Opinion: One man’s take on his culture’s stereotypes
¡Ask a Mexican! 02.17.11
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Dear Mexican: I’m a white, rural, ninth-generation Texan who left the farm and is now a lawyer for a large corporation. Maybe a quarter of the clients they assign me speak Spanish, so the company’s paying for me to learn Spanish. I’m glad, not only for work-related reasons, but also because I just moved into a neighborhood close to the heart of the city, and 85 percent of the residents in my zip code speak Spanish. I love this neighborhood. Only a few blocks from me are little tiendas, pupuserías, taquerías, botánicas, and mercados; all of the people who work there are so nice and all of their products are of excellent quality and price. When I enter the stores, I’m usually the only white guy in the place, and everyone’s speaking Spanish.
When I come in or when I’m walking around the neighborhood and see my neighbors, how should I greet Spanish speakers? I worry that, since I don’t know Spanish, if I say, “Hola,” and can’t follow it up with a basic conversation in Spanish, I’ll come across as patronizing. And I feel like if I walk up to the counter at the tienda and say, “Hi! How are y’all?” to the clerk and his wife who are talking in Spanish to each other, I’ll come across as one of those gringos who wants everyone to speak English. I’m hoping to be conversational in Spanish soon (I’m a month into my course and am progressing nicely), so when I reach that point, would that change your answer? - Abogado Blanco
Dear White Lawyer: You can be as unknowing in Spanish as the host of the BBC’s Top Gear or fully conversant in all of Cervantes’ works, and my answer would be the same: ditch the hola. To not come off as patronizing, to appear at the very least down with la raza and at best someone willing to learn the lengua, greet Mexicans formally by the time of day: buenos días for morning until the early afternoon, buenas tardes for the afternoon until the beginning of the sunset, and buenas noches for nighttime. Doing that will show you are polite and you’ve made enough effort to learn Spanish linguistic formalities beyond the tú/usted divide. Indeed, it’s those little touches that help us Mexis determine whether the new gabacho in the barrio is a good neighbor that we can invite over for carne asada Sundays and marry off our brainy daughters to, or some patronizing hipster looking to gentrify us out of existence.