Translation: I’m Brown
Translated by Patrick Moseley
Daniel Alarcón: Thanks for listening to Radio Ambulante. Today I’d like to recommend another NPR podcast. It’s called Embedded and it’s hosted by Kelly McEvers. This season they’re investigating police videos, those blurry clips we see on the news all the time. In this week’s episode, they’re investigating a kind of video that you don’t see very often: one in which a police officer gets shot and the strange and unpredictable story that comes after. Find Embedded now on the NPR One app or on npr.com/podcasts.
Oh… And if you haven’t filled out our listener survey, please go to radioambulante.org/encuesta (available in English in Spanish). Please. It’s a big help and it won’t take longer than 3 minutes. It doesn’t matter if this is the first episode you’ve ever heard, it still helps. Thanks a lot.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Ok, so a few weeks ago Camila Segura and I talked with my friend Marco. He’s a journalist and writer. When he was 36 he moved from Lima, Peru to the United States, to a sort of isolated state near the Canadian border.
Marco Avilés: They say it’s the most rural state in the US. But I think maybe that’s a way of…getting some pride out of being unique, you know?
Daniel: Aside from that it’s…
Marco: The oldest state in the US.
Marco: It has the whitest population in the US.
Daniel: It’s called Maine.
Marco: It’s the only state whose name is just one syllable.
Daniel: And for Marco, this old, white, monosyllabic state turns out to be heaven on Earth.
Marco: It’s covered in forest, there are trees everywhere and a shimmering sea, you know, with a scribbled coastline.
Daniel: He made it to this paradise because of his girlfriend, an American journalist he met in Lima. Her name is Annie.
Annie Avilés: I was born in Maine. I grew up there. And then I spent, I don’t know, ten years living in Latin America.
Daniel: How did you meet your wife?
Marco: Well, I met her because you introduced us, Daniel.
Annie: Yeah, Daniel and Radio Ambulante… Is like the best man, you know?
Daniel: I’m no matchmaker. I didn’t introduce them thinking that they would be a couple, it didn’t even occur to me. But, when I think about Radio Ambulante’s successes, the Annie-Marco duo is one of our finest, honestly.
Marco: It all went really fast because we saw each other twice. She left for the US and we exchanged a ton of emails and the next thing we knew we were already talking about moving in together.
Camila Segura: And when was your first kiss?
Marco: Oh when… I think it was a half hour after she got off the plane.
Daniel: And well, when I really think about it, they’re made for each other. Both are very intelligent, very curious, sensitive, not at all pretentious. They’re the kind of people who love exploring the world, going to the most remote places and talking with people.
And they have something else in common. Despite the fact they met in Lima, they share a love for the countryside.
Annie: When we started talking about the country, that was when I really began to fall in love.
Marco: So when Annie told me about Maine, and those forests and the deer and the fact that there were no people, I think that we really… That was what I liked most about her. Because in my head I had a kind of, I don’t know, a similar image of that rural world. I liked it…
Daniel: And they were both tired of Lima. Annie lived there for less than a year and never got used to it. She had lived in La Paz and Santiago for years, but, well, Lima is something else. Its rhythms are different than in those other cities. You don’t necessarily fall in love with Lima at first sight. And well, Annie missed a simpler life.
Life in Maine isn’t what you typically picture when you imagine life in the US. There are no big cities. It’s not the suburban life you see on TV. It’s more rustic.
Marco visited for the first time in the summer, when they went on vacation to Annie’s hometown.
Annie: Well, I am from a town of about two thousand people, you know? It’s very agrarian.
Marco: It was an amazing vacation. And yes: Maine is a state that tends to captivate people. In fact its nickname is “Vacationland”.
Daniel: “Vacationland”. The Land of Vacation.
Marco: My first meal I think was crab chowder.
Daniel: Maine’s most typical meal.
Marco: And I said: “Oh this isn’t so different from Lima. Because in Lima I eat crab by the sea and drink beer”.
Daniel: He liked it so much that, a little over a year later, they moved for good and went to live in a cabin that Annie’s family owned in the middle of the woods.
