know-placeI have written before and told my friends that I have never felt discriminated against because of the color of my skin or my nationality. That is not to say that I have not been discriminated against, but it was not because of the color of my skin. It was because of my language and social status. It was because I did not know my place. As far back as I can remember, I have had this ongoing battle against the notion that I should know my place.

Growing up in Mexico I was told that adult conversations were for adults and that I had no business interjecting my opinion. I should know my place was the admonition. As I got older I heard comments or was told directly “mira este igualado, ¿quién se cree?” Who is this guy, who doesn’t know his place? It wasn’t that I was being rude and interjecting myself into a conversation that was not mine, but rather that I dared to ask an innocent question or that I dared to offer assistance to someone that seemed lost in the city. It was that my status, either because I was a child, or as I got older, because my economic status was beneath the individuals I was addressing meant that I had no place talking to them.

I was innocent to the fact that I was beneath certain individuals because of where I was from or how much money was in my wallet. Or, as some would argue, I was too dense to understand my place in the carefully structured society that I was brought into.

I was fully aware that I was not welcomed but I kept it in the shadows. I intellectually knew it but I ignored it.

As I got older and traveled more, both in Mexico, the United States and other countries, I kept running into the notion that apparently, I do not know my place. The trigger was different but the underlining cause was the same – my social status.

Although social status may seem as simple as how much money is in my wallet, it runs much deeper than that. Social status is defined by the way one dresses, aka, how much they are worth, to what country they originate from or what language they speak. People, all over the world, create artificial little social groups of people they interact with based on a common language, social status or beliefs. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes about when outsiders to the social groupings are excluded, sometimes violently and other times through cold shoulders, just because they do not fit the mold of what a like-minded individual should be like.

Individuals who look inward instead of outwards to others for inspiration or interaction tend to see outsiders as a danger to their way of life and thus they react to outsiders as a threat to them. Many equate this to racism – yes racism exists, but most of the so-called racism is a reaction to a changing demographic, or culture that insulated people fear.

In school, I sometimes found myself having to defend myself for daring to speak to someone that considered themselves above my status, economic that is. It was many times, sometimes verbal altercations and other times physical ones. All because I did not know my place. Sure, looking back at it now, I must admit that deep inside me I knew that I was challenging the status-quo because I do not subscribe to the notion of knowing my place.

As I grew older, my boldness got the better part of me. I once approached a table of generals discussing tactics and for some reason I felt the need to interject my own opinion. Although I would not admit it to myself at that time, pretending it to be an innocent mistake, I knew that I was challenging the status-quo.

I once decided that it would be a good idea to take an English lady out for coffee. Her father was a British official working in Mexico City and I, a young Mexican with a chip on my shoulder and not to mention friends egging me on, I asked for her number. To the shock of my friends I walked away with her number. The interaction with her, and her parents was polite and pleasant. Much to my surprise it was a public guise keeping the truth hidden from public scrutiny. I called her and arranged to meet her for some coffee. When I got to the agreed upon place, it wasn’t her but four English guys making sure that I understood that I should never call her again. “Know your place” was all I remember from that unpleasant encounter.

My friends argued that it was racism but I still believe that if I had a fistful of money, her family would have accepted my invitation with open arms. I still believe that she either did not know or had no control over the reception I received from her compatriots. Regardless, I did not have the social status to invite the daughter out for coffee, so I needed to be taught a lesson. Apparently, I did not learn that lesson well.

When I first arrived in Cd. Juárez, I was taken aback by the antagonism I sometimes encountered. It wasn’t because of my nationality – as we were all mostly Mexican. It wasn’t my language because we all spoke Spanish, nor was it my economic status as we were all mostly poor by US standards. It was because I had a “chilango” accent although I was a “norteño” like most of them because I was born in northern Mexico. I was an outsider that came from a place that people in Cd. Juárez distrusted.

When I crossed the border into El Paso, I assumed that Mexican-Americans would welcome me with open arms. I was often mistaken because, apparently, I was too Mexican for many of them or they felt that I looked down upon them by speaking Spanish – the Mexican way. I learned to adapt by losing my “chilango” accent and speaking English without an accent.

For years, I blended in as I developed my business, both in Cd. Juárez and then in El Paso. There were many people that knew me for years that were shocked to learn that I was a Mexican national or that English was not my native language. Make no mistake, there are many of us, thousands of us Mexican nationals that have blended into the US landscape that many are surprised to learn they are from Mexico. By no means am I unique in that way.

As my business developed I was supposed to learn that in business it is important that I know my place.

I was once approached by a group of well-known businessmen in a social gathering in El Paso. They were friendly and fatherly-like in talking me up about how much potential my business had – I just needed to take their advice on how to do business in the city. The one poignant thing I remember about the encounter was that I needed to raise my prices because my prices were too low.

