Friday, July 8, 2011

Mr. Photographer, I Think I'm Ready For My Close-Up

As an Americana, I don't think there's anything that could make you feel more like a movie star than walking through a mall in the Philippines. My Goodness! Walking around, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is watching you in wonderment. The salespeople come rushing up to you with big smiles on their faces saying "Hello Maam! Oh you're so beautiful! So pretty! Hello Maam! Hello Maam!" According to the current PCV's, Maam and Sir are what Filipinos address anyone if they have great respect for them. And everywhere we walked, it was "Hello Maam!" It was wild. And when they could help you find something, it was like they won the lottery.

I was checking out at one of the stores, and the total was 173.25 (Philipine pesos) and I start counting out my cash, and she asked if I had 25 cents and I said "I have no idea! Can you help me?" I spread all my coins out on the counter and she started giving me a currency lesson, showing me that yes, I did indeed have 25 cents. At one point I said "You are a great teacher!" and I think she may have peed her pants. She turned to all of the other cashiers and was like, "She said I'm a good teacher! Thank you, Maam!" Hahaha she genuinely WAS a big help, and I thought she'd like a compliment. Later on my friend and I were casually looking at some hair accessories and a saleswoman came up to us, smiling, said "Hello Maam!" and proceeded to just linger as we slowly walked around. She was just gazing...

This wasn't the only reaction though. We were in line at the grocery store (yes, in the mall) and a little girl-- she might not have even been 2 years old-- saw me. I smiled and waved, and a look of shock and horror came over her face and she started frantically wiping the sides of her face, I'm assuming to make sure all of our faces didn't just lose pigmentation. I looked up and her mother and grandmother were smiling at me, and laughing at the little one. So cute.

This was really interesting to me, though. Earlier that day we had a training session about diversity. I've sat through a fair number of diversity seminars throughout my college career, but this one really stuck with me. As a debriefing at the end, they gave us a paper entitled "List of White Privileges." It was a research project done by a professor at Wellesley College in the '80s, and I just found it extremely insightful. After my mall experience, one of these "privileges" really hit me. #1: "I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time." If it wasn't for the other PCV's, I would have been the only white person in the entire mall. I was really looking out for others, but with no success. It was such a powerful moment when I realized this, because for the first time in my life I felt like a 100% COMPLETE outsider. Yes, everyone was beyond friendly, but I was still absolutely out of place. Even through all of my European travels, I could always find people that looked like me. Not here. This was a significant realization. In school we are taught about diversity and what it's like to be a non-white American. And of course there's no way I could ever know what it's really, truly like to grow up as a minority in my own country, but last night was a little bleep in time that I felt what it's like to stick out in a crowd. It was a real learning moment for me.

Anyways that was my wild night at the mall :) Time for some zzzzzz's...


At July 9, 2011 at 8:45 AM , Anonymous Nancy Buckley said...

Becky, You are so right about standing out in the Philippines. The Filipinos that we met were totally welcoming, warm and very interested in the U.S. They viewed the U.S. as the land of opportunity and many dreamt of someday seeing it.
As far as the new insight on being a minority...
Imagine how non-caucasians stand out in Scituate. Although we don't stare or idolize anyone here, we are in incredibly homogeous community.

I'm loving reading your blog so far. I think Elianna will enjoy it as well. Keep on writing. Nancy

At July 9, 2011 at 11:28 PM , Blogger Barbara M said...

Becky, I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. The latest reminded me of being a white person in East Africa, in an elite minority group! Disconcerting.

Hope you'll continue to find time to share your wonderful notes.

At July 9, 2011 at 11:44 PM , Blogger Patti Dente said...

Hi Becky ( A.K.A little girl ) OR should I say Hello Maam, wow I loved reading about your STAR experiences Wow it's sounds like something from a far out movie I am visioning what your saying, oh yes a totally different side of the world you are viewing. Well it's nice to hear how friendly and helpful the people have been... Maybe everyone who has a racial & non-racial issues should spend time in other Countries to feel what it's like to be an minority/ never know the world could be a better place....I hope you've started some kind of Journal about everything, your descriptions makes a person reading your blogs like their right along side you. you really should keep a journal and yeah then write a book and get it published...anyway girl thanks so much for the updates and have fun with all your " Maam " experiences Love ya Aunt Patti


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