I close my eyes and step out of my house in Oregon.
I shuffle down the driveway to the mailbox to pick up the morning paper and right before I cross the street a black fume-exhausting bus with flamboyant red, orange and blue-tipped flames painted across its sides stops in the center of my street. There are block characters written across the front of the bus but I am not familiar with the language and thus can’t read the script. A door opens and strange music and voices pour out. The instruments and rhythm playing on the radio inside are foreign and awkward to me, but it’s the strange tone and alien chatter of the inhabitants that startles me into an uncomfortable shyness.
Someone from inside the bus yells a command in a harsh voice and I assume it means, “get out” for suddenly a river of small and dark people drain out of both the back and front of the bus. The people that fill the street are like nothing I’ve ever seen; they all wear the same red striped pants with what look like black chaps that wrap around their waists and snap with strange buttons in the front. Their long sleeved shirts are also of a same uniform color, but with huge collars and cuffs of finely woven material with intricately knit symbols that I imagine as a code to which I’m illiterate. Baskets are suddenly tossed from above the bus to their individual owners who, with long leather straps that wrap around the bodies and rest the weight on their foreheads, delicately heave up their luggage onto their backs and into carry-ready stance. Despite their obvious intrusion into a reality where they stick out sore, the people possess a oddly unwavering confidence that they are in the right place.
My 7-year old niece (who lives next door) hears the commotion outside, opens her door, yells a good-morning greeting and begins to run down towards me on the street. When I turn my attention back to the visitors, I see that all the people in red pants are jostling excitedly in their baskets, where upon they all pull out paper and pencils and begin to sketch notes and little picture likenesses of my niece. One of the observers smiles and points curiously to my niece’s blue denim jeans. Another steps to the front of the group, points at my niece’s pants, and starts explaining something in a calm and confident voice. The group responds with collective “oh”s of understanding.
I turn around and shoo my niece back to her house and when I speak the group suddenly hushes each other to hear my words. The apparent leader stands on her toes again and seems to translate what I’ve said, for the end of her sentence is met with a group grunt of comprehension.
I finally muscle up my courage and step up to this strange leader, “Who are you? Where do you come from? And why have you come here?”
The leader translates my questions to the group and then turns to me and speaks in a strangely accented but comprehensible version of my mother tongue, “Why, we’re people from a land far away called, Todos Santos. And we’ve come here to study your culture, your language, your clothing and your traditions. Can we make some pictures of your house, your family and of you?”
I open my eyes.
But it’s still so impossible for me to imagine.
What could the indigenous people of Todos Santos possibly make of the white alien invasion of blond-haired, blue-eyed, tall and pale-looking strangers with heavy backpacks and bug-eyed black sunglasses that wander through their streets with huge cameras, strange languages, awkward confidence and silly questions?
Or do I dare ask at the cost of my confidence being rightfully shaken?
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