Blues for Ms. Khalo
i was so visible it was like i was invisible
mexico city, mexico
i have learned to quell expectations around just about anything that i will have a first encounter with - to manage disappointments - ESPECIALLY around spaces presented to me visually on social media. i participate in the grande ole (?) tradition of content curation and lifestyle exaggeration on instagram. it’s fun to create scenes out of nothing - to make outfits magical by removing them from the harsh context of reality. so i should have known to take the expertly framed photos of colorful colonial streets, and smiling brown people - doing the mundane in the most fabulous - with a big ass grain of salt. i did not and it tempered my trip to the capital city of mexico. the shameful truth is - despite my ability to transform any environment through my belief in the Three Thousand Realms in a Single Moment of Life (the fundamental concept of unity through accepting every living person’s buddha nature) - my body, and the rest of the world’s response to it’s presence became tension. ok - enough esoteric dance around it- mexico city was not this beautiful old city - rich in diversity and ripe with unwavering cultural aptitude. in my eyes - it was a polluted, poverty stricken city - romanticizing it’s colonialist structures and hispanic attitudes and completely uninvested in it’s black and indigenous peoples. in most spaces i felt that my dark skin, and large frame was an indictment for harsh treatment.
i have been traveling north america my entire life and for the past three years a lot of the planet - usually within the contemporary art contingent. this space is a special one -because the privileges extended to contemporary artists and their guests allow for wealth driven curated experiences. folks usually know who my partner is - and thus the treatment is adjusted out of respect for her global contribution to the art narrative. in this instance though - we were two black woman infiltrating white space after white space in our quest to identify culture outside of the institution. yes, i can expect looks of curiosity in any homogenized environment - but the way so many black people and people of color positioned mexico city as a cosmopolitan center for latin america, i was deeply surprised by the lack of cultural competency and respect given to two women walking down many of the streets. i think i failed in my understanding to remember that this place was still an american colony - and that the cultural genocide and exploitation of darker people was just as active and real as it is back in my home. also, as a note- it just did not feel safe walking the streets, especially as dusk approached.
ohh…and the millennials… we found the white ones are not much different than their baby boomer parents.
quick story: so boom, we went on the hunt for vintage shopping. i will post what i wore that day later. after being followed in a musty store -that sewed their brand name over all of their marked up goodwill finds we headed to a much fancier (read: expensive) shop. I gagged at all the broken-in american tees and work wear - and got excited to see people who would hands down be considered my contemporaries back here in nyc. they were all without a doubt white as hell but they were dressed like how my friends and i dress (without pretense for the most part) and there were two tall dudes with ear tapers and tattoos. these guys tho -were clearly anti black and stood and stared while bae and i shopped. they were so obsessed with trying to intimidate us that one of them refused the dressing room and tried to put on their pants right in front of us as we shopped casually in the mens section. i speak enough spanish to know when my body is being discussed and laughed at. i also know the smug feeling of embarrassment when skin color is the only thing used to make one feel superior when the sticker shock of some overprice overalls is read by everyone in the room -less the two black women putting them on their tabs. they moseyed their wannabe punk asses out of there though when I walked right up to one and motioned that they shimmy into some bigger britches. my aunt told me once “they like to be bullied by the black woman.” i carry that sonnet close to my heart when my courage wavers. anti black people are mad when you’re free and could give a fuck about respectability.
the place that prints it’s money with a queer femme communist anti racist artist, has no shame in exploitation and if they were alive right now i’m sure she wouldn’t be fucking with the scene. that’s just my guess. i did have some good times and met some earnest folks, some grade A 100% hustlers though and some amazing cooks while I was there. it’ s wasn’t a total wash but i’ll take my visits to the third world - and keep it strictly on the beach.