I had an interesting experience yesterday and it got me thinking… I took the boys to a McDonald’s with one of those “play place” areas with tubes and slides to play in. Well, as always seems to be the way, as soon as we got our food and were ready to eat, Johnny had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want someone to haul off our tray and throw out the food we had just paid for so I sought out one of the employees to let him know that we would be right back.
He looked at me uncomfortably and started gesturing to another employee. I decided that he probably spoke only Spanish so I started talking to him in Spanish, but he kept gesturing to the young woman behind the counter. I finally asked, “No habla espaÃ±ol?” He said “No.” “No espaÃ±ol.” And he proceeded to ask the woman he had been pointing to to translate for us. I told her what I wanted to communicate. Then she translated it into Spanish for him!
This man was so certain that someone who looked like me couldn’t speak a word of Spanish that he didn’t hear it when I spoke it. He must even have convinced himself that I was so inept that I meant “ingles” when I said “espaÃ±ol.”
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced exactly the same thing. Now I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I can communicate just fine… if the other person is listening!
How often does that happen to us? We’re so confident of our assessment of a situation that we can’t see anything different even when it’s right their in our face…
And what does it tell us about relationships between different racial-ethnic groups in the United States? Here in California there is no longer a majority racial-ethnic group, and very soon it will be Hispanics. But the experience of Spanish speakers has been so consistent that some of them can’t even conceive of the idea that I might speak a few words o Spanish. That’s a shame.
Because of a dedicated Christian who wants to build bridges, our church is getting ready to start a Spanish-speaking ministry. It’s a great opportunity to create community and undo some isolation and mistrust between God’s children. We’re hoping to teach the congregation a handful of basic phrases to help us build the other side of the bridge. Pray for us! I believe that this is exactly what Christians are called to do. I’m sure that this will be uncomfortable for a few of our older members, but they’ll adjust. As long as this is what God is calling us to do, and I believe it is, God will enable us to do it!