Annie: It’s tiny, very small. I don’t know, like that “Tiny House” phenomenon, it’s not a “Tiny House” but it’s on that level: very small.
Daniel: With loft bed, a small kitchen, an open air shower, and it’s a twenty minute drive from the nearest town.
It’s perfect. Exactly what they were looking for.
But, of course, even though Marco was happy, leaving Lima behind also has it’s challenges. He missed his family and friends… The life he had. And on top of that, in Peru, Marco was well known.
Marco: When I go to Peru, I’m a journalist. I’m a writer.
Daniel: University students ask him for interviews. A little while ago when he went to Peru to release his most recent book…
Marco: I was invited on the radio and television to give interviews. And when I come…when I come to Maine, the only one —aside from Annie, of course—, the only one who gets excited or surprised that I’m around is my dog, you know? My dog, Piji.
Daniel: And it’s jarring: going from being someone to being nobody.
Marco: Sometimes I feel like I have a double life, you know.
Daniel: Marco spent months working from his home, via internet, as if he were still in Peru. Until he decided he needed a normal life, with friends and activities. He got his residence permit and looked for a job outside of his house. He looked, like any good Peruvian, for a chance to play soccer.
Marco: Well, I got the information about the soccer league and I signed up, and the organizer —an American guy who’s like 60 years old, a really cool guy: he likes the English League, soccer and all that—, I remember the first time I went to play with my team, he called me to the side and said: “Hey, I know someone from where you’re from.”
And he took out his phone, dialed a number and put it up to my ear. And he says: “Talk!”. I don’t know, he gave me a name, he said: “José’s on the other end of the line. Talk.” And so I say: “Hi, hello, I’m Marco, how’s it going?”. And on the other line, I don’t know, José goes: “Hi, Marco, how’s it going? I’m from Paraguay. Where are you from?”. “Oh, I’m from Peru.” “Oh, so, how’s it going.” And then silence.
Daniel: Peruvian, Paraguayan… Let’s just say in Maine, they’re exactly the same.
However, this is something that Marco reiterated to me several times, the people in Maine are very caring. They’re good people.
Marco: In many ways, they’re a lot like the people in the Andes. They smile at you all the time. They say hi. They’re affectionate.
Daniel: People in Maine and people in the Andes share…
Annie: I don’t know, attitudes, the tendency to be very closed off at first. But later on, to be very caring. Their connection to the land…
Daniel: Especially in the towns. They are small, tight-knit communities. Marco got a job at a restaurant.
Marco: I started out as a pinche in the kitchen.
Camila: What’s a pinche?
Marco: A pinche (kitchen helper) is like a soldier, like the lowest rank. Basically, the person who gets yelled at, and who can’t, who doesn’t have the option to say anything back.
Annie: He, for the first time in his life, was like… People just treated him like a migrant, you know, like… He wasn’t like Marco, or a journalist or whatever. He was an immigrant.
Marco: And I went into the restaurant and the chef would yell at me every day. And sometimes it was very forceful, to the point of humiliation, you know? I would get home and sometimes all I could do after those intense days at work, full of yelling and pressure, I mean, my only reaction was to…wait for Annie to go to bed and I would start crying, you know?
I wasn’t crying out of sadness or anything, it was more of a way to let out that energy and confusion, you know? It was a cry of confusion, like “what is happening?” you know? “I’ve never been treated like this”.
Daniel: But Annie realized what he was going through.
Annie: I had never seen him like that. I don’t know, sometimes I felt like, “gosh, this job is going to break him”, you know?
Daniel: Now, Marco would kill me if I make him out to be a martyr or something like that. No. He was learning something new, and he’s a guy who likes working.
But it was a lonely job. He didn’t have a lot of people to talk to. Especially in his own language.
Marco: When I got there I was the only Latino.
Daniel: Which is very unusual in restaurants in the United States. Here is where you can tell that Maine is a very white state.
