I’m sitting in a plaza in Zacatecas, watching people pass by. The people here are strikingly handsome, mostly moreno and indigenous. They have beautiful, bronze skin, chiseled features, and deep, dark eyes. I’m enchanted. All kinds of people pass by. Old. Young. Lovers. Weatherbeaten old women selling snacks. Giggling girls. Packs of teenaged boys. Older men with sensible clothes and well-polished shoes. An occasional elder gentleman in a full suit. Well-dressed criollo couples. But most here are younger, and moreno.
A clown is busy entertaining the crowd. “I need a girl to help me with the act. Who wants to come forward? C’mon, don’t be shy!” A couple of girls, aged about four and five step forward hesitantly. “Bienvendas!” shouts the clown. Then a rapid-fire series of questions. “Are you married or single?” The crowd giggles. The girls, after all have barely entered kindergarten.
The girls answer, “Single.”
“What kind of guy do you want to marry?” shouts the clown. “Handsome or ugly?”
“Handsome,” the girls dutifully answer.
“Tall or short?”
“Tall!” scream the girls.
“Moreno o güero?” asks the clown. (Dark or light skinned?)
“Güero,” answer the girls without missing a beat.
And thus goes the indoctrination in Mexico. Tall, güero, handsome. These words all belong together here. Ugly, short, moreno. These words too, sadly, go together in Mexico. The really weird thing? The crowd eats it up, laughing and applauding. But they are almost universally moreno themselves. Sure, some of them are “moreno claro,” the lighter end of moreno. But plenty are dark, bronzed, moreno, and you know their ancestors tried their best to fight off the invading Spaniards, whose ideas of beauty they’ve now fully adopted. Frankly, to my Scandinavian-descended eye, even the so-called white people here aren’t all that white, looking deeply southern European at best, and most probably have at least a few milliliters of indigenous blood running through their veins too. Heck, even Cortéz took a native wife.
As I pass through the streets I make eye contact with lots of strangers, mostly men because that’s who I am. I get an amazing amount of deep looks back. Of course, I’m the most güero thing in town. Or at least I was until the group of young German tourists showed up, following an equally fair guide, hearing about Zacatecas in German. It’s an odd image, and I have to confess that I followed them for a spell just for the sheer novelty of hearing people speak German here in the depths of Mexico. But as I continue on my way and exchange looks with these striking Zacatecanos, I ponder. Why do they look back at me? Is it the intensity of my own looks at them? Are they curious to see someone so white? (Believe me, I’m on the lighter end of Caucasian, what with green eyes and Danish parents, and I’d better not tarry too long in this intense Mexican sun, or I’ll be a deep shade of red.) Certainly there are very few Gringo tourists here, at least if my last visit and this visit are anything to go by, so I’m a bit of a rare bird hereabouts. Mexican tourists? There are plenty. But we Gringos seem to have been scared off by the news media and various bits of narco-hysteria.
Yesterday, I got a chance to get a bit of a deeper view into this whole moreno inferiority complex. I was hanging out in the Plazuela de Garcia, when I spotted a stunning young man sitting in an arcade talking on his cell phone. As I move about the plaza taking photos from different angles, his eyes follow me, and I keep looking back. After about fifteen minutes of this, it’s clear he’s gay and seemingly just as interested in me as I am in him. I dally for awhile on a bench and smile at him. He smiles back.
After a while, he gets up to walk down the street, and I move in the same direction. After a few minutes I have to cross the street over to his side. I’m now walking right next to him, so I say, “Hola! Cómo estás?” and give him a big smile. We start to chat as we walk downhill toward the cathedral. Up close he is nothing short of stunning — jet black hair, deep deep brown eyes that I could lose myself in, and a beautiful face with a square jaw, a very perfect, straight European nose, and eyes that reflect his mixed heritage. His skin tone is definitely moreno, but closer to moreno claro than dark moreno. We’ll call him Enrique. (Not his real name.)
It turns out Enrique is 19. Yowza! I’m a little taken aback at my boldness. I’m not into boys and I thought he was older. But we continue to chat, and eventually end up in Parque Alameda. He’s studying nursing and is clearly intelligent. We have a long discussion about college majors, movies, culture, and then the conversation turns to beauty.
“I’m planning to get a nose job in few months,” he says casually. I am literally stunned. Enrique has the kind of nose most people getting surgery hope for, but few achieve. It’s about as perfect a nose as I’ve seen, perfectly straight, smallish without being girly, and perfectly formed.
“Are you completely nuts?” I say. “Your nose is perfect in every way. It would be a locura for you to get a nose job.”
“I want it to be smaller,” he says.
“If you have your nose made smaller, you will look like Michael Jackson,” I say. “The nose will no longer fit your face. It will look fake, and you will have wasted your money. Seriously, I just met you. But for the love of God, don’t get a nose job.” For emphasis, I add, “Please,” with a pleading look in my eye. He starts to look as if what I said might have penetrated just a smidgen. I start to feel hopeful.
“I want to have my skin lightened too,” he adds, sort of changing the topic. I look at him again skeptically. “I also want botox.”
“I’d love to have your skin tone. Your skin is beautiful. It’s a lovely color, it’s even in tone, and it’s clear. Seriously, you could be a model just the way you are. Eres súper guapo así. You don’t need to change a thing.” I’m starting to wonder about the sanity of all this, and beginning to realize Enrique has some self-esteem issues, and at least some of those self esteem issues revolve around his being moreno in a culture that doesn’t appreciate it. This despite the fact that most of the people here are moreno, and a good chunk of them are very beautiful in a non-European way.
We continue hanging out and I try to persuade him that he’s beautiful the way he is. I don’t know if I’ve done any lasting good, and it saddens me that Mexican culture does this to its majority population. Imagine being Caucasian in America thirty years ago and feeling like you were ugly because you didn’t look African-American, or Chinese, or Hispanic, or like something else you’d never be. It’s got to be sad and frustrating. And totally unnecessary. How ridiculous would it be for me to get surgery so that I could have an aquiline, Aztec nose? I wouldn’t look somehow indigenously beautiful; I’d look ridiculous. Europeans don’t have some kind of monopoly on beauty. Far from it. Call me self-oppressive, but I find a lot of the folks here in Zacatecas more beautiful than the average European.
And I wish the clowns in the public square would see the light too.
Dark is beautiful. Don’t fight it. If you’re moreno or anyone of color and reading this, please, love yourself for who you are. You are more beautiful than you think.
* Published with Enrique’s permission.