photo: Prisca

I will preface this by saying that a lot of my doctors and dentists were white Americans, and that I have a soft spot in my heart for those people because they are working hard to change someone else's life. Access to medical care, good medical care, is nearly impossible for many poor folks in Latin American countries and the Caribbean. These doctors and dentists came into communities that most outsiders will not step foot in.

In fact, my first tooth was pulled by a white American dentist when I was a kid growing up in Nicaragua, and I remember the care and attention I got like it was yesterday. You always remember your first visit to a dentist, it sticks with you. Another time I had a huge fall off my bike, and a white American dentist was staying at our home and he sewed me up, giving me seven very necessary stitches. I will always remember this. I also remember that they never asked me for a picture. They were too busy helping people. I hold these people who come to our countries and do that kind of work in high regard. Voluntourists and missionaries are another story. 

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Gospel Outreach came to Nicaragua when I was a little girl. All of my toys, clothes, and much of our food came from ships that were stocked with their goods. I remember walking into those boats and seeing piles of toys and boxes upon boxes of minute soups. These much-needed supplies were crucial to my childhood. We were that poor. But the people sending this very important stuff decided that they needed to see the faces of the lives they were changing. It was not enough to just help, they wanted to see where their selfless donations were going.

I have many childhood memories in Nicaragua that include voluntourists and missionaries. I remember that they were really kind, almost too kind. When you grow up poor, you have a lot of street smarts and reading people comes second nature. It was like they were trying to make up for something. They really wanted us to like them, because they loved us — indiscriminately. It was the sort of love where they did not get our mailing addresses or phone numbers, because it was not about becoming lifelong friends. They loved being around me, it was something about my poverty, brownness, and how they felt like they were saving me. They loved that feeling.

It was as though in exchange for life-giving goods we had to give them a life-changing experience. We had to welcome them to our lands with our arms wide open, as though they were blameless as to how our country was in such distress. As if they did not inherit their comfort and safety from the presidents and governments that they had elected who had done this to us. They wanted us to say mil gracias to their smiling faces as if reparations were not due, deserved, and rightfully ours.

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We have always been able to see right through this facade. Since I was five years old I saw right through it. I probably did not have the words as a kid, but I knew you were trying to get something out of me. I do not have fond memories of the Beckys and Chads who came to my country and took pictures with me so that they could hang the photos in their dorm rooms and go on with their lives.

Those same Beckys did not stand up against Trump’s xenophobic agenda. The Chads stayed silent during that Cinco de Mayo party that their roommates hosted, perpetuating problematic stereotypes about ALL Latinxs. The Beckys know that NAFTA and CAFTA rulings keep kids like me in poverty, but still shop at stores known for using slave labor and sweatshops. 

Those Chads and Beckys have never done anything for me. When they're asked why they went to my country, they probably said that they wanted to help, but after they were done planting the trees that their church donated, they went home and did nothing besides wear our trajes tipicos.

You left and told your life-changing story, but you’ve dismantled nothing. You’ve helped no one but yourself. What have you done for those brown children in your dorm-room picture since you left? I personally resent that you have pictures of us brown poor children, because while we probably changed your life, you’ve done nothing for us but used our brown bodies as a reminder of your good deeds.