The other day my oldest son told me that at school he had to fill out a form which directed him to “Check only one” for his race. He had a decision to make. There was no bi-racial or multi-racial box. He looked back and forth between Caucasian and Latino, discovering for the first time how this world insists on trying to package us in neat little boxes which we can never comfortably fit into.
Mr. López faced a similar dilemma at his new job, which thankfully, he loves, despite the story I’m about to tell. At lunch time, his co-workers self-segregate to separate tables. The Mexicans sit at one table, and the Anglos sit at another. Where should he sit? He would have fit in with either group. He can speak English and talk sports with the Anglos, but he can speak Spanish and talk telenovelas with the Mexicans, (yeah, these machos watch soap operas every night, but it’s not a girly one. It’s called “El Capo” and it’s got drugs and guns and and stuff blowing up, apparently.)
If Mr. López decided where to sit based on race, perhaps he would choose to sit with the Latinos, but he’s Salvadoran not Mexican. If he chose based on nationality, as an American citizen, he would find himself at the Anglo table, but he wasn’t born here like they were. I joked that perhaps he needs to set up a little card table right in the middle of them both.
He ended up sitting with the Mexicans because he felt that if he didn’t, they would see him as a traitor and think that he felt superior to them, (because he speaks English and they don’t.) Also, Mr. López knew the Anglo guys couldn’t care less where he sat. The thing is, he wants to stay on everyone’s good side, because he is the unofficial interpreter and is constantly being called away from his work to translate between co-workers. He doesn’t mind this, except that in casual conversation, the Anglos complain about the Mexicans to him, and of course, the Mexicans complain about the Anglos to him. He just listens and nods, neither agreeing or disagreeing, feeling that he is neither here nor there.