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I Am A Security Guard: Se Habla Espanol

Nothing notable happened during the first several hours on a recent Tuesday night. That changed about 2 a.m. A short, thin man with a smile arrived in the store. He approached me and requested "gay or raid."

Because of his Spanish accent and choice of words, I needed a few seconds to figure out what he wanted. Then I got lucky and said, "Oh, Gatorade." After pointing to the store's rear, I added: "Just go to the back wall. The refrigerator is at the left."

He likely did not understand my words, but he walked to the refrigerator and found the drink.

Many of my store's customers are Mexican-Americans. Some don't speak English very well. In my weak moments, I ask myself why they don't learn the language. After all, they chose to come to this country. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Another employee, let's call her the Veteran Cashier, often complains about this. Once she griped: "They can't speak English, but they sure know how to use our money."

I can be impatient and judgmental. Yet, an old memory struck when the Gatorade drinker spoke to me. I relaxed and helped him because of an experience I had while attending a local college back in the 1990s.

Several professors had organized a Spanish immersion day at the school. I participated in order to get more practice with the language.

As part of the program, students pretended to travel to Mexico. We started by completing fake passports and signing a pledge to use only Spanish during the event.

Afterward, we "arrived" at a Mexican airport. A teacher acting as a customs agent asked us questions about our plans and the contents of our suitcases. I pretended to be a sportswriter on an assignment and asked for information about the best restaurants.

Next, we registered at a hotel. I requested a room with a double bed and a television.

Afterward, we went to a restaurant. We ordered food and converted the prices from pesos to dollars.

Throughout the day, I found myself groping for the correct words. I felt hesitant and uncomfortable. Those feelings decreased as time passed, but never disappeared. I did not fully relax until the end of the program.

While taking the bus home, I remembered that many new immigrants have to survive in this country while struggling with English. The pressure they experience far outweighs the challenge I faced.

That immersion day provided more than additional practice with Spanish. I saw the world through the eyes of others.

When I stand at my post, I can empathize when a mother says "Espera para mi" to her small son instead of "Wait for me." Or when a man asks "Cuantos cuesto?" instead of "How much?" Most of us, regardless of background, find comfort with the familiar.

Weak moments still attack me occasionally. Yet, I think about immersion day and try to understand.


A very pseudononymous Jerome Haller earns rent money as a security guard for a large, publicly-held retail chain.


See more tales of security guarding, pizzeria waitressing, barista-ing and office drudgering in the Life at Work collection.


Posted on September 25, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
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SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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