“Todos somos latinoamericanos” René Pérez shouted, as his female lead began belting out the opening strains to Pa’l Norte. I shouted along with her:
“Unas piernas que respiran
Veneno de serpiente
Por el camino del viento
Voy soplando agua ardiente.”
They were singing to a packed house. Le Trianon had sold out on a Wednesday night, and the mass of bodies moved in sync to the rhythm. Each time the beat picked up the crowd jumped, fists held high; the wooden floor creaked as if it would give way. I jumped along with them, caught up the frenzy of the moment.
Until six years ago, I didn’t speak Spanish. I had moved from New York City to Guatemala on a whim and stayed.
I immediately felt at home there, welcomed. It is a country where people don’t ask questions; they are willing to move over and make a little bit of room. Beyond the culture of violence at which most people stop short, there is a live and let live attitude, a philosophy of non-judgment.
With a de facto tradition of migration, the term “migrante” is not seen as condescending. Most people view expats in their country with curiosity rather than apprehension, and with a simple question: “Why here?”
As a man I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to on a plane theorized, the American and the European come to Latin America in search of a simpler life. Westerners travel to Latin America seeking a Walden-esque adventure, in which they subsist on tortillas and cheap beer from the corner tienda, in the pastoral backdrop of a colonial town. They come here to learn to boil water, to learn to survive if not on the bare minimum, then on the necessary.
Just as the Latino romanticizes, even fetishizes, the United States as a nation of wealth and opportunity, where better lives are mass produced as a matter of fact, we travelers turn an equally fetishistic eye towards our tropical neighbors. We flee south across the border, in an effort to put time and space between us and our hectic lives, away from the machine of consumerism that we often too easily get swept up in. Away from chemically grown fruit and the super sized dollar menu. Away from $1750 rent bills and summers trapped in the black tar streets of a concrete jungle. And sometimes, away from an identity we can’t seem to wrap our heads around.
“Tengo tu antídoto…
Pal’ que no tiene identidad
Pal’ que llegó sin avisar
Para los que ya no están, para los que están y los que vienen”
As I chanted the chorus, I found myself weeping. Though born in France to American parents, I am Latinoamérica. Guatemala is my patria. It is my safe space, my no fly zone, where I am not expected to fit into to any pattern or mold, where I am allowed to be exactly who I am. No questions asked.
It is the first place where I didn’t feel like I had failed to live up to people’s expectations. And for me, this was my antidote; it was my salvation.
The next day, with the song still stuck in my head, I boarded a flight to Guatemala. And it felt good to go home.
Ilustración: Sky, Sarah. “Murakami”, Mixed Media, 150 x 150 cm.