Wednesday, March 21, 2007

¿Qué Pasa?

The schools I work at are rather diverse because the neighborhoods they serve contain a large mix of ethnicities ranging from Hispanic, to African American, to Asian. There are even a few of us pale types of European ancestry kicking around, and the number of primary languages spoken in the school district numbered 101 at last count. To be honest, though, I rarely give this sort of thing much thought, and I don’t think most people around here do, either. We’re all, quite simply, just part of the landscape that makes this area what it is. However, my view of how I am perceived here received something of a jolt today. Literally!

I was walking down the hallway after hours. As is often the case, a commotion was emanating from the cafeteria as the after school program was in full swing. I was passing by the opened doors when my peripheral vision detected, too late, a small blur of movement heading in my general direction. One of the runners rammed straight into me and bounced backward from the impact. Her friend narrowly dodged the falling body but tripped over her, and I had the presence of mind to catch her before she wiped out as well. While the rammer appeared momentarily bewildered, her rescued compatriot looked instantly ‘busted’ for having been caught running on campus by a grownup.

I looked down and saw, clearly, two little Hmong girls (very cute), perhaps second or third graders. From their perspective, they were peering back up at a blondish, marshmallow-shaped white guy (impeccably dressed, of course). One stepped back as the other rose warily to her feet and dusted herself off before gazing back up and me with wide eyes. The whole thing lasted less than 5 seconds, and before I could utter a word, they broke the silence in unison. “HOLA!”

What the… I don’t look the least bit Hispanic, and they thought I spoke Spanish!? I was stunned. Then they were off at the same breakneck pace as before, no doubt trying to put good distance between us so I wouldn’t have a chance to scold them about running at school. I recovered from the shock. “Nyob zoo!” I called after them just as they were rounding the corner.

Nothing but a single head popped back around the corner… horizontally! The girl wore an expression of open mouthed shock as she looked me over once again. Re-assessment result: A blondish, marshmallow-shaped white guy (impeccably dressed)… who speaks Hmong!!?? She shared with me a huge grin that lit up her whole face. Then her head once again disappeared from sight. Poof! I guess it’s true: We never are what we appear at first glance (or first collision).

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