I know some of you may be thinking that they were trying to show me how to make my business more successful and it may look that way, but I am convinced that they didn’t like having to complete with me. I was that immigrant that was offering a competitive product for a much lower price and they didn’t like that at all. It’s just that I didn’t know my place in the El Paso food chain.

As I have written before, I started blogging because of the El Paso Times, under the leadership of Bob Moore, deciding that they were going to remind me what my place was.

Obviously, I haven’t learned what my place is because I’ve been blogging for over fifteen years now. But, even today, my blog occasionally reminds me that many people subscribe to the notion that I do not know what my place is.

The ongoing debate about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is, obviously contentious, but I believe I have been fair in how it is covered on my blog. I have been open about my unwillingness to support Donald Trump. I have also asked others to write about their favorite candidate and I have posted Barbara Carrasco’s editorials about why Donald Trump should be the next president. The challenges come from all sides; the right, the left and the center.

But, apparently, I still don’t know my place.

You just have to look at some of the comments on my blog and read the emails that individuals send me to see that I still don’t know my place.

The underlining message is that if I like Mexico so much why don’t I go back there. This is worded many ways but it ends the same way; why do I dare write about US politics. When I write about the “de-Mexicanization” of downtown El Paso, the reaction is that I should go back to Mexico, “if I think it is better.” It all revolves around the idea that I should not express an opinion about something because it is not my place to do so.

For example, I have not written that the “de-Mexicanization” of downtown is a racist thing. I believe it is a social-economic-status issue. The poor have no place in the grand-utopia of the El Paso that was envisioned by the Glass Beach study. On the surface, the Glass Beach study looks racist, but the underlining issue is the social economic status of the demographic that some subscribe as to the reason why El Paso remains economically challenged.

Look at the “leaders” behind the Glass Beach study. They are a mixed bag of white, black and Hispanics. Clearly it is not racist, but rather that the targeted demographic does not meet their educational, economic and sometimes language status.

When the topic of public corruption in El Paso comes up, invariably the closeness to the US-Mexico border is brought up as a reason for the corruption. Bob Jones was not from El Paso nor is he Hispanic. Former FBI agent Hardrick Crawford Jr. was not from El Paso nor is he Hispanic or white, for that matter. Both Crawford and Jones optimize corruption as Lorenzo Garcia, an Hispanic does. As you can see it is not a skin color issue.

As a further example, take the Donald Trump controversy. I have not accused Trump, or his supporters of being racist. Although I am sure that there are some racists in their midst – as there are racists in every group of people, including Mexicans – the clear majority of Trump supporters fear not skin color but a different culture and language. I believe they fear the Spanish language and the rise of the Latino culture in the United States. They fear change.

But apparently, it is not my place to point it out. As some readers, have told me, “try writing that in Mexico” or that I’d be “killed in Mexico” for not knowing my place.

Why does that even matter?

Why is it that I must know my place before I offer an opinion?

Obviously, although many have tried to teach me “my place” in society and have failed to do so over the years, what makes anyone think that now is a good time to remind me to “know my place?”

But more importantly – the notion that one should know their place is what I believe is driving the worldwide hatred for those that threaten the way of life many fear they are losing.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

4 replies on “Know My Place”

  1. Brought back some memories. Our stories are similar.

    What puzzles me is that people that have had this experience would turn around and mistreat others. As the saying goes “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Oddly that was twisted and has become “mistreat others as I was mistreated”.

  2. Well said, Martin. We humans have a long way to go to treat others fairly and without preconceived ideas.

  3. “…thousands of us Mexican nationals that have blended into the US landscape that many are surprised to learn they are from Mexico. By no means am I unique in that way.”
    Like our good mayor, Oscar Leeser. Like you, Martin. Like many fine doctors and business people here and all over the country. We all struggle with identity and how it relates to our tribe, for that matter what tribe because in the land of e pluribus unum there are many tribes. This will always be with us.

    Welcome to the human drama.

  4. For me, I enjoy reading your blog. To be very honest, I have to stop and think for a minute to recall your name (since I am a relatively new follower) and am rarely conscious of your ancestry except when it is mentioned by you ( or a “guest editorial spurs the reminder) in context to an issue. But in my heart and I hope in my pro or con comments your or my “place” is never different and never suggested. People can disagree vigorously, even with a degree of anger. Use sarcasm. Even occasionally be nasty (and hopefully apologize to each other after cooling down). But you, I or any other human on this planet has the same “place” God gave each of us. That is my opinion and I hope I live up to it each and every day remembering it. And for anyone being disrespectful to you for where you “came from” … I would rarely dare put this in writing in public … but: FUCK THEM !
    Keep up the good work. Disagree at times but thank you for your thoughts and your blog.

Comments are closed.