She smiled. I talked. I said everything. She said nothing. I was forced to ask her if she spoke English. She said no. Her friend said “paquito.” So, I smiled at her friend and talked to her instead. Her name was Marta.
Marta runs the juice cart across the street from my kids’ school. Her friend cooks bacon-wrapped hot dogs. These two have been there for the three years I have been coming here. I have always pretty much parked my car across the street from them every day.
Like her friend, Marta wanted nothing to do with me. Maybe it was because I was asking too many questions, or maybe because they thought I was the law. I had wanted to meet them since last year when I started KNOWvember, but as I found in this particular neighborhood the mood had shifted. White males are not typically walking around this Hispanic neighborhood without some sort of legal motive.
So, I started with simple questions. Was she married? No. Did she have kids? No. Has she been doing this job for a long time? No. I did find out that her favorite flavor juice was Tamarindo because it’s tart. Do you like tart flavors? No. Luis was beginning to show the patients of a teenager when Marta started asking me questions.
“Why do you want to know about me?” I said, “Because I am trying to meet the people in my neighborhood.” Then, “Why do you want to meet people?” I tried explaining to her that I was “trying to build bridges between people and not walls.” Luis liked that answer and when he translated it to her, using a lot more words than I would think was necessary, Marta smiled, and said I was crazy. Perhaps.
What’s crazy is a world where immigrants live in fear, where strangers won’t talk to each other, or languages still keep us from sharing our story. Was it me? Or the times we are living through these days? Is this just a crazy pipedream of mine to want to build bridges between different groups or is this the new reality where people are scared to engage with others because you can just never tell what kind of crazy thing might happen.
Today in El Paso, TX, WalMart reopened after a man drove from Dallas to the border town to kill innocent Mexican people because of some fanatical political belief that has infected our country. And just a few miles away, at another high school, a young man opened fire and killed two people before killing himself. Marta has good reason not to talk with me. I was a stranger. But I too am in the right to want to make sure people like Marta, Luis, and all the rest don’t have to fear people like me. Or anyone for that matter. That’s what I know this day in KNOWvember