Background for the On The Road series.
My next stop was a grocery market, the name inferring Latino. I gathered my paperwork, locked the car and headed for the door. Outside of the market were three kids, two boys about 9 and 13 years old, and a small girl about 5. They eyed me curiously as I passed, said “Hello”, and entered the store.
The lighting inside was dim but I could see it was a small place, jam packed with groceries and other items for sale. The decorations and signs told me its main customer base and ownership was Peruvian. The woman behind the counter smiled as I walked up and I started with my usual greeting and reason for being there. It was immediately obvious she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. I’ve encountered this before in my life but accept that I’m in her store, her neighborhood, and I need to do a better job of explaining myself.
It wasn’t going very well, but she was forgiving and trying as hard as I was. Suddenly, the 3 kids outside came running in and surrounded me at the counter, the younger two on each side of me and the older boy looking over my shoulder. I admit an immediate uncomfortable feeling, but I was as immediately relieved when the oldest boy laughingly said “Hey! Let me help – my Mom’s not too good with English”. This made the younger kids giggle and put me at ease. He translated for both his mother and me, and our business was completed. The 3 ran back outside as quickly as they came in. As I left the store, I thanked the oldest for his help and said “Good Bye!” to all.
The 5 or 10 minutes of time related here stays with me still. It’s hard to explain. Or maybe just hard to admit. I tell myself I’m not a bigot, thinking of myself as an aged hippie. But how much these minutes opened my eyes to how I sometimes fall to stereotyping peoples and places was a needed whack to the back of the head. Isolation from other cultures around you does not help you see the things we all have in common in our lives. Meeting people of other cultures up close and personal in their environment, like in this encounter, can help to dispel that stereotypical thinking.
This was a family, making a living like the rest of us. Mom was running the store, and I would bet the oldest son was taking care of and entertaining his younger sister and brother to help Mom out. And watch out for her too.
This day was in my first week on this job, and I’ve often been in many different ethnic neighborhoods since. This visit helped me be a hopefully more aware and open minded person in these later stops.