Yes, Canada: I was thinking of you during my post of yesterday— I just didn’t know it. So I wish you a happy Thanksgiving day if you’re north of the border! Squee!
Today: a random assortment of thoughts because today is Columbus day and when Columbus sailed the ocean blue he was doing it so we would all have a three-day weekend five hundred years later.
Oh, right, and because spices were expensive. I bet there was no Safeway back in those days; no Safeway and no Trader Joe’s. Those poor deprived (depraved?) people.
Speaking of Safeway, I’ve been meaning to share a very Freudian moment in the life of my local Safeway –one which has been very consistent and which has made us giggle. Well, it made us giggle after we got over the shock and the fact that it was a very consistent and odd typo– because we Meows like our beer and this is not the first time we see this particular item. Let’s see if you can spot what’s…. different about this receipt:
Now, I realize that if you’ve never had the pleasure of drinking one of the fine brews made by Cervecería Modelo–a Mexican brewery– you may not be aware of the fact that this is a receipt for beer.
This is a receipt for Mexican beer, purchased by me.
The name of the beer, however, is Negra Modelo. "Negra", spelled with an "a" and not with an "o".
Not much to speak about, but at the same time, much.
Let me explain a few things:
1. The word in Spanish for black is "negro"–which comes from the Latin "nigrum". Also, as in English, it is also the word we use to address people who are dark-skinned. It is directly where the words "Negro" and the pejorative "nigger" come from.
2. However, Spanish being an annoying language where there are gendered words, by modifying the word "beer" –"cerveza" in Spanish– the word "negro" needs to take the feminine form.
3. Therefore, since the beer is a girl, the adjective is also a girl, and thus "Negra Modelo."
4. Incidentally, "Modelo" is just a last name. It has nothing to do with models.
5. If you’ve never had a Negra Modelo, you’re missing out on life.
So why am I even writing about something that could be attributed to a typo with no consequence?
Well, see, I don’t think it is just a typo. I believe I’m in the presence of greatness– a cultural Freudian Slip. A Freudian slip that has no consequence other than making me look twice at my receipt, but a slip nonetheless. Because the word "negra" is just a word in Spanish, but the word "Negro" has a very definite meaning and history. And seeing a Safeway slip asserting that I’ve purchased a "Negro" –albeit a delicious and gold-decked one (Tyrese? Purr.)– makes me a little uneasy psychologically speaking.
You see, in many ways it’s all the fault of today that the word "negro" is even imprinted into our psyches. If Christopher Columbus hadn’t set hearts aflame about coming over to what he still stubbornly thought was India, and if these lands hadn’t been so damned fertile and filled with treasure, then well….
… honestly, I have no idea what would have happened. As I mentioned the other day, the one thing that seems to have set Columbus apart from prior explorers was his press secretary — if he even had one. Because it was the publicity and the feeling that a quick buck could be made that drove people by the millions over here.
And then when the indigenous people were exploited, sickened by the nasty diseases that the Europeans brought from their Eastern lands, robbed and worked to death, landowners had a very large problem in their hands: where to turn for cheap labor?
And the solution was written in blood, in the richest and most misunderstood continent of all.
So you see, when I see the receipt staring back at me, I can’t help but feel a weird and unseen guilt.
A guilt associated with fearing that I am insulting someone or something, and at the same time a silliness because I feel I also have the immediate need to explain part of my culture — the part that rolled her eyes when New York (yes, THAT New York) thought the Latin guy was offending her when he called her "mi negrita" while I sat there shaking my head and hoping that someone would pipe up and say something! Like, "While it may be an allusion to the color of her skin, it’s not racist because it’s not spoken in hatred or with intention to debase or demean the person," perhaps?
(I guess it’s too much to ask from guys who want to get it on with New York, though. She’s so gross.)
[Oh yes. Please click here if you need an explanation of the above paragraph. I realize not all of you had the pleasure of
losing brain cells watching a few episodes of the first season of I Love New York. (thank you to M. Meow for pointing that out)]
Looking around my dear Capitol Hill, I realize that there is still much painful history in this neighborhood. I realize, for instance, that the stern but kind gentleman who lives around the corner from me and who always greets Herr Meow and me politely and asks about our day knew a city where he wouldn’t have ever talked to someone who looked like me –because it simply wasn’t done.
Although the Hill appears to be mostly relaxed and
integrated in terms of racial attitudes –i.e. an eclectic mix of
people from different ethnicities and skin colors and world backgrounds
living together mostly in harmony– there are still pockets within the
neighborhood that, understandably, do not trust The Other, whatever
that Other happens to be. You can sense it from the way purses are
clutched or people sit up just a little straighter in their porches and conversations fall to a distant murmur,
that they are not happy to be together. As we say in Spanish, "Juntos, pero no revueltos" — that is to say, that they may be side-by-side, but certainly not mixed together.
It saddens me that there is this static. It saddens me that I see a receipt for beer and I think not of how far we’ve come, but how little we still care for those who are different from us.
And yet, maybe we can all be grateful that Old and New Worlds came together all those years ago –despite the nastiness that lies within that union– and raise a frosty Mexican pint to our differences and our similarities.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to
forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the
power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in
the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, and Happy Columbus Day to all!
Interesting post, as usual. Very insightful. And I can certainly relate, thinking back to all of the ethnic neighborhoods I’ve had the pleasure of feeling excluded in over the past thirty years of freedom from the suburbia I grew up in. “Juntos, pero no revueltos”, indeed.
I and my visiting friend may go out for a beer or three this evening. If so, I shall purchase a gold-decked and delicious one in your honor. 🙂
great post. probably the best columbus day post i’ve ever read.
when i lived on the hill, our neighbor was an elderly black woman who never really cared to get to know us or say hi or anything. all she did was come over and yell at us for not raking the leaves before leaf collection day. however, her feelings about us were probably not ethnically motivated, but probably due to the age difference.
ahh…i miss that crazy old lady and i miss living on the hill.
*raises a bottle of the aforementioned beer* <–fantastic
And wonderful post, about subject matter is usually swept under the rug.
so…I was sipping on a Negra Modelo…and wondering why it was a Negra and not a Negro (ah! because Modelo is a proper name)…and then why it doesn’t come AFTER Modelo…. Modelo Negro/Negra…. cerveza negra….