the simple minded suburbanite

The “M” Word
November 10, 2009, 4:10 pm
Filed under: authenticity, culture, parenting, suburban | Tags: , , ,

We have an African American president.  Women are quickly approaching equality.  Maybe in our lifetime we will see homosexuals allowed to wed.  We are a progressive country in many ways.  So why do so many educated, well-traveled, seemingly ethical people feel so free to use the word “Mexican” like it was something dirty and filthy?

“Paul said a racial joke on the bus today, Mom,” my ten year old son told me on Monday.  Hmm.  Paul is the son of the boyscout kingpin.  The boy helps raise the flag, trotts around in uniform that matches his fathers’ in all but his dad’s khaki shorts and blue knee socks, and sells record numbers of $50 popcorn tins to raise funds for “the scouts” (I’m talking thousands of dollars worth!) outside the local grocery store.  He says “ma’am” and calls me “Mrs.” and always remembers his “please” and “thank yous”.

Tell me the joke, I say.

“What do you call it when a bunch of white guys are running down a hill?  What do you call it when a bunch of black guys are running down a hill?  What do you call it when a bunch of Mexicans are running down a hill?”

I’m not going to repeat the answers.  Perhaps you’ve heard these “jokes” yourself.

I was angry.  Very angry and would’ve liked to call up Mrs. Boy Scout and tell her exactly what her son was saying on the bus.  I certainly would want to know if one of my kids was repeating…emphasis on “repeating” (like where did little Paul hear such jokes)…such things.  But, my husband, always a voice of reason, said, “no.”  It would come back to my son and make his life on the bus “hell”.

And, this time, I listened to my husband because he should know.  He is hispanic.

I am not.  And I never gave a second thought to marrying someone hispanic.  In fact, his family’s rich history always intrigued me.  From their New Mexican cooking: sopapillas, pasole, empanadas.  To their lineage, my husband’s grandfather was some kind of a political and business big wig back in Albuquerque and his great, great, great grandfather was the governor of New Mexico; he was scalped and killed by a Native American attack.  My husbands lineage is Mexican, American Indian, Spanish, Irish, and English and, as a result, doesn’t look really all that “Hispanic” but looks most like a nothern Spaniard.  So, he hears lots of racist remarks because so many educated, well-travel, seemingly ethical people don’t take our last name into consideration enought to realize that he is, yes, an “M” word.

For me, I have always been intrigued by Latin cultures mostly through food, books, their celebratory culture, and music.  My favorite book in the whole world is, perhaps, House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros.  I’ve read it and read it and moved heaven and earth to hear her speak when she came to town.

“We’re here!”  she proclaimed at her lecture.  “And if you don’t speak more that one language, consider yourself a dinosaur!”

But here, in the burbs, Mexicans are referred tour with a sour tinge.  “Did you see that car load of Mexicans riding around?!”  “Go pick yourself up a bunch of Mexicans and get your yard cleaned up on the cheap!”  “I was surrounded by Mexicans in traffic court!”

I had to hold my husband back at the door to keep him from mowing the lawn in his sombrero and poncho because he wanted to taunt “pink and green lady” (from and earlier post)  next door.

So, when I asked my ten-year-old boy if he realized that Paul’s jokes on the bus were an insult to him and our family he stared at me, dumbfounded.  You do realize that you are part Mexican?  No.  He shook his head.  But the food, the culture, the stories, the language!  No.  He said again. I’m that kind of Mexican?  He asked, so innocently.  Yes, sweetheart, I said and let me tell you what a wonderful thing that is.  I found the book I have on Governor Charles Bent.  I pulled out pictures and recipes and we talked about pride and racism and how it is important to be true to who you are, even in the face of those who don’t give a flip about who you are or perhaps no idea of who they are themselves.


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