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  • This summer I returned to the US after gone from its soil for two years. I went back to my home state of Colorado, which, in the summer, is a truly magical place to be. My trip began in downtown Denver for a work conference. While attending this conference, I had also arranged to meet up with some friends who I truly love to go see Sting and Peter Gabriel.

    That evening we planned on meeting at the Cheesecake Factory on Larimer Square. It was a delightful night that night with that fresh Colorado air, so I decided to walk from my hotel to the restaurant. It was one of my first nights back. I strolled down the 16th Street Mall in awe of being in the US again. I noticed how I fit in. Nobody looked at me because of my blonde hair or my pale skin. Nobody hassled me about walking by myself. Nobody tried to teach me how to cross a street, which happens a lot where I currently live. I blended in and I lost that constant awareness I have outside the US borders that I am a woman and as one, I need to always be on the defense. I was reveling how lucky I was to be a woman raised in this country who allows choice of being when I walked into the Cheesecake Factory and heard the classic laugh of my dearest friend.

    The restaurant was packed. I followed the laugh and found my friend sitting at a table. I took the free seat and could see she was talking to a couple sitting next to her. She greeted me and introduced them to me. I think their names were something like Wayne and Wanda Smith.

    True-blooded Americans were Wayne and Wanda, complete with matching Hawaiian shirts. They were eager to tell me how they traveled down from Somewhere, Michigan every year to spend a week or two in Denver. I smiled and said I could see why. They were also eager to tell me how they too were going to the Sting /Peter Gabriel concert. When they announced this, Wayne leaned in leaned in and whispered,

    “Although we haven’t bought them yet…we never do!”

    Wanda started to laugh and then leaned in too and continued Wayne’s secret. She said,

    “Wayne likes to walk into the crowd and find the tickets himself.” This made Wayne lean even closer to whisper playfully,

    “Because you know…”

    Wanda joined in at this point and they both whispered in unison,

    “Everyone has their price!”

    Wayne winked, which made Wanda and him blow up with laughter, some inside joke. It had been a while since I had been with people who spoke the same language as me. I basked in their American-ness. Happy, confident, fluffy round the edges, comfortable.

    The couple turned their attention to me. They asked what it was I did. I said I lived in South America where I taught high school English. The couples’ joy disappeared. It was replaced with a look of sheer terror. The lady whispered,

    “South America…”

    Her husband finished the sentence for her with his mouth full,

    “Well, don’t get kidnapped down there.”

    I smiled and considered for a moment telling Wayne and Wanda Smith of Somewhere, Michigan that I hadn’t been kidnapped yet but I had been beat, robbed and experienced thing that would give them nightmares for life while I was away. However, I decided against it when I saw sweat beads form on Wanda’s dear sweet head. Cheesecake Factory did not need Wayne and Wanda Smith to spontaneously combust during the evening rush, so I held my tongue. However, my big mouth did let this slip out,

    “Yeah, things are different there. Y’know, in some towns in Bolivia, if a violent crime takes place, the victim has to solve the crime, present it to the police and then get the police a cab to catch the culprits?”

    Wanda’s face almost fell off. She managed to scowl, “Barbaric” before washing it down with her fruity vacation drink. Wayne moved into protective mode with his wife and added,
    “Why in the world would you want to live in a place like that?”

    I smiled real big and mentioned something about working outside the US taught me a lot and I felt I could effect more change there than here. Wayne asked the waiter for the check. Wanda squirmed in her chair as if she were sitting on a pea. Wayne got the check. He pulled out his American Express. When it came back, Wanda and Wayne said a hurried goodbye and left to find the person who would accept their price, so they too could enjoy the bread and circus that downtown Denver was serving up that night.

    Soon, we also paid for the check and walked to the nearby Pepsi Center to see Sting and Peter Gabriel. It was not the first time I had seen these men. I saw them when I was a teen in Denver as well when they toured for Amnesty International and played in some venue that, at the time, did not have a corporation’s name. I remember going to that concert and learning about human rights. These were good men, I thought, and looked forward to seeing them again.

    As I waited outside the doors of the Pepsi Center, I again began reveling in my invisibility, just another face in the crowd rather than some gringo foreigner women who is always assumed to have an IQ lower than 70 and who, if seen single, is always assumed to be cruising for men or assumed to be some gringo whore, which I have come to blame partially on the unrealistic porned out images and portrayals of women that my country feeds to men everywhere.

    My comfort was disrupted by two white men almost coming to blows. I stepped back and listened to what the fight was about. One of the men screamed that the other was cutting in line. The crowd step to avoid the threatened blows. One of the men’s girlfriends grabbed his shirt. The crowd calmed down again. I did not return to my dream. I was now awake. The doors opened. We went in.

    We had last row seats, which was fine. I couldn't help but notice how so many people sneered at each other and how nobody danced. I had to smile a bit because after being in Latin America for too long, I have come to learn that no matter what, they always danced. There was no dancing here. The crowd watched politely as Sting and Peter played.

    At one point, I went outside to get some air. While I was sitting on bench outside the enormity of the Pepsi Center, another fight broke out. This time it was some white guy and the white security guy. They screamed profanities at each other until someone jumped in. I watched the whole thing before going in again.

    When the concert was over, we walked back to my friend’s car. I was now taken with how wide the streets were and how clean. This thought was disrupted by another scuttle. Two men, white both, were screaming at each other about whom the cab belonged to. It was so heated an argument that people in my caravan grew scared. We made it past them, got to the car and they dropped me off at my hotel with plans to meet up the next day.

    After going to my room, I decided to sit on the street a little longer to watch the night people go by. I found a bench on the 16th street mall with a snack in hand and soaked it all in. America, here I was, the place where I fit in. I tried to soak in but it didn’t sink in. I felt out of place.

    When my friend met me the next day, I wanted to talk about this but I held my tongue. I didn’t want to be like the annoying kid who has just come back from some summer camp and who perpetually proclaims that the camp is better than home. I have known that kid and I have, in my more aggressive days, wanted to stuff sand up his/her nose. Also, it had nothing to do with whether South America was better than the US…South America is hardly a paradise with its legacy of corruption, machismo and, in some places, unbelievable poverty. Nor is it that I judge people like Wayne and Wanda Smith for having such limited knowledge of the countries outside the US borders, nor the impact the US has on the rest of the world, which, if you don’t know, is a very large impact in even with its enemies. At the end of the day, I am always from the US, thus, I do know the allure of comfort and indulge in it sometimes as well. What I did not understand that night was the aggression I witness and the fear. This was something markedly different since the last time I have been there. With my friend that day, I couldn’t figure out the words to make this point, so I held my tongue, did my trip and returned to this South American place with no intention of returning to the place where I fit in. However, today, I give you this story, so maybe you can help me answer the question that was asked of Marvin Gaye on the year I was born and has gone unanswered too many years…”What is going on?”
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