I can’t believe it happened again!!!
A waitress translating my Spanish into (wait for it) Spanish.
About a month ago when I finished the post “The People You Meet When You’re Afro-Latino” I thought perhaps this post is dated, surely these kinds of people don’t exist anymore and things have improved since I moved out of the neighborhood—clearly they haven’t.
The irony of the incident I am about to retell is that it happened after I finished the entire morning speaking Spanish at a work event with Univision. I was recruited to assist because I am bilingual. I spoke to all of the women in Spanish (with no need for a translator) and then I get the waitress who looks at me as if I have three heads.
It started with a simple request. I walked into the restaurant and asked for the lunch special. The waitress immediately called a co-worker over to help her because she didn’t speak English. I quickly switched over to Spanish but there was no turning back. Instead of her co-worker leaving the waitress to speak to me directly she repeated my words to her in Spanish. Neither of them ever acknowledged that we were all speaking the same language. The waitress kept looking over at her co-worker for the “translation”.
At one point I desperately proclaimed “Yo hablo español” (I speak Spanish). It didn’t help.
I remember once watching my mother converse with another Hispanic woman in English and thinking, why is she doing that? My mother has a considerably heavy accent and so did the other woman. It didn’t make sense to me. She later explained, “they feel better when you speak English.”
When I have experiences like the one at that restaurant I remember my mother’s words. This waitress could not comprehend hearing a black girl with an Afro (4C hair) speaking to her in Spanish. She literally could not understand that those words were coming out of my mouth.
Perhaps it was just easier for her to classify me as an American attempting to speak her language.
The problem with that argument is that this waitress is from the Dominican Republic. She probably grew up around an inestimable number of people who look just like me and are Dominican.
I am not Dominican and she knew it the moment I opened my mouth because I don’t have an identifiable accent when I speak Spanish, at least I don’t hear one. She couldn’t tell what country I might be from: Cuban, Colombian, Dominican, we all have different accents.
That’s definitely a logical argument that takes race out of the equation and lets the waitress off the hook but we know better than that.
I am 99% sure that the moment I were to identify myself as Cuban the next sentence of this tale would read: “She looked at me astonished and exclaimed, “but you don’t look Cuban.”
The struggle continues.