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Hello! My name is Raquel Strebig. I grew up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I am graduating high school this June, and I have the aspiration of going to college in the USA. I read just about everything, and I enjoy writing about my experiences growing up in my beautiful yet suffering country.
“Oye, choca, que lindos tus ojos,” a middle-aged man called out to me from his small, beaten up car on the small dirt road I dread walking on so much. This was not the first superficial comment I had gotten that day. Most cat calls directed towards me came from large, unkempt men whose appearance alone caused me to feel fear and unease. I hurried without giving him a glance for fear of fueling the fire that was his acute need for attention that he may go to desperate measures to quench. All my life, I had never been allowed to play out on the street with my friends. I had never been allowed to do something as simple as walk to the little corner store half a block away to buy a few eggs alone. I always needed an adult by my side, and even that was not a guarantee of my safety. As a young child, I had been taught to divert as much attention as I could away from who I truly was. This was done by simple things such as never speaking English in public, never looking people on the street I did not know in the eye, never going out without an adult - preferably a Bolivian man, and by dressing in an attempt to hide some of my snowy skin. Even my best efforts at blending in could not keep all the attention away; cat calls were a common experience to me for as long as I can remember, and this put an inevitable fear in my mind of men. For this reason, getting as far away from that man on the street as possible was my only concern in that moment. As soon as I got far enough away for me to feel comfortable, I remembered the reason I was walking; my mom was waiting for me at the other end of the street to catch a “micro” - a public transportation bus. My mind settled instantly at the sight of my strong, beautiful, Bolivian mother, and all the fearful thoughts that seem to short circuit my brain disappeared for a split second that did not last anywhere near long enough. As soon as I reached my mom's side, she spotted the micro heading towards us. She reminded me to keep my bag in front of me since the risk of either getting something stolen or getting inappropriately touched were high if I did nothing to prevent it. Consequently, I stayed by my mom's side as she paid the bitter, overweight driver who had already stepped on the gas pedal again. No seats were available, so we stood in the overcrowded bus until we reached the “abasto” - a vast market in which one can buy fresh food; cheap materials; and agricultural goods. Immediately after stepping off the bus, I was hit with the seemingly origin-less, inescapable stench. I mindlessly followed my mom through the weaving market that seemed to never be the same as she searched for the perfect bunch of bananas for her banana bread. On the side of one of the endless numbers of small fruit stands, there was a little girl sitting under a truck in an attempt to escape the powerful sun that so violently beat on everyone who dared stand directly under its rays. She looked up from the corn husks she was playing with to observe the unusual sight of a white girl with green eyes. A teenage girl sat in the bed of the truck with one leg carelessly hanging off the side. Contrary to the child's simple way of achieving entertainment, her fingers vigorously flew across the glossy screen of her small cellphone. Unlike the child, the teenager barely glanced at me, and as soon as she saw that I was just another girl, her phone retook her attention. The little girl, however, was still mesmerized by my appearance, so I smiled which seemed to satisfy her as she immediately smiled back and returned to playing with anything she could find. Meanwhile, my mom had decided that she had found the bananas that she wanted, so she asked the middle-aged woman standing behind them how much they costed. The woman, dressed in faded clothes and a threadbare apron in which she kept the money she had earned, readily recognized my fair colored skin and naturally assumed that I was not Bolivian and, therefore, ignorant. She chose to take a chance at gaining more money by charging us extra; however, we were used to being charged extra a countless amount of times due to the fact that I was different. My mom convinced the woman to charge us the honest amount of how much the bananas were worth, and we kept walking through the abyss. After an hour, we got on a micro and returned home - one of the few places I felt safe. This short trip had not brought about any terrible events; however, the possibility of being taken advantage of due to irrelevant and superficial things was a constant likelihood in my life. I have grown up trying to hide who I am because of a fear of those who I do not know, but I have never seen it as a fully negative thing because being different means that I am special; the unwanted attention is simply due to everyone around me recognizing that. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will be free to be whoever I want to be without a threat. For now, I live as a minority in what I consider to be my own culture.