Anticipating some form of racism to manifest itself right before my face, my throat tightened.
“It’s Gomez.” I sm-eyezd giving him an escape route. Thinking to myself: you don’t have to go down this road. Don’t embarrass yourself.
“No, it’s Lopez.” Hey guy, I know my own name.
“No. It’s Gomez.” He gave me an agree-to-disagree look. “Well, you do know where you are, right?”
“Yes, I’m well aware of what is happening in Alabama,” I answered fully aware of Alabama’s issues with immigrants, Mexicans and labor workers — most of which, in this part of the world, look like me.
“Good. You have your papers, right?”
I nearly fell outta my chair.
“I was born in Texas.” I said to him.
Mildly embarrassed he stuttered, “Oh, oh, I knew you were American…” How buddy, how? The same way you thought I might not be? By looking at me?
SO finished with this stoopid conversation, I cleared my throat and started with another train of thought. It was the longest afternoon of my life, mainly because he kept interrupting me to talk about the Costa Rican kids he adopted, to show me he wasn’t racist. Four grueling hours later, I got in my car and got the hell out of Alabama.
I don’t really feel like I’ve ever had to seriously deal with racism. And I wouldn’t even say that this was a “serious” situation, but nothing has ever resonated with me so deeply. Every other experience has been thickly veiled and silly enough to ignore.
Maybe it’s because I’m older or a tiny bit wiser, but this guy’s asking me for my papers (I don’t even know what papers are) threw me off, I don’t know. With everything that is happening in these United States with immigration aka “how can we keep the Mexicans out and/or poor” it was certainly timely.
In fact, the week before I was down in Alabama, Brian Williams aired interviews of Alabama farmers on his show Rock Center. And on some level, I think this guy I was training was just looking out for me, trying to make sure I stayed safe in his backwards state.
But it’s still kinda crazy, huh?