I don’t know. The only requirement is that we make eye contact. If you make eye contact with me and I don’t acknowledge you, please let me know.