The following are parts of two conversations I had not long ago. While these are the two most recent instances, I’ve had a version of this conversation with more people than I can remember.
I was out getting tacos at one of the trucks I frequent and an older gentleman walked up and saw me sitting at the only folding plastic table. He hesitated, then sat down in the other chair and greeted me quietly in accented English. I returned the greeting in Spanish, which surprised him (story of my life), and we continued speaking in Spanish.
“Are you here to eat tacos?” he asked me.
“Yes sir, of course.”
“How strange to see a güero eating tacos.”
“But we’re in Texas,” I laughed. “It shouldn’t be that strange, right?”
He looked around casually from left to right then back to me, “Do you see any other gringos here?”
We chatted a bit, I told him a little about my story and why I speak Spanish, he told me a little about himself, about his kids and his ex-wife, and then he told me this: “I’ve been here for 20 years, and you know what’s bad? They (Americans) don’t want us here anymore. Honestly, I wasn’t even going to sit next to you because (Americans) don’t like us.” Let that sink in. A man who has lived 20 years of his life, over a decade of that time in Fort Worth, and he hesitates to sit down next to me because of how people treat him on a regular bases.
A month or so later I was out again ordering tacos, this time at different taqueria, in a different city. After I order, the cashier says to me, “you know it’s really strange to see someone like you speak Spanish. People here don’t like to speak Spanish. They don’t like to speak to us at all. And I really don’t understand it.” She patted her arm, gesturing at the veins “God made us all and put the same blood flowing in our veins,” she shrugged her soldiers, “I don’t understand it.”
So let me submit something to you. If we are treating our neighbors in such a way that they don’t even want to sit next to us, that they are shocked that we would even speak to them, then something has gone terribly wrong with our politics, our religion, our lifestyle, out morals, our codes, creeds, or whatever else we may hold to.