I have a confession to make: I’m white. I have another confession to add: I have a joke I like to play on folks of all races, but primarily white folks. Allow me to elaborate…
My beautiful wife is from Mexico. She came to the States when she was 18 and although her English is flawless (she graduated from one of our high-class universities), her accent can be pretty thick at times.
This is me. I’m from west Michigan which has a history of being dutch and protestant. Since I am neither dutch nor protestant, I find myself chucked into the American melting pot above a flame that sears me at times, but one that I can manage to live with.
When my wife and I go out, it never fails that every cashier, waiter or grocery store employee takes a good look at us and then promptly directs their first words to the tall white guy who they assume speaks English.
“Hello, can I help you?” they say.
This is when I get a bit mischievous. Without prompting my wife, I look at the kind greeter with a confused look and then to my wife. Then I break into Spanish mode.
“¿Qué dijo?” (What did he/she say?)
My wife plays along. She looks back at the greeter and translates for me in Spanish. We go like this until the greeter leaves us.
I don’t know if this joke is friendly or even courteous, but the teacher in me loves it. Did you know that a very small portion of Caucasians and african americans speak a language other than English? Did you know that the majority of monolingual people on the entire planet live in the United States? Don’t you find that quite odd considering how multi-cultural our Nation is?
About 10 years ago, my language skills were fossilized because I, like many Americans (especially in western Michigan), was under the impression that my mandatory language classes were a huge waste of time. “Why do I need to learn Spanish?” I would say to myself. “I’m never going to need it.”
Well, if you don’t know my story, the Spanish language has become my life. I’ve been studying and traveling for seven years now and thanks to my favorite and most attractive teacher, my wife, my children and I are becoming bilingual. We’ve registered with the “hispanic” Church in our diocese and our ministry has rooted itself in the foundation of the Spanish language and the various cultures that make up our faith community.
So what’s the point? Well, God resurrected my fossilized linguistic skills and gave them life in abundance (against my will). Without this gift, I would not have a job, I would not have become a missionary, I would not have met my wife and I probably would have ended up like the majority of the monolingual Americans who surround me. Granted, I would probably still be happy and faithful to my God and His Church, but it wouldn’t have been so spicy.
If you are one of the millions of monolingual Americans out there, go ahead, have at a language or two. Conquer that tower of Babel and play some jokes on those who take the road most traveled.