Just a Gringo from Texas

“Don’t take this the wrong way, man,” the middle school student said, “but you talk Spanish like a Gringo.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I talk English like a Texan… y’all.

In Orlando, we have many cultures living next to each other.  People from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, France, England, Vietnam, Korea, China….   And then there are all those strange-talking foreigners from the north like New York, Chicago, and Idaho (hey, if you’re not from Texas you’re a foreigner to us).

Kidding aside, it’s a splendid place to live where the cultures weave themselves in a vibrant tapestry.  But it’s complicated. I try to pay attention but I don’t understand everything I see and hear.

The other day, I was substitute teaching in a rowdy class.  One kid started throwing a partially filled water bottle into the air, trying to get it to land right side up—a popular physics experiment repeated over and over in schools.  I politely asked him to stop. He looked at me, smiled, and gave it another toss.  I became less polite and yelled at him and he looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  I was sure he’d lost his.

There was no lesson plan for the class. I didn’t even know the subject. In fact, it was several minutes before I figured out that none of them spoke English.  I then realized that the boy hadn’t understood my directive and he didn’t know why I yelled at him.

When I had a moment, I went to him and asked, “Hablas Ingles?”

photo by David Mercer

He shook his head.

I pointed to the water bottle, put my hand on my chest, and said, “Lo  siento… I’m sorry.” And then he really looked bewildered.  But it was the best I could do.

The class was a disaster complete with kinetic mayhem along with screeching and a fight.

I didn’t get around to taking roll until the end of class. It was a laborious task with names difficult to pronounce and the kids weren’t answering me anyway.  But the boy to whom I apologized came and stood next to me. He helped me read the names and together we got the job done.  I thanked him and he gave me a terrific smile.

It gives me pause.  A Texan who can’t speak Spanish and a Puerto Rican boy who spoke no English found an opportunity within a misunderstanding to be gracious to each other. It turned a bad day into a good memory.

Y’all have a good day.

2 thoughts on “Just a Gringo from Texas

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