Is development making you uncomfortable?

This post is the very first one I added to the blog (when it was called ImpetuHub, in Spanish, yes years ago!), but I believe it is essential to translate it so that you guys can understand better my viewpoints in some of the entries and podcast episodes, although I try to sound as neutral as I can when need to.

I’m going to write about development.

Which is a complicated topic. I have to accept that it’s complex and that there are many issues regarding this topic. And that I am -as well- confronted by different views and approaches. It is so broad too, so I’m going to start with a topic that seems to be my daily bread: my identity in the development of the world. I would also like to acknowledge that this is only a reflection and that the purpose of this post is to open up about this topic, and now I am meeting people with the same mixed feelings as I have, it's worth to share this. Also, this post in only my humble perspective, I don´t want to make anyone uncomfortable; this is a collaborative blog, so let’s discuss and construct a better notion. I expect comments.

I’m from México (United Mexican States, pronounced: “MEHICO". I’ve actually been told I sound cute saying it that way!). Mexico is a country in the northern part of America, so to the surprise of many people Mexico is part of North America.

I'm going to write that again just in case: Mexico is part of North America. My country is a multicultural one, with so many cultures, ethnicities and languages that I guess it’s quite difficult to govern. We have more than 360 languages, different climates and weather, desert, beach, jungle, woods… we have an incredible variety of flora and fauna, as well as a delicious diversity of dishes and cuisine, arts, dances, music…

In my home country I am one of those exiled people from the city, raised in a beautiful town in which my ownership to the town depends on my relationship with the true owners of the land (someday I'll explain more about this, it's quite interesting actually).

I also have double citizenship. Meaning double passport, double rights, double cultural obligations that I inherit from my parents and grandparents. This explains a bit why my looks aren’t seen as "typical" Mexican (whatever that means, what do Mexican looks look like?). In a better sense I consider myself a mestiza*, that means I have European blood as well as indigenous pre-hispanic blood.

In my own country I am considered a blond girl, a güerita (Mexican term to call blonds. Also in some settings, a güerita is considered an outsider), and in my other home country I would be classified as “other ethnic backgrounds”. Yes, that’s the way they actually ask you in official forms, you can find it under other distinctions such as: Aboriginal, Native American, Asian, African American, African Background, Polynesian, Caribbean, UE, Non-UE, Soviet, etc…

Sometimes in my country they would call me Chilanga, Mexican slang for a person that was raised outside of the city and now lives in the capital city again, some others call me “foreigner” or “not local”, like they Traditional Owners of my home call would call me...

On another perspective, the town where I grew up has a national imaginary of a hippie and magical town, so to my fellow Mexicans I’m told I’m an esoteric hippie.

Even though I’ve been in Mexico almost all my life, I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad many times, not only in a touristic context. The first time I was out of Mexico for a long period of time I was too little to remember; the second time I enjoyed my father’s sabbatical year in Spain. One of my best qualities is that I am easily adaptable, very social, and very very curious (I'm an anthropologist after all). I would be the girl that says 'hello' every morning to everyone with a smile. So it is not very complicated for me to adapt to new settings and places. That year in Spain my professors would tell my parent I was the only Latin-American, until that moment, that had really integrated with the Catalans without losing or neglecting my Latin culture, or even feeling discriminated (and auto discriminated) at all.

I am a Latin American, that part of the world that speaks Spanish of the American continent, that’s why –maybe- some people would think of Mexico as a part of South America. My mother tongue is Spanish; to be more precise, my mother tongue is Spanish of the centre region of the United Mexican States.

The third time I was aboard was for work, I was a Fille Au Pair. I went to France to learn about the culture and the language on a job that -to my experience- exploits Latin-Americans (because the same job is way better paid for people from the USA, Canada or Europe). To the surprise of my employees I didn’t have -what they would think- the typical Mexican phenotype (I still don’t know what the typical Mexican looks like, remember? I’m one of those with “other ethnic backgrounds”).

The fourth time I was away to study a Master’s degree. That time I had the academic knowledge to study different cultures. My ability to adapt and my social skills where justified because I came from a sunny place.

For my colleagues and friends, I wasn’t only Mexican, American, Latin-American and warm. I was also, from a developing country.

Let’s take it back a bit. In the mid-fifties an economist called Sauvy called Third World to all the countries that were not part of the Cold War blocks (occidental block: USA, Occidental Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and allies; Communist countries: The Soviet Union, Oriental Europe and China). Sauvy published in the French magazine L’Observateur the term Third World designating the countries that were left out and exploit by the first world (capitalist and allies to the USA), and second world (communist, Eastern Block).

