What Old Spanish Ladies Taught Me About Equality
The old ladies in Spain had me on superalert mode when I first arrived here.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the old ladies. The older men would cut me in line too. It happened at bakeries where I could never figure out if there was a line or not.
I would just kind of stand around hoping that the person behind the counter had been keeping track of who arrived when and that they would call me when it was my time.
Which most of the time, they did. But there were a handful of other times when they would just ask who was next and an older Spanish person would either blurt out what they wanted or would just step to the counter.
And I took that racially.
They did it because I was Asian. They did it because I was foreign. They did it because I was invisible to them. They did it because they knew I couldn’t speak Spanish. This is what “micro-aggressions” are.
Like many, I’d experienced similar instances during my 20 years living in NYC and during my 14 years growing up in Ithaca, NY. Some were big. Some were small. Some were ignored. Some were addressed.
And while some of the moments that stick out to me involved white people there were plenty involving Black people, Latinos, and Asians. During the five years I lived in Chinatown, I experienced many invisiblizing moments from Chinese folks. Some cultures are just, how to phrase this without getting canceled, more impatient or more hurried?
I’ve mentioned this before in other writings but in almost every country I’ve ever visited, I’ve experienced some type of “ni hao” or “Are you Chinese? Japanese? Korean?” moment from strangers in the streets.
Most of them were just trying to sell me something, trying to get me to go to their shop or eatery. It’s their hook. Truthfully, I used to get annoyed but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. Now it just depends on my mood.
I was shocked the first time an old Spanish lady cut in front of me at the supermarket checkout line. I don’t think I understood what was happening. I was waiting in line when an old lady started slowly nudging her cart in front of my cart from the side of the line.
I thought maybe I’d messed up and actually had cut her in line. Or maybe she was there before and told someone in line that they would be coming back. Again, I didn’t have the language skills to protest what was happening to me. I just sort of watched it unfold. In slow motion.
And I took that racially.
I promised myself that there wouldn’t be a second time. I was going to make myself seen and felt. I was going to stand up for all the “Chinos” who’d been disrespected. This shit ends with me.
The next old lady who tried to cut me in line got shut down. But she just ended up behind me tho, in front of the people who were waiting before she arrived. They let her cut.
My sense of pride for standing firm faded. She was a small old woman. By herself. With a cart full of food. Shoot, I’m in my mid-40s and sometimes my feet and sciatica be hurting if I stand too long. She was probably just trying to get home as soon as possible so she could rest.
I told my lady about the old ladies cutting me in line and how I hated that they did that because I was Asian, foreign, “Chino.” She laughed and said, “Oh babe, they do that to everybody, you’re not that special.”
And let me tell you, I was so happy.
It meant that they didn’t see me differently. They simply saw me as an obstacle standing in their way and they were doing what they do to everyone, all the time. I was the one who interpreted it as a personal or racial slight. They were just being themselves.
Since that day, I let the old ladies cut me in line every time. Cause, in a way, I’ve realized that equality also means being treated as badly as everyone else and that’s fine with me.