Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Conversation (face to face) (10/07/10)
By Martha Granderson
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There was no one in the car to answer him. He thumped the heel of his palm against the steering wheel, irritation plain in his face. He was usually so mild mannered; but now, alone, his frustration boiled out. “Why do I have to be different?” An intersection loomed out of the rain and he braked at a red light and leaned his forehead against the back of his hand on the steering wheel. Glancing again at the light, he reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror so he could see his own troubled eyes staring back at him. Straight, black hair hung down across his forehead. His facial features and coloring were completely Native Mexican – wide face, high cheekbones and large flat nose. The light turned green. He sighed and pulled forward, shoving the mirror back to its correct angle.
It had started in Political Science class at the university. A civil discussion of current topics had turned ugly. “Well, here is a fence jumper right here I guess.” A girl across the aisle said suddenly, gesturing at Justin.
“I am not. I was born in this country, same as you.” Justin answered quickly, “I just think we need to see things from their point of view.”
“Why don’t you sound like you’re from this country then?” She asked.
It was true that Justin had picked up the accent from his parents. He had lived in a Hispanic community where English was an exception rather than normal until he was twelve, and the Spanish Accent still haunted him. The girl laughed and nodded triumphantly, as he struggled for an answer. “Uh-huh. What? You grew up in migrant worker fields? Your parents were illegal? Now you’re mooching off our education system and you can’t even speak English right? Do you speak Spanish?”
“So where is your fluent English? You aren’t American. In my book, anyone who speaks Spanish is unpatriotic. Our language is being threatened and you’re one of the people threatening it.”
It still made him nearly shake with anger. Why did he have to be so utterly Mexican in his looks? His family was of straight Chiapas stock – full blood native. And Bilingual in a completely white, rural area.
Suddenly into his headlights flashed a person, standing in the road. It was a boy, dressed in dark clothing, with a hood over his face, shoulders hunched against the rain, hands in his pockets. Justin barely had time to register the image in his brain before he had swerved around it and hit the brakes, skidding on the wet pavement. The car jerked to a final stop and he opened his door, “Hey! What are you trying to do, commit suicide? Get out of the road!”
The boy was standing there, motionless, his sweatshirt and jeans soaked through and clinging to his skin. Justin climbed out of the car and took a couple steps toward him, “Hey, are you ok?”
“Sick.” The voice was a hoarse rasp, thickly accented, and barely above a whisper. The boy reached a shaking hand up and pulled back his hood, rain ran down his face and dripped from his lips, chin, and hair. He touched his forehead, “Sick. Hot.”
Justin stepped closer, but the boy drew back, fearful. “¿Hablas Español?” Justin asked. “You speak Spanish?”
The boy jumped and looked at him again. “You’re Mexican?” He asked in Spanish.
“My family is originally of Chiapas.” Justin answered in the same language.
Relief flooded the boy’s face, “I should have known! How good to see an honest Mexican face again! I was working on a farm several miles away, but I got sick and they made me leave. But, God sent me someone who could understand.”
“I’m Justin,” He answered, giving the softer Spanish pronunciation of the name – the pronunciation he had dropped when he came to college. With it came a host of memories of home – the Spanglish jokes, the old Mexican love songs on the radio. “And I’m glad I found you.”
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