According to the most recent statistics, in Maine there are only 17,000 Latinos. In other words, one percent of the population. It’s the state with the lowest number of Latinos in the entire country. But it’s not just the size of the Latin community. It’s that, strictly speaking, there is no community. There’s no center. There are no Latino neighborhoods.
Marco: The Latinos aren’t there, you don’t see them.
Annie: We never ever see them on the street. Never.
Daniel: For one simple reason: the vast majority of the Latino population lives on ranches, on the farms where they work. They live apart, they’re hired hands in the fields or the breeding grounds.
Annie: They live in trailers. A lot of the time they don’t have cars.
Daniel: They almost never leave there.
I asked Annie if she remembers seeing Latinos as a child. She said she didn’t.
So, someone like Marco, well, attracts attention.
Annie: To me, he looks like he’s from the Andes, you know? He has very happy eyes, I don’t know, curly hair… He wears glasses…
Marco: People have always made fun of me for different things, you know? Because… Because of my glasses, my hair, which is wavy and when it grows out it looks like a microphone.
Daniel: And his nose…
Marco: When people see me they say: “Look at that huge nose. It’s like a cucumber. An Incan nose.”
Daniel: And his skin…
Marco: My skins is the color of, I would say the color of wood, mahogany, something like tree bark. It’s brown skin.
Daniel: Alright. So let’s put it like this: in this whitest state in United States, no one would mistake Marco for a white person.
And I mention this because in 2015, Marco’s appearance becomes very important.
Donald Trump: When Mexico send its people… They’re not sending their best. They are not sending you, they are not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. And they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some —I assume— are good people.
Marco: That Maine that I had come to know —that calm, peaceful Maine, you know?— in my head, it had turned into an unfamiliar and hostile place.
Daniel: That’s right. Something changed in his paradise. After the break: How does that change feel day to day.
We’ll be right back.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to Radio Ambulante. All this month we are asking our listeners to tell a friend about a podcast they like. Call them, contact them on social media, and if they don’t know what a podcast is, well, explain it to them. If they don’t know how to listen, show them. And then tell us what podcast you recommended using the hashtag #TRYPOD. Thanks!
Daniel: Do you remember when you first thought Trump was going to win?
Marco: I remember in the restaurant, toward the end of 2015, afterhours when all the cooks were drinking beer and wine. I remember a cook said: “If Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada.” And he said it as a joke, everyone laughed. But at that moment, I realized that if an American guy was saying that, I said, “oh, wow, maybe I should pay more attention to this thing,” you know?
Daniel: I think that at that time a lot of people —including political analysts and journalists— didn’t take the possibility that Trump could win seriously. Neither did I. When I went to Lima, my friends would ask me and I would assure them it wouldn’t happen. It was the same for Marco.
Marco: I thought it was part of the…, like some folkloric thing in the middle of US politics.
Daniel: Annie saw it differently. When her friends asked her, she would say…
Annie: “Gosh, I’m worried because I know a lot of people that I can imagine supporting him and I don’t see it as very strange.”
Daniel: And Annie was right. The possibility that Trump would win was becoming less and less ridiculous.
Do you remember when you started seeing the signs around Maine?
Marco: I’m not sure, but they started sprouting up, like leaves on the trees in spring and summer and…
Daniel: And around that time, Marco had left his job at the restaurant and had gotten a new job in which he had to drive a lot. So…
Marco: Since I drive all the time, from one town to another, I did notice that as the campaign got more intense, more Trump signs started popping up. Sometimes they were enormous, you know?
Daniel: Signs that to Marco felt almost like an aggression.
Summer passed and in August…
Donald Trump: Fellow Americans, I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Daniel: Marco remembers one sign in particular that caught his attention.
Marco: There’s a highway I always go down and there are a few guns and ammo stores there. And there is one that, I don’t know where they got it, has a kind of military tank and they put an enormous sign on that said something like: “Support Trump or support the traitor”. Something like that, you know?
Daniel: “Support Trump or support the traitor.”
Marco: Yes, something like that. But it was enormous. And on top of that the sight of the tank was intimidating.
