Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Si, Habla Ingles

A lot of Americans do not realize that New Mexico is part of their country.

I first learned this fact in elementary school, when we lived in Oregon and occasionally travelled to visit my grandparents in the desert Southwest. I announced one of these trips to my gym teacher, who was from Alaska herself and should have been familiar with nonstandard states.

I was not the kind of child who let inaccuracy slide, and I think my teacher showed a lot of restraint for someone being vehemently corrected by a seven-year old.

Sadly, this geographical ignorance persists, even in areas much closer to the state in question.

I lived in rural south Louisiana for six months while failing at teaching the first grade. My Teach For America coworkers and I had to cross the Mississippi once a week to attend training classes in another little town, and on one of these trips we met Perry the Ferry Man.

(TANGENT: I loved taking the ferry. A westerner by birth and raising, I had never seen a river the size of the Mississippi. My first day in town I drove across the bridge to Baton Rouge three times just for the heck of it, and the ferry is way better because you’re still in your car, but now you’re on a boat. In your car. On a boat. You can even get out of the car, and you are still ON A BOAT. I could say this all day: CAR. BOAT. RIVER. ON!)

Perry could tell we weren’t locals, and he came over to talk with us. He headed for my two fellow teachers, who had arrived in a truck with Illinois plates, and asked a few questions before turning to me.

I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but then…

Now, I realize that my license plate says “Mexico,” right in between “New” and “USA.” But I had not prepared an appropriate comeback for this type of misunderstanding. I was also several weeks into a neuron-destroying cycle of sleep deprivation, so my response lacked a little punch.

Perry seemed to decide that I didn’t understand all that much English, so he spent some more time interviewing my friends. Eventually, though, he couldn’t resist:

This is where I really, really wish that I had been firing on all cylinders.

Instead, I just left the man wondering how on earth this half-mute Mexican could teach school.

As a teacher, I probably should have put more effort into American Geographic Awareness. All I can say to that is, “What did you think was on the other side of Texas?”


  1. So, you're telling me that Texas is in there BETWEEN Mexico & New Arizonico? Whoa! that puts Oklahoma somewhere up near Canada, huh?

  2. I have a friend who lives in New Mexico and does contract work. He did a job in Hunstville, Alabama. After finishing, he got a paycheck, which he wanted to deposit. There was a Wal-Mart nearby that had a check depositing service. You can see where I'm going with this.

    He needed an ID to complete his transaction, so he gave her his New Mexico driver's license. She responded with "Oh, we can't accept Mexican IDs."
    "No, it's *New* Mexico. It's a state."
    "I know that sir, but I'm not allowed to take IDs from Mexico."
    "This is not an ID from Mexico! It's from NEW Mexico, the STATE. It borders Arizona and Texas!"
    The clerk becomes agitated, pulling out her manual. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I cannot accept a Mexican ID. See?" She points to the manual, which has a picture of a Mexican ID, which of course looks nothing like the New Mexico driver's license.
    My friend rages. "They don't even look the same! This is a driver's license for NEW Mexico. New! NEW! Not Mexico, NEW MEXICO!"

    A moment of silence.

    "Sir, I'm sorry, but I can't accept an ID form Mexico."

    He stares at her for a moment. "You are the stupidest person I have ever met." Takes back his check, and leaves.

  3. I would like to put LOL since it is supposed to mean laughing out loud, but I feel it has lost strength. I was literally, and truly laughing out loud as I read this post...

    Poor Perry the ferry man though... They closed the ferry when they opened the bridge...

  4. Eric--That is a deeply disheartening story, but it matches my own experience with the general competence level of Wal-Mart service window personnel (opticians, for instance).

    Kiley--Bridges are clearly more convenient than ferries, but also clearly less awesome. I'm afraid Perry will have to change his name if he wants a different job in transportation--Chuck the truck man?

  5. Did you hand draw that map of the US? If so, I'm uber impressed!

  6. Confession: I thought about drawing my own map for about fifteen seconds. Then I found a suitable map online, and I drew over all the lines, deleted the interstates, and re-colored everything to mask my copyright infringement.