21 Sep

“Ah-pe-yee-do?” I read, dragging the word out in a way that would make any Spanish teacher cringe.

“Doesn’t that mean last name?” I asked the CVS cashier who had just handed me a reward card application. . .in Spanish, and pointed out the areas I needed to fill in.

I was embarrassed. Not only had my three years of high school Spanish failed me, but I was being reminded of its loss in a public. Can’t I get a frigging form in English?

School memories of toting home double-sided papers for my parents, one side in English and the other in Spanish resurfaced. I guess this CVS in the outskirts of what many Dallasites deem “Little Mexico” figured they could save ink and paper by simply passing out Spanish versions. What are the odds that someone that can’t read Spanish would waltz into the national chain and ask for a form?

I had stopped over to nab some granola bars and water before running/jogging/walking at a nearby park.

As I watched the cashier again state what and where to write, I had flashbacks to time, a couple of years ago, I had traveled to Paris—without knowing a lick of French–something I definitely do not recommend.

Donning a red beret, I had took a red-eye Eurostar train from London with a couple of friends who were also eager to visit the capital of love and fashion. Of course, something went wrong. After my pals, who also had a limited French vocab, floated through the Metro’s gates. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. For some reason that I still cannot describe my ticket simply wouldn’t work.

I returned to a nearby customer service station to try to explain my problem and stood in horror at not holding the words necessary to communicate my point. After about 15 minutes of a failed game of gestures with line members as they spewed the answer in frustrated French, I returned to the entry point of the busy train station to a window with a small American flag and the words “I speak English,” in the corner.

It’s an experience I’ve watched countless others in Dallas endure. Some tote children whose English serves as the bridge between their words and the non-Spanish speaking other. Most simply wait for the lone Hispanic cashier or customer service representative in the store or office to unleash their Espanol comfortably.

But never before had I expected to be on their side, perplexed staring down at a piece of paper in a national retailer’s store with foreign words that only slightly triggered memories from my now dusty Spanish book.

In a city that’s 40 percent Hispanic and a school district that is 60 percent Hispanic, this is my realidad.

Over my lifetime, I’ve watch homes and businesses across the city be shaped and molded by its thriving Latino community.

Christmas tamales are standard fare. ‘Quincenera’, ‘quince’ for short, is a crossover term that most Texans recognize and understand to be a massive party to celebrate a girl’s 15th birthday party.  Cinco de Mayo is observed with fervency by those who have no relations or ties to the neighboring country  as the day of  red, white and green, the eagle with a snake in its mouth and lots of parties and celebrations.  I was literally shocked when my first May in Boston when the day came and went with so little fanfare. (Of course, Saint Patty’s Day is the big cultural event.)

As a little girl, I often fell asleep to the throbbing beats  of mariachi bands, courtesy of the neighbors’ next door. It was there that I met Muneco, their cherished dog. It was then that I mourned Selena’s untimely death and promised myself that one day I was going to marry a Hispanic guy and have beautiful curly-haired kids. I really did.

But as I grew older, I also witnessed the reality of this relationship. While the Hispanic community is embedded into the city’s fabric in many ways, it is also relegated to the city’s margins and shadows.

I watched in horror as the city overturned the overwhelming vote to rename Industrial Boulevard after Mexican-American labor leader, Cesar Chavez:They named the street Riverfront instead, and gave the Hispanic community some other side street in honor of the hero.

So in 2011, the Latino community is eying political power. In the heat of redistricting season, many are demanding representation on the City Council and School Board that more accurately reflection their bustling population.

“If this was Africa, I’d sure as heck be trying to get it back, too,” one friend joked.

But their quest has many in the Black community running for cover and has a flamed a historic “us vs. them” mentality into a bitter political battle over a sliver of the American pie and  tiny allotment of seats. It has become a sad game of political musical chairs, where everyone is fighting, pushing, backbiting and conspiring to avoid being the one left standing when the music, or in this case, redistricting, finally ends.

Instead of banding together to represent black and brown people alike, the masses at the bottom of the totem pole with similar interests and not so distant concerns and issues, we claw at one another over political crumbs, while those with the larger share of the pie sit back and enjoy the show. It’s a losing battle for all involved.


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