A Mexican in India: Looking Desi

“But you look Desi“: this was often the wide-eyed and surprised response that people gave me upon telling them in a very bad accent Hindi nahin (No Hindi). I can’t really blame them for thinking that I was Indian, after all I do have brown skin and my facial features are similar in some ways. On the other hand my skin is lighter than most people here and I’m taller on average than most people from India. I won’t complain too much though, being thought to be Indian while in India does give some advantages.

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Foggy New Delhi

First and foremost being pestered by street vendors is commonplace for the blue-eyed, blonde-haired giants that come from Europe and the United States. So too is the “foreigner tax” or “foreigner price” whereby items are marked up when sold to tourists. When one is able to blend in, receiving the much more affordable Indian price is a plus though I had to be careful not to talk and risk blowing my cover.

So why India? What compelled me to travel to the other side of the globe given that I have no connections to this country aside from a few friends from university? Well I had never been to India, simple as that; in addition to that I was already in Asia and I had two months of vacation between the end of my study abroad in Japan and the start of the one in China. My thinking was, why not take advantage of the opportunity and do some good during that time?

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I always blink in photos

That’s how it began, one month in India volunteering at a school in the biggest slum in New Delhi: I won’t lie, living in India is hard and often heart breaking. Of all the places that I have been, living here was one of the hardest but the people here were some of the most generous and heartwarming that I’ve ever met.

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Sikh celebrations in Patel Nagar

Through my interactions both in the school with children and with locals in general I tried my best to show that the United States’ people aren’t just white giants with blue eyes. I told them about the similarities that Mexicans have with the people of India: our love of food (especially spicy food), our treasuring of traditions, our struggle against imperial European rulers, our struggle with corrupt politicians, our cherishing of family and our humility; these along with many other aspects make us similar despite being so different. Walking in New Delhi, there is so much reminiscent of many parts of Mexico City from street vendors to wealth disparity and stray dogs.

India had always fascinated me and now here I was, arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport on a foggy morning in  January 2015.

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