Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cultural sensitivity training

1. A young couple are walking ahead of me. The three of us are in the middle of the street, which isn't unusual, as it's unnecessary to walk on the sidewalk on these tiny roads. Or, I should clarify, there isn't much of a sidewalk to speak of on all but the largest streets.
The couple looks around 18 or 19. They are both smoking cigarettes. An older man on a bike approaches - he also has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He slows down as he passes, so that he can shake hands with the boy. They both say "Ca va? Ouai, ca va" and the man never stops his bike, nor do either stop smoking.

2. I stop in the bakery for bread at 4:15. I don't see any in the baskets as I walk in, but I continue, saying hello to the woman who always works there and knows me. "There's no bread?" I ask. "No," she says, "But there's this little piece. Here. Just take it -- it's too small to sell to you." I say thanks, she says, see you next time.

3. I enter the classroom and see "Wetbacks" written up on the chalkboard. "Why is that there?" I ask the teacher. He explains that this term is commonly used in reference to Mexican immigrants in America. "Well, yeah, but....that's really offensive! They shouldn't teach the kids here that term!" "Really?" the teacher asks. "Why is it so bad?" "' just is. That's a really inappropriate thing for them to learn."
I take my half of the class into my class. "Do you remember how you learned the word 'wetback" just now?" I ask. They look at me with faces as blank as fresh snow. "Wetback," I repeat, "Wetback!" Still, nothing. This is already the most times I've said 'wetback' in a conversation, and I know it will just keep getting worse.
'I can't fucking believe I'm doing this,' I think as I pick up the chalk and write W...E...T...B -- finally, they understand what I'm saying. "Okay, 'wetback' is a really bad word. You can't ever say that. Do you understand?" They do, maybe. "Really, it's very, very bad." I take the chalk and draw a circle around the word then a line through it. Now it looks like 'No wetbacks allowed!' Perhaps I'm just confusing the matter...


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