Daniel: And, on the other hand, the Hillary signs…
Marco: No, for Hillary there were… three.
Daniel: In those days, Marco went to a store —which was also a bar— to buy something. When he parked he realized there was a Trump sign in the window.
Marco: And when I saw the sign I said: “I’d better not go in.”
Daniel: The bar area was full…
Marco: And I don’t know, I was imagining…like I was projecting myself into the future, like I would go in and, I don’t know, they would throw a beer at me or something.
Daniel: Or worse.
Marco: Or they would put me into slavery. Or they would put me into slavery there and never let me leave. Or insult me.
Daniel: But this movie he was playing out in his head never happened. Nothing happened. Marco went in, bought what he needed to buy, and on top of that: they were very friendly to him.
Marco: And then I started to feel guilty. “Oh, I shouldn’t have thought that about these people.” And then I realized that sometimes it was all just in my head.
Daniel: Well. Maybe on that occasion it was, but it’s easy to understand why Marco felt anxious. Let’s remember what Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail was like. Rhetoric which has now become the new administration’s concrete policies. In the final weeks of the campaign, the language the Republican candidate used was aggressive, sometimes even apocalyptic.
Donald Trump: The result will be millions more illegal immigrants, thousands of more violent horrible crimes and total chaos and lawlessness. That’s what’s gonna happen.
Daniel: He described US cities as battle grounds. And the Latinos, immigrants, refugees and Muslims became the enemies.
So what happened to Marco a few weeks after the elections shouldn’t come to us as a surprise. He was walking through a park, one of those where people meet up to do drugs or get drunk.
Marco: So it’s also a kind of hostile park, you know? It reminded me of those neighborhoods in Lima, like some areas in Callao, where you say, “oh, you shouldn’t walk through there,” you know?
Daniel: And he was about to get into his car. There was a group of people talking and smoking…
Marco: And a woman says to me: “Hey, you, you— purple shirt.” And so I turn around. And she tells me: “Are you a Latino?” And I didn’t answer because I just froze. And they said to me: “What are you doing here? Go to your fucking country.”
Daniel: You always imagine you’ll be ready for a confrontation like this. Like in the movies, you’ll know exactly what to respond. But in real life it’s not like that. It’s not something you expect and you’re not walking around with a script either.
Marco: All I did was… I got in my car, I started the car and I said, “OK, now I’m safe. I’m in my car. So I’m going to turn around, I’m going to park near them and I’m going to say something back to them and yell at them. And if they want to attack me, well, I’ll run them over.”
Daniel: But of course, he didn’t do anything. He got in his car and went home. And as I’m sure we all do, all day he thought about what he could have said…
Marco: I didn’t have anything that clear to say to them: “Oh, go to hell”, or… You know? I was also trying to articulate: “What right do you have to tell me to go to my country, in other words, how long have you lived in this country? Or when did your family come here? You know? Who goes back further?”. Something like that. It’s a little weird but…
Daniel: A few weeks later on November 8th, 2016…
NPR Reporter: And we continue our election night coverage. And as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America, edging out Hillary Clinton in a way that no one really saw coming, as we’ve been hearing all night…
Marco: The night of the election was a shock for everyone here, you know?
Daniel: Among Marco and Annie’s friend, in their close circle, none of them supported Trump.
Marco: I was with some friends watching on TV, and everyone had a face like: “What is going on?”, you know? It was like a dream.
Daniel: And that is the same question I heard several times in the days following the election. A lot of the people I spoke with couldn’t believe it. Maybe even today it hasn’t sunk in for some people.
Sometimes politics feels like it’s very distant. I mean, if you’re not a specialist or a journalist, how many times a day can you or do you have to think about your president? Of course you can be in favor of or opposed to one policy or another, you can support or hate a senator or a mayor, but generally you get caught up in the day to day. Work, relationships, routines… A lot of time what happens in the capital, what happens inside the government is almost abstract.
