“What do you mean you don’t speak Spanish?”
A sudden question poised in, of all places, a Mexican restaurant, Lindo Michoacan, Las Vegas, and inspired by the mute response from my “Mexican” colleague to a flood of Spanish questions concerning drinks, appetizers and entrees’.
“I just never learnt”, the resigned reply to my enquiry from one of my Mexican brother, business partners. Incredulous, with my right arm extended towards him, flat palm raised and making a circular movement in front of this handsome, chiseled face, skin as brown as a calves’ hide, hair as black as coal and eyes like toasted coffee beans.
“Okay, you don’t get to look like this, like your ancestors stepped out in front to fight Conquistadors and not speak Spanish!”
“Well, my mother is German, my Dad left when we were young so we just never learnt,” followed the extended interrogation.
“Not even your Brother?”
“You are surrounded by Mexican workers, you look and are Mexican, you live in what was once Mexico and you DON’T speak Spanish!!!”, I continued.
“Gawd sake, even Elmo speaks Spanish here!!!”
Startling things I have learnt about my new associates. How does someone look Hispanic, dress like the-cool-dude-in-the-hood complete with tattoos, the scripted and casual stance, arms dangling slightly backwards and totally hip, black baseball cap placed backwards, all black outfit including black socks, car seat-back always angled so far back there is no possible view over the dashboard and yet speak in perfect and only English?
The South-West Spanish and rich romance that I had concocted in my head whipped away from me suddenly and harshly. I respond tartly and teasingly,
“Well, I got news for you. You dress like the Amish. What’s with all this black on black on black in a countryside of color and color and color?”
The sweet return smile from someone who knows no animosity, never bereft of a sense of humor and completely comfortable with his partial Spanishness despite his environs. The noticing and ignoring of a hint of nervousness from potential white clients intimidated by Mexican and tattoos. The $6,000 cheque deposit immediately refused incident at their bank, but not their branch, simply based on perception and dress and ethnicity.
But, they still joke and tease generously amongst themselves, bat back and forth comments between Mexican-English only employer and Mexican-English-Mexican employee concerning who is quarter Mexican and who is full blood Mexican and the nick names assigned to each, ‘four quarters’ for a full blood, ‘one halves’ for only partial. In this land once owned and dominated by latin tongues and latin life, latin is somehow still threatening and intimidating to those more alien here then Latino.