A few days ago, a Guatemalan man asked me how I got "into Latin men." The question itself sounds a bit sordid, and when I stammered out a lame attempt at an answer, he interrupted with, "It's because we're hot, right?"
If I say no, it means: "No, you're not hot." If I say yes, it's a serious oversimplification of my very complex feelings and attitudes toward my latino friends. But I had no simple answer for him, and I even have trouble explaining it to myself.
Where and when did "it" begin? When I was 9 years old following a latino man around the Kmart, peering around the end of the aisle just to look at him because I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen? Or was it in 1995 on that hillside in Mexico, overlooking the pueblito of Trincheras, watching the train go by covered in people? Dark, tired people, on top of the train, under the train, even riding between the boxcars, peering up at the gringa on the hillside. They were hundreds of meters away from me, but they looked right into my eyes, and I can see their faces clearly. I had no idea where they were from, or where they were going. At the time, I assumed they were refugees fleeing the violence in Chiapas, and I assumed they were just coming to northern Mexico. I had no clue whatsoever that they probably weren't even Mexican, and that they were headed for the United States and Canada. I had no clue. Ten years later, sitting in the Mexican restaurant watching the waiters and just beginning to learn about illegal immigration, it dawned on me, and I wondered, did these guys go through hell to come here? These happy guys bringing my food and tolerating my fledgling Spanish - did they ride under a freight train, cross a desert, leave all they loved behind, to come wait on us wealthy gringos?
Just after that awkward conversation with the chapín, I had the pleasure of passing the morning with a young lady who has been seeing one of my boyfriend's roomates for about a month. She described how she became involved with the Spanish speaking group that we spend time with. For her, "it" began with the babysitter from her early childhood, a Puerto Rican woman who always had music playing in her house and good food cooking in the kitchen. "It was everything, the music, the food, just.. everything. I just loved it." As a teenager, she happened by chance upon a shop inhabited by a group of Mexican immigrant workers. She was attracted by the sound of their voices, a sound she fondly associated with a happy childhood spent amongst Spanish speakers. She became friends with them, including a 17 year old named Juanito who eventually became her first serious boyfriend. She spent many hours with Juanito and his compadres, learning Spanish and learning their culture. The guys eventually moved to other places in search of work, and soon after, she discovered "my" little group of Guatemalan immigrants, dating my old flame no less.
Our experiences have been different, but our feelings remarkably similar. She and I share a passion, but to assume this passion is something lustful, merely sexual attraction or some kind of "latin fever," is completely wrong.
Then, just this morning, I happened upon this comment written by the American wife of an illegal immigrant on one of my favorite blogs, The Unapologetic Mexican:
"I myself can say that I never understood how hard it was for an illegal immigrant to live in this country until I walked in their shoes. And I have felt myself have a sort of transformation, I can not imagine a life without these honorable hard working people."
"... I just want to say to all the immigrants who came here on foot, who crossed the rivers, mountains, and deserts. For every immigrant who ever had to hear about a cousin, brother/ sister, mother/father, aunt/uncle, or a friend, die on the way here, who ever had to sit in jail overnight because they didn't have papers, who ever had to watch someone get deported, and hope that they make it across the border alive. Who ever had to work 12-14 hour shifts for miminum wage, and then go back and do it again, every day hoping for something better. I just want to say, that you are the most honorable people in the country, you are the most hardworking, strongest, people in this country, and anyone who calls you a bad name, or discriminates against you deserves to walk in your shoes for one day, and tell you how hard it is, because they will never know."
Those words could have come from my own heart. We women who love men who surreptitiously crossed the border share a passion, and our passion runs deep, much deeper than the pretty brown skin our men have, deeper than the beautiful language they speak, deeper than the luscious food, music and dance they share with us. Our passion is not just for those men, but for their families both here and "back home," for their right as men to seek a better way to make a better living, for their strength and determination, for all they've been through and all they've suffered and sacrificed, and for all the promise we see in them. We are passionate about doing all we can to help them enjoy life here, a life we were fortunate enough to be born into, a life that we want to share with them. We see beyond the border, into the countries from which our men migrated. Because of them, we are now painfully aware of the deep social inequalities that are at the very root of the "immigration problem," inequality that makes us sick at heart, that we want to change somehow anyway we can, even if we can only do it for one man.