On #ZeeGringo, Relationships and Culture on Social Media
We are in my hometown for the weekend, attending a traditional San Pedro wedding: Luis Miguel’s greatest hits, 600 of the couple’s closest friends, and tequila shots passed around like water on a hiking trip. We make our way to the dance floor, people stopping us every few feet — “Zee Gringo! Zee Gringo!” they call. They hug us and shake my husband’s hand, pat him on the back. They seem to like my husband; the men laugh at his jokes and the women smile at him, smile at me. They say, “Se ven bien felices.”
The thing is, these people don’t know my husband. They believe they know him based on a persona I created online four years ago, when we started dating.
#ZeeGringo takes me on road trips around Texas: Shiner, Marfa, Lockhart.
#ZeeGringo surprises me at work with breakfast tacos and coffee.
#ZeeGringo sings Selena’s “El Chico Del Apartamento 512”.
#ZeeGringo makes Julia Child’s beef bourguignon for dinner.
After four years of living in Austin, #ZeeGringo was the first one to introduce me to his Texas, a world of barbecue, hay rides, and a childhood home filled with love and UT/A&M paraphernalia. In exchange, I introduced him to a few Mexican things, like Sunday morning barbacoa tacos, clubbing until 6 am, and being questioned at the border for four hours. I drove him around the mountains of Monterrey and we climbed the Teotihuacan pyramids. A big part of our relationship was exposing each other to small and significant experiences stemming from our background, families, and culture. #ZeeGringo was the first white man I met in Texas whose questions or comments did not revolve around “why is your English so good?” and “you don’t look Mexican” (don’t even get me started on that one), but around me. He asked about my family, my work, my country, my life. I fell in love quickly and hard, with him and with how much he wanted to know me.
People have always wanted to see the best version of themselves. We aspire to look beautiful, sound intelligent, appear popular, wanted, well-traveled, well-read, hard working, creative. Loved. We do this through filtered pictures and status updates, in 140 characters or a series of hashtags. The people who know my husband, friends and family, know #ZeeGringo is an accurate portrayal of the person. The man in the pictures and the videos is authentic, he is genuine. Our social media relationship is authentic, it is genuine. But it is a very small part, the part we choose to share with strangers and acquaintances because it is the easiest one to share, barely scratching the surface of an alliance between two whole, complex people. I chose to make that part of my relationship public because I felt happy and appreciated — it was the “best version of myself” I ever had with a man.
No one is safe on social media. To someone out there at any given point, you will be: Fake. Shallow. Slutty. Boastful. Whiny. Obsessive. Boring. Hypocritical. Too political. Uncaring. Self involved. Too fat. Too skinny. Not enough. Once upon a time I posted cautiously, working to only show a part of me that wouldn’t fall into any of those boxes, but I believe I have been three or all of those things. When I met #ZeeGringo I started enjoying telling my story in my own words and pictures, accepting the shortcomings of social media along with the benefits.
I see the way social media brings us together. Skype and FaceTime are accepted as a regular way of communication, but they’re truly a lifeline, an easy fix when I miss my best friend. We learn about what’s happening in our hometown and across the world, leaning on strangers for solidarity in tragedy. I also see the way social media tears us apart, the way it seems to make bullying easier, insulting strangers more acceptable. Our faces are posted everywhere, but the screen is the perfect place to hide.
Social media is still a struggle, a balancing act, but it has an undeniable place in our lives. My Instagram, a carefully curated gallery of moments, is my life. There is my mother, the woman who taught me to read, in her clean white dress. There is my meal on a recent trip to Mexico, the colors and flavors that raised me. There is the book I am currently reading, sentences underlined and notes on the margins, so I can always look back and remember how it made me feel. There is the outfit I wore one Sunday, my smile and body confident in my usual black and gray. There is a long Texas road under an empty sky, my husband beside me in the car. The pictures are all taken, edited, chosen. And even though to other people they might seem like a highlight reel, to me they are true, the people and places of my life.
Jonathan comes home after work. He changes into running shorts and a T-shirt, grabs his headphones and takes off. He returns an hour later, sweaty and relaxed. He showers, and afterward we start making dinner. We sit and eat and watch TV, and then I prop my feet up on his lap. He rubs them for a few minutes until he falls asleep beside me, on our old gray couch in our little Austin home. We didn’t take any pictures today.