I was there to relax and de-stress on break during my 5th year of teaching.
Cancun delivered on its promises: relaxation, new sights, new food and a small venture into a new culture.
While every effort was made by our hosts to make our stay amazing, the same cannot be said for the tourists I saw.
One thing that had me truly perplexed during this trip was the extent to which the mostly white tourists felt as though they were deserving of royal treatment from the darker-skinned Mexican staff.
I watched as they grew increasingly frustrated when people were unable to help the confused “tourists.”
I heard a man shout at a local barista, “I ordered coffee 20 minutes ago!”
Another frustrated woman scoffed, “How have you never heard of the Singapore Sling? Its got gin and grenadine!”
And “I can’t figure out how much this costs when it’s listed in pesos.”
Sometimes the tourists even complained about completely ridiculous things when people were trying to help: “Why would they want to clean my room when I’m sitting in it?”
At first I chalked this up to over demanding tourists, but then I noticed that the dynamic changed when the server was white, regardless of their nationality.
If the server appeared white and spoke perfect English, their mistakes were usually forgiven. And more than that, they were extended the benefit of the doubt.
Instead of the usual scoffing, I heard, “It’s been a long week I bet,” or “Maybe she’s new here.”
Race was a consistent factor in how the local staff was treated by American tourists. Even in the face of this racism, the locals still treated the white tourists with respect.
But what if the roles were reversed?
What if a Spanish speaking individual visited America and grew impatient at American service?
First, the Spanish speaker would not be regarded as a “tourist”, but a “foreigner.”
Second, how long would it take for an angry White person to say something to the effect of: “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country” or “We speak English here”?
Moments, presumably, or even seconds?
After all, we hear people being told to “speak our language” even when they’re simply conversing with their own families.
But in Mexico, my family and I were never ONCE asked to speak Spanish.
So the next time you’re on vacation or being served by a person with less than perfect English, check your attitude.
If you find yourself thinking negatively about a brown skinned person who is getting paid to clean up after you, take a step back and ask yourself, “Would I be saying this if this person was white?”