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?”
P.S. You’re welcome.