I was telling someone at work how when I first moved back to the United States, and Americans would find out I was Colombian, they would make cocaine and marihuana jokes as if to imply I had snorted cocaine or smoked weed.
He did not like that comment. He told me that HE had never thought for one second that about me.
Of course, I didn’t mean to say ALL Americans. I just meant the ones I met.
Of course, even that is an anachronistic exaggeration. I don’t experience the same comments anymore. Maybe because the people I talk to now are older. I did when I moved here in the early 2000s when the war on drugs was a more “relevant” issue, one that was discussed more in the general consciousness of news-consuming citizens.
I want to clarify that I say weed because people might not remember this, but before everyone grew their reefer along with their roses in their garden, Colombia was the biggest exporter of the crop.
Apparently, Colombian outlaw farmers used to grow the best weed in the world. I would never know because it was all exported. But now that everyone grows it, the exporting opportunities have dried up, and California and Colorado have taken that coveted first place.
It is also one of the reasons why governments are so comfortable talking about legalization now. Making drugs illegal made it illegal to trade that drug. But now that we have some of the best manufacturers of the drug right her in our countries, it is perfectly okay for everyone to buy drugs so the government can capture their cut via taxes.
That’s why when faced with an opportunity to buy a do-it-yourself kit, I always ask myself, by paying for this kit, am I taking the bread from the mouth of a hard-working, dedicated, AK-47-bearing son of a bitch?”
This person also said that by making these comments, I was victimizing myself.
But that’s not true.
Never once have I felt victimized by these conversations. He must not have understood that I loved getting those comments because it allowed me to riff off from them. I had boilerplate responses for such moments.
My favorite one was that I never did cocaine because all greedy gringos snorted all the good stuff since the dollar had much more power than the Colombian peso and the cartels’ strong stance on open market policies. Why develop a cocaine habit on low-grade narcotics?
Of course, I make the mistake again of speaking in hyperboles. I didn’t mean ALL gringos snorted ALL the coke. I meant most gringos snorted most of the coke; the rest the DEA did.
But I do exploit the lagoons of geographical, societal, and cultural knowledge Americans seem to have about life in cities in third-world countries.
I told a girl once I grew up in a tree. Not only did she believe me, I never corrected her. She probably went about her life telling people how she met someone from Colombia who grew up in a tree. Now, the Colombian Amazon is huge, and maybe there is an indigenous tribe in it where someone grew up in a tree. But it wasn’t me.
At a different time, a girl asked me where I was from, and I said, “Colombia.” To which she responded, “So… Mexico?”
” Yes, Mexico. I’m from the Mexican state of Colombia.”
I could’ve educated that girl somehow. Fill in the gaps left there by public education. Tell her that what she was thinking of wasn’t Mexico but South America. But that wasn’t going to be me.
More recently, I texted a parent at my daughter’s school, and I told him how my daughters will never know how good they have it. Then I told him I used to ride a donkey ten miles to school every day. And he told me that must have been hard. Yes, it must have for someone who rode the donkey ten miles to school.
But that wasn’t me.
No one who rides donkeys to school is in the United States because they would’ve never made it to the airport in a donkey from where they were living. They also probably wouldn’t have the money to pay for an airplane ticket to the capital of the country or the know-how to navigate the difficult and expensive process of getting a visa to come to the United States.
This highlights another little fact Americans are blissfully unaware of: how hard it can be for a foreigner to come to the United States.
I lived in Barranquilla, a city with 1.5 million people. It wasn’t better than San Diego, but better than Birmingham. And when people don’t travel to these countries or only consume Rick Steve’s travel guides, they don’t know what life looks like. Nor do I believe that Americans have this burden to know what life looks like in every country of 195 in the world.
But I also don’t have the responsibility to teach them about it. I can have a little bit of fun with it if I choose to. And that’s why my friend can be upset about it if he so chooses to.
It doesn’t make it any less accurate that when I first moved to the state, it was a recurring conversation for me, enough so that I had to make it clear to people that I refused to lose everything I had over an addiction to poor quality cocaína.