The Implications of Eating Cacti

by Hans Bryssinck

[listen to this music while reading]

Last night while I was walking on a side street of San Miguel Allende in Mexico I saw 3 American ladies drinking white wine on their roof terrace overlooking the valley. Next I overheard a conversation between two American men at the doorstep of their house. One was complaining to the other that the milk he had bought wasn't suitable for steaming his cappuccino because it turned out it was dairy-free. In a split second I realized how Americans now mostly owned the entire Mexican village. It made me incredibly sad and angry - never I'm able to choose between those two negative reactions that facebook offers - to witness the inequality. Rich Americans have driven the locals out of their houses in order to obtain a holiday house in this picturesque Mexican village. Not only San Miguel Allende, but a million other places in Mexico have fallen victim to the same process: exploitive tourism, foreign private capital and investors buying, owning and exploiting the land, resulting in wild gentrification processes.

If that wall between the US and Mexico will be built, will it also - following the same logic on which it is built - protect Mexico and Mexicans from foreigners who come and steal their land and their resources?

[now change to this music]

One day when I ordered some quesadillas in a market stall, the lady asked me if I wanted them "with prickly pear or does that take your light skin away?" [¿con nopales o se te quita lo güero?]. She was obviously laughing at me. But unconsciously she posed a question that touches on a complex theme.

Mexican society has a class system based on your socio-economical background and the color of your skin. As a foreigner with a lighter skin [güero] and with a Western background you automatically enter Mexican society from a privileged position.

I experienced her question as an existential inquiry. It's a question about becoming, not about who or what you are, but about who or what you can become. I also experienced her question as an inquiry about my political position. As a foreign immigrant in Mexico, do I want to preserve my skin color and therefore my privileged position or am I prepared to give up on my skin color so to speak in order to participate in society from a more egalitarian perspective? And is that even possible? Or to begin with: am I able to look at myself and to acknowledge my privileges?

I can eat as many nopales as I like, but I can't change the color of my skin. I mean, I guess I could make it darker - Michael Jackson in reverse - and for sure it would be a challenging political, existential and performative experience. But the question is rather: how can I look at the world without looking at it from only my own perspective? How can I look at it with the eyes of many? And given the fact that I'm an artist who wants to tell stories, how can I count the stories of many?

When, Oh when, will mainstream culture and the media tell the stories of the many dislocated, disenfranchised and subaltern? And if we cannot count on the media how can we develop strategies to tell this multitude of stories ourselves?