Mexico, then, was redeemed as a country of the Third World. In the last decades this term has faded because it denoted a less development setting, which no longer applies (or does it?). Afterwards, to all the countries that hadn’t the same industrialised and developed setting, lack of social and economic development, social warranties and basic services, were known as developing countries. Obviously, the term has been encouraged by non-other than the western world, Europe and North America (Mexico not included); who classify the world in terms of development of an economy based in agriculture, exportation of primary materials and work force, lack of local infrastructure, and indebted with the more industrialised countries.

Through the years the Third World countries have become dependent on the more developed and industrialised economies, even though most of them have all the capacities and resources to become world leaders. Japan and Australia have become part of the first world, and others have achieved a certain level of development and industrialisation (BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India and China); but Mexico and South America still present a question mark.

Then Wallerstein, with his theories of the world system, classified the core countries, who coincidentally had colonised the rest of the world, the imperialists that maintain the control over the rest of the countries as subordinated entities, obtaining their main raw material and labour force. The semi peripheral countries became those with the infrastructure that allows them to develop but have not yet achieved full industrialisation, and the peripheral countries that rely completely in the core ones. Years passed by, economic systems have evolved and the theories of core and periphery have ease into other dichotomies.

Before all that, Europe conquered the New World, (all the colonies of the American, African and Oceanic continents) creating a relationship based on the differences between the coloniser and the colonised. Time passed, feudal systems, independences, industrialised revolutions; and a new dichotomy was formulated between the imperialists and the others. By that time the Noble Savage and the romantic idea of the exotic and pristine paradise of the tribal lands, Edward Said was framing his Orientalists theories of the “Other" (I have a blog post coming on that!).

Time still passes and the eras have become globalised; where the flows and access to information rule the life of human beings. And even in this globalised era that has postmodern conflicts about its delimitations, it seems that Europeans have yet to get over the guilty conscience they carry from the XVI century, that of conquerors and colonisers. They still live in a world of distinctions and dichotomies between developed and undeveloped countries.

I was amazed to see in my classes in Europe how there still reproduce this dichotomy and they base their international aid on it. Nowadays the term “developing countries” is fading away the notion of “undeveloped countries” (because now it has a pejorative definition). The citizens of the first world are normally going to these "developing" countries to do some sort of voluntary work, to study them, to help them achieve development -you know, social responsibility-.

So that first week in classes my whole country was defined as a Third world, to an underdeveloped one, to a less developed, to a developing country.

Let’s now add some of the newest romantic ideas. My country, so rich in culture, is exotic. Therefore, it is “authentic” (that’s how the touristic agencies sell it); It generates “nostalgia” for a “world that takes you back in time”, available for tourist in search of the “real thing”. We make it happen. We exploit our cultural heritage through tourism to reinforce the nationalism systems and become tourism products.

When I asked my colleagues in a seminar if it was normal for them to use these terms of distinction (developed and non-developed) they told yes; and then realised that their fellow classmate that always says Hello in the mornings with a smile, came from a country in the ways of development.

Obviously my fluid English, my "not-very-Mexican" phenotype, my double citizenship and my ability to adapt and socialise helps them to see me as something else rather that my own identity. While they still talk about these distinctions and reproduce this discourses of authenticity, development (according to them) and assistentialism to third world countries, they still maintain ethnocentric ideas without being able to get over the categories and terms, that at least in my less developed country never use.

The notion that academic world still reinforces these terms and etiquettes makes me think that my country is inferior to theirs. But for me, because of my position and my home country, I’ve been blessed with sunny days, social skills, being adaptable and have an enormous cultural heritage that allows me not to get stuck with neo-colonialism terms.

But for them I will always be “authentic”, “exotic” and “sunny”.

It’s a complicated topic, and this is merely a little part of the complexities of being a Latin-American student in the European academy. And for me, I consider myself to be the oxymoron, because I contradict their terms, I am the contradiction doing the social science that many consider as colonialist science (in the sense that the anthropologist studies the “Other”), studying a neo-colonialist branch of anthropology (many academics argue that tourism is the new tool of colonialism).

I am the noble savage that takes advantage of the double passport, that greets everyone every morning, and that questions herself about her position and about the discourses that my European friends accept without a doubt.

So... who is the subordinated now?

The original entry of this post was written in Brighton, 2013, while living in UK.

#development #Otherness #identity #Stereotypes #personal #ThatWanderChic

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