A brief note on an unexpected encounter
Earlier tonight, right after dinner, in an attempt to delay having to clean the kitchen, I took the dog for a walk. One of the places we stopped was a convenience store across the main street, a place where the employees are reasonably friendly to me and exceedingly friendly to the dog.
At the convenience store, I saw that the clerk was having trouble communicating with a young woman who was unable to explain to him what she wanted to buy from the store’s small drugstore section. She spoke only Spanish; the clerk spoke only English. I handed her my smartphone, thinking she might type what she wanted into the search box. Then, maybe, the phone could translate and we humans could figure it out together.
She took the phone, and typed, without hesitation or error, “pastillas para el periodo menstrual,” I directed her to Midol, used the smartphone to translate the words on the box into Spanish, and she was soon on her way.
That young woman was remarkably poised for someone who was in menstrual pain and likely not enjoying talking, or trying to talk, to two strange men about it. I didn’t consider it at the time, but now I realize how impressive she was in the moment.
Because she spoke only Spanish in a place where no one else did, it was quite a lot of work for her to advocate for herself and get what she needed. I hope it ended well, but if it did there was some luck involved.
That got me to thinking about some of the unluckiest people at the edge of our country right now, the many thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America desperate to get away from the violence in their home countries and into the U.S. One of their biggest problems right now is that they don’t know how to communicate in English, the language of power, making it much harder for them to advocate for themselves.
When I hear the anger and outrage so many express against these children, I want those who people who feel that anger and outrage to imagine what life might be like for them, only partway through a long and tortuous journey, having trouble describing their most basic and personal needs. And then I want them to think about how they might want to be treated in such circumstances if they faced similarly bad luck.