¿Español? ¡Nunca!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I recently made a trip to Walmart. This conglomerate has the image of hiring minorities and old people and paying them ridiculously low wages; this particular store was no exception. I was looking for the Customer Service desk (yes, I was returning something) and I saw one of the employees in close proximity and decided to ask her. I saw her name tag and it read "Elma".

Let me just give a little background information. This Walmart is quite close to the border with Mexico... so, as you can imagine, it's PACKED with Mexican people and Americans of Hispanic origin ("Latinos", as we are all also called). You hear Spanish being spoken in all the aisles, in the parking lot, in the checkout lanes, everywhere. Most of the employees are Hispanic and they normally speak to you in your native tongue. It's pretty easy to tell if someone is Hispanic, especially if you're one of them. Here in Mexico we say that when someone has a "cactus on their forehead", they look VERY Hispanic, and couldn't hide it even if they tried. Which they do, sometimes. Which is sad.

As I approached Elma, I instinctively concluded that she was Hispanic. She had light brown skin, dark hair, brown eyes; she looked about fifty years old and seemed friendly enough (I used to have a thing about talking to strangers, never mind, long story). Having inferred her Latin origins, I spoke to her in Spanish, I mean she obviously knew how to at least converse in it (even though Mexican-Americans speak nasty Spanish, they all usually understand it perfectly). Anyways, I asked: "Disculpe, ¿dónde está el Servicio a Clientes?". Translation: " 'Scuse me, where can I find Customer Service?". Ok, even before I finished my fucking sentence, Elma began shaking her head. As soon as I finished she said: "Sorry, don't speak Spanish". Darlings, I had to make a great effort to not burst out laughing in her face. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T SPEAK SPANISH? HONEY; THE FUCKING CACTUS COMING OUT OF YOUR FORHEAD ALMOST POKED MY EYE OUT!!! Anyways, I chuckled in front of her ("Yeah right!). And I thought... Ok, you wanna play dumb, Elma? You picked the wrong spick. And said, in the absolute WORST English accent I could muster: "Umm.... return.... to return. Where can I return?", using my hands to mimic me holding a box of some kind. Of course Elmita immediately knew what I was talking about (although she did give this pretty fake "puzzled" look for about 2 seconds, HA!). And she directed me to the Customer Service desk. What was the best part? Since she "didn't speak" any Spanish, Elma used her "mother" tongue of English to guide me; and it was spoken in the heaviest, most ghetto accent you could imagine. I chuckled again and said "Gracias". Darlings, this is what we call a SAD case.

Why are they ashamed of knowing Spanish? Does it make them feel more American? To be ignorant? Do they feel more "High class"? (Elma, you work at fucking WALMART! Gimmie a break!). Was she offended I could tell she was Hispanic and immediately thought she could speak Spanish to me? It is quite hilarious to encounter people like Elma, but it is also quite sad. I mean seriously, it's just fucking sad. One time I was with my mom at a department store and she wanted to make a payment on her charge card from the store. She told the lady at the counter, in Spanish, that she wanted to make a payment. The lady, again with a cactus the size of Mount Everest sticking out, politely responded that she didn't speak Spanish. My mother looked her straight in the eye and just repeated the exact same Spanish words she had uttered a moment earlier. The lady got all nervous and then suddenly, by some freak miracle of nature, understood what my mother wanted and even the exact amount she wanted to pay. My mom said "Gracias", then turned to us and said, in a loud and clear Spanish voice: "See that, kids? You have to be bilingual. People who are not bilingual are just never going to get anywhere beyond the service counter". This is one of the reasons I LOVE my mother. And also why I'm a little scared of her. Ha!

P.S. Ignore the irony of this story being writen in English, will you?


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