Shocked and awed

So the other night I was out buying groceries when I noticed that traffic was stuck in one aisle. Cursory observation revealed three female store employees and an old man and woman who, judging by their apparel and general appearance, were from a rural area well outside of Boston (the guy had a white beard any Nordic elf would be proud to sport). I didn’t hear the beginning of the interaction; I approached as one of the employees said to the woman, “Well, if you need something from us, just let us know and we’ll help you.” To this offer the woman said “I don’t want ANYTHING from you.”

The woman then proceeded to berate the three employees for – wait for it – speaking Spanish while on the job. She said that it wasn’t good to hear foreign languages spoken in grocery stores and went on to tell the store employees that their people hadn’t settled or built this country and that they weren’t welcome here, taking jobs from real (white) Americans. She went on in this vein for a couple of minutes while I stood rooted to the spot, eyes wide, aghast and dumbfounded, mutely trying to convey sympathy to the other employees.

After the woman went away I hastened to tell the three employees in Spanish that I thought my head had just exploded (¡creo que mi cabeza acaba de explotar!), that I didn’t understand why the woman was so upset, that I love hearing and speaking Spanish, and that I was glad they were here (immediately after this last I felt like a patronizing idiot, but the employees took it in the intended spirit). I then spent the rest of my shopping trip distractedly searching the wrong aisles for Nutella while imagining glowing scenes in which I heroically defended the three employees, in the end magnanimously bestowing Enlightenment upon the poor benighted woman.

The more I thought about it, of course, the more I realized that any intervention from me would have only made things worse. Such firmly entrenched beliefs aren’t going to be changed by a 45-second speech by an uppity poster child for Stuff White People Like, no matter how impassioned. And I know absolutely nothing about this woman’s life or what has caused her to believe the way she does. Still, it’s kind of amazing to me that there are real people who really do hold these kinds of beliefs. I guess them’s the risks of living in a free country.

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