I have never been a minority. I don’t really think that I have ever been discriminated against either. (Although I have encountered people that simply don’t like ministers. No matter whom you are or what you have done.) Yesterday I got a tiny glimpse into what life is like for a person that others have determined to be inferior.
I am one of the hosts for a wonderful friend from
Chihuahua Cityin Northern Mexico this weekend. In fact, he is a guest speaker at church tomorrow. Yesterday two of us took him out to breakfast at our favorite mom and pop eating establishment to experience a little Granbury culture. He experienced some local culture all right…
When I arrived, we warmly greeted each other in Spanish. Our discussion continued briefly in Spanish before we sat down at one of the tables. A man probably in his 60’s sitting next to us asked for my attention. He informed that we were in
America and that in America English should be spoken. He felt that if Javier could not communicate in English that he had no business being in our country. How do you respond to someone who certainly appears to be racist, unenlightened, and socially inept?
I had to think quickly. And I immediately noticed that all eyes in the busy café were on me. (Many of the patrons in there are regulars and know me.) I was tempted to tell the guy that we would promptly change to English when we wanted to talk about him, but I refrained. I simply told him that Javier was my honored guest from another country, and that we would continue to converse in Spanish. I was additionally prepared to change the tone of my dialogue without reflection if it became necessary. It appeared that I got my point across during my initial response, because I did not hear another peep out of him. The lady at another nearby table gave me an approving non-verbal message by the very look on her face.
The whole encounter disturbed me. Javier’s English is actually pretty good. He understood everything the guy said. It bothered me that a guest from another country would be treated with obvious contempt. My Southern mother would have said that man needs to learn some manners (pronounced “mannas.”) Perhaps I should open a finishing school for old men that lack fundamental social skills.
The attitudes implied by his brief comments troubled me as well. The unwillingness to embrace people that speak a different language is appalling. And I suspect there are some extreme views toward immigration lingering under the surface too. I laughed to myself I as I recalled that my “Knox” relatives came as immigrants to this country over 150 years ago.
I suppose the truth is that it is all too easy to gravitate toward being ethnocentric and thoughtless. I have been guilty myself at times. After my blood pressure returned to normal yesterday, I reached a couple of conclusions. First I am more determined than ever to befriend people from different countries, cultures, and life backgrounds. Failure to do so leads to ethnocentricity. And secondly my tolerance level toward those that are just plain rude and inconsiderate of the feelings of others has declined substantially. I readily acknowledge that the blend of my sharp tongue and quick wit could potentially shred a verbal offender. And then I would find myself on the same level as the man I encountered who lacks “mannas.” I will watch myself in the future. And I honestly believe that I will view those that do find themselves in the minority quite differently…