To be honest, I’m not sure which day it happened in the next part of this story. Memories are like that. Especially memories that make us uncomfortable and hold pain or fear, the unimportant details tend to get fuzzy over time while other parts become bright and vivid, almost surreal. Although I couldn’t tell you which day this happened, where we were going, or what I was wearing but, I do remember that the Mexico City Metro was hot and muggy.
My friends K and Z, who I had met at my hostel, waded through a mass of people trying to get home from work to get to the very end of the platform that is sectioned off, sometimes even with a police officer at the entrance. This area and the car stops there are for women, children, elderly and disabled people only. This car is a safe car protecting its occupants and is often less packed than the others, so we decided to use it.
I remember the car was full of laughter and conversations as it moved from station to station. Till it suddenly stopped. The door closed at one of the stations as a man had jumped on the last minute. I remember thinking, that’s not right; he’s too young to be on here.
I turned my head away for a quick second as the doors re-opened as I assumed the train was delayed. The man yelled loudly, instantly quieting the car as he began spewing hate words against women. He then handed out a single little candy to each person in the car before he began his hateful rhetoric again. Although I barely speak Spanish, I got the gist of what he was saying, blaming women for all the world’s sins and for tempting him to turn away from god. He would not allow us women sent by the devil to seduce him.
After what felt like an eternity of him spewing this venomous doctrine against women, he slowly laid out the fabric bag he had been carrying. When he unfolded it, he revealed a layer of broken glass bottles. While praying to god, he used the poll in the metro car to help him flip over and land hard on his bare back on the glass. I still remember the sound his back made as it hit the glass and the metro car floor. After several more times of self-flagellation that opened his skin anew between the scars that crisscrossed his back, he gathered his things and began walking around the car, gathering up the candy he gave us.
When he got to me, he missed the candy as I dropped it into his hand. The look he gave me as he stared into my soul was one of pure venom and disgust. He said something looking at the sand and back up to me in a strained, tense voice. I understood the context, so I bent down to pick it up. I felt so dehumanized at that moment. It was like it was my fault this man was the way he was, and I was there to serve him, picking up the candy. After retrieving my candy, he moved on, and I could breathe again. He finished picking up the candy and left the car just as the doors began to shut for it to move again.
I don’t know how long this ordeal lasted, but it felt like an eternity. By the following stop, conversations had picked up like nothing had happened. It was very surreal in the moment that this was accepted as a part of our everyday life by us tourists and by Mexicans.
Looking back at this terrifying incident, I regret that K, Z, and I did not discuss in detail what happened. Is it not surprising, though, because as women, that type of hate and violence is normal for us. We are conditioned to be silent about these things that happen to us because it’s “rare” or “not all men” or because we were in Mexico City, so “what did we expect.”
Not every woman experiences this in such a visceral in-your-face manner, but we experience it every day, whether on social media, on the news, or with in-laws that restrict our choices and bodies. It affects most decisions we make subconsciously, including where to travel and what to wear. The sad thing is that no matter what we do, violence against us is seen as our fault.
We are blamed for the actions of this vile man who was clearly dealing with deeply rooted hate and mental health issues, not the society (the world as a whole) who taught him to be the way he is and for not getting him the proper treatment.
When I look back at this incident, I am more angry than fearful. I’m angry that society conditioned me to be silent, to take the blame, and compartmentalize it for future Madeline to deal with. Reflecting on this incident, I recognize that the fear I felt at the moment was elevated due to the language barrier. This fear could make me add to the single storyline that Mexico is dangerous to women, ignoring the situation’s nuances. In truth, this could have happened New York, Chicago, or LA, and I have experienced things like this in Michigan, where I grew up. I am angry that I can’t say that this incident is a unique experience in my life that only happened once, but I am a woman, so this experience is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. No, I expect this won’t be the last time something like this happens to me despite my hopes that it is the last time.
I must confess part of me wanted to leave this out of my 9 days in Mexico City story, but that would be unauthentic. I also believe that being silent about my uncomfortable and bad experiences disservice people who directly affect living in the country I’ve chosen to vacation in. Which it does. I share this story with you in hopes you can see that the world is the same all over. We all fight for the same rights. I hope you realize that bad things can happen as a tourist, but these incidents are not unique to travel, nor is it unique to one country. In my experience, the world is full of danger, but it is also full of the most amazing and wonderful things. On this trip to Mexico City, the good experience far outweighed the bad.
Read on to hear more of the good.
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