During the winter break of my first year of college I worked as a cashier at a now defunct truck stop in a small town.
The memories I have from said time are lively to say the least. Two incidents are still vivid in my mind after “all these” years.
If you hung around this blog long enough you know that I am Mexican. No, not of Mexican descent only (that is Mexican-American) but actually born in México.
Personally I can’t recall being discriminated against because of that, at least directly. I know there are people who think Mexicans inferior and all that but I haven’t directly been the target of such ignorance.
To be fair, I probably don’t fit the image most people might have of Mexicans for I’m not dark-skinned or swarthy or perhaps even wear a sombrero (If that is your impression of us, well you haven’t been exposed to very many of us). The accent I did have when I first started speaking English on a daily basis, is by all accounts gone.
The 2 incidents which I recall are in this vein. The first involved an elderly inhabitant of the aforementioned small town. The woman, she couldn’t have been younger than 70, and her sister came to buy something or other and as they were paying me they laid out their cash on the counter to count it (after all isn’t that what a counter is for?).
Now the women were Anglo and probably grew up during a time in this country were racism was not only extant but acceptable. As they finished coming up with the cash to cover their purchases one of the women turned to the other and dropped this line,
Put your money away before a Mexican comes and steals it
Now I found this amusing though I didn’t react visibly. My initial thought was, “This woman doesn’t know I’m Mexican or if she does she doesn’t care”.
I know such an incident might send some of my compatriots (real or pretend) scrambling for the nearest phone so they can call some civil rights group and demand so-called justice.
At the end of it I dismissed it as the ignorance of a woman who grew up at a time when such ignorance was believed and perhaps even encouraged. What question did arise in my mind was the following,
Were (are) Mexicans really viewed as thieves? Just waiting to part a fool from his/her money?
The other incident involved a couple of elderly Mexican women. Sometimes I would have to work the graveyard shift (Midnight-8am) and the middle of the night would bring bus after bus of gamblers (the vast majority Hispanic) going to or from the casinos in Louisiana (gambling is not legal in Texas).
One night a bus disembarked and sure enough it was a bunch of elderly Hispanics. Understand that working this shift is hard for it is somewhat unnatural to be awake during these hours. I probably didn’t look as awake as I could have been.
So these 2 Mexican women roll up to the counter to pay for whatever it is they bought and one of them tells the other one in Spanish,
This guy doesn’t even look like he’s awake
Of course she was referring to me and I let her know (in Spanish) that I was quite awake. The reaction was priceless as they always are when one commits such a faux pas. The woman was understandably embarrassed (unfortunately, I’ve been in her shoes and believe me it’s embarrassing) yet didn’t offer an apology.
She merely said, “Well you do look half-asleep”.
I know Pearl Jam sing about an “elderly woman behind a counter in a small town” but as for me the ones in front of a counter have proven more entertaining.