Well, for Marco it isn’t. That is to say, he does feel the impact. He has felt it. On a daily basis. He carries it wherever he goes. And not just Marco: millions of people, Latinos, African American, Muslims, refugees, undocumented immigrants, women, gay people, trans people…
According to what Marco tells me, something has changed. You can feel it in the air…
Donald Trump: This American carnage stops right here, and stops right now.
Daniel: So one day, not too long ago, Marco went into a gas station and bought a cup of coffee. Trump was president by this point.
Marco: And there were two older men, the two of them were like 70. They were talking.
Daniel: Marco sat at a table to make a call.
Marco: And as soon as I sit down, their conversation starts to… They get louder. They stop talking and they start sort of yelling.
Daniel: And here is where paranoia comes into play. He the men start saying things like…
Marco: “Oh, yeah, what Trump is doing is great. And the wall… and he’s going to get rid of them for sure because there are a lot of people living on the government’s money,” you know. I felt like they were saying it so I would hear it.
Daniel: But he also wondered:
Marco: “But are they really saying it because I’m here or is that how they talk?” you know?
Daniel: And well, he never found out.
Marco: Let’s just say this… This way of feeling ordinary things happens all the time.
Daniel: And it happened again. A white woman, who was about 30, with light brown hair, spoke to him rudely one day at the eye doctor.
Marco: And what you normally expect is for them to say “hello, how are you? How can I help you?” And the woman looked at me and said: “What do you want?!”, you know? As if to say. “what are you doing here?!”
As if I were someone who shouldn’t come in. And again it’s like: “Is she really saying that because she wants me to feel uncomfortable? I mean, is this woman, I don’t know, racist or just having a bad day? Or what?”, I don’t know.
Daniel: And that has a cost. It’s draining. And maybe you can learn to live with those little acts of hostility but things don’t stop with words. Look at the news in recent weeks. An Indian engineer was killed in Kansas. And Sikh man shot in Washington. A Latino man assaulted in Boston. Several mosques burned. More than 20 Jewish centers threatened across the country. And much more.
I asked Marco how it feels to live with this paranoia.
Marco: In the end, you wind up going out with something like a math problem in your head, you know. Is it me? Is it them? Did they have a bad day? Do people here talk like that?
Daniel: What matters isn’t whether you get treated well or poorly at some store. The thing is that these innocuous interactions are a reflection of national policies that many Latinos perceive as hostile.
The day we spoke with Annie there were raids against undocumented immigrants in several cities. I asked Annie how news like this affected them, along with the daily tension Marco lives with. She confessed she was worried. And she told me that when the topic came up with American friends they would tell her:
Annie: “But Marco’s going to be alright.” And it’s like, “but that’s not the point.” You know? It doesn’t matter if we as a family “are going to be alright.” We aren’t alright. If all immigrants aren’t treated with dignity, we aren’t alright either.
Daniel: And yes, they have had some very hypothetical conversations…
Marco: What would we do if things got worse? Or if the hostility against Latino residents, against brown people gets… It’s much more apparent, you know?
Annie: We aren’t talking about leaving right now, but yes, sometimes we talk about it. I’m mainly the one who wants to…who wants to bring up the topic. Because according to Marco, it’s like it’s weak to…to “run away.”
Marco: Because it’s like…everything we’ve done will, well, be left behind, you know? I mean, the house we’re building, the work we both… The jobs we both have, you know?
Annie: I say it’s not running away because we haven’t lived here for more than two years, you know?
Marco: And I start to think about the friends I have here and it’s like: “Jeez,” I get really sad.
Annie: The question is: Can we really continue living in this country?
Daniel: For Marco and Annie, the answer is yes. They are staying. For now…
This story was written by Camila Segura, Silvia Viñas and me. Mixing and sound design by Desiree Bayonet. Special thanks to Jorge Just. And thanks Marco and Annie Avilés for sharing this story with us.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Luis Trelles, Else Liliana Ulloa, Barbara Sawhill, Caro Rolando, Melissa Montalvo, Ryan Sweikert, Luis Fernando Vargas, Andrés Azpiri and David Trujillo. Our intern is Andrea Betanzos. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.