Being an American Tourist in Mumbai


I think that the biggest culture shock that Emmi and I have experienced in Mumbai is getting stopped constantly to have our photo taken. People approach us frequently and ask; “Can I take a selfie with you?” and then a line of people who also want a photo with us forms behind them. We’ve also experienced people sneakily photographing us at restaurants, or walking in front of us while facetiming someone to show us to them. It can be endearing when little girls ask us for photos, excited by our willingness, but all in all it has been a conflicting experience.

I often felt overwhelmed or like a zoo animal when people screamed at me to look at different cameras so that they could take a selfie with me. It was hot and sticky out and I would be trying to take in a breathtaking landmark, or to talk to Emmi. While at first it was flattering and frankly incredibly funny, I began to wonder what the hundreds of people who took photos with us would do with the selfies anyways, would they post them on Facebook and say that we were friends? Would they look at it and think back on that fleeting moment? Or was it to say, look, I met/saw someone with light skin?

Many of the people who stopped me specifically would ask “What are you?” I’m ethnically ambiguous with olive skin and loose curly hair and nobody seems to be able to guess that I’m half-Mexican and half-American. Rather, random strangers approach me and ask “Are you Indian? Are you Asian? Are you Middle Eastern? What….are…you…?”

Then it hit me why we were being photographed. We were only being stopped for photos because we have lighter skin than the people in India, which is terrible for a number of reasons. It shows how having light skin is idolized around the world, and it subsequently shows the negative effects of westernization.  I don’t support that idolization of white skin. In fact, it makes me feel very sad. So while it can seem funny to have people quite literally chase you down the street for a photo, it also brings into question the residual effects of Westernization around the world.