April 13th, 2011
L.A.’s Border Between Racism And Discrimination

Some establishments address me in English and Spanish as well, but there is a third party that speaks to me in a loud monosyllabic Spanish reminiscent of how ignorant people address the deaf. These coffee shop and fast food restaurant workers treat me with a condescending brand of respect, or rather, costumer service that leaves me unsatisfied and wondering if it’s something personal. I speak both languages, and I do not have trouble being spoken to in either, but it’s insulting to be spoken to in charades. It is like a sort of ignorance that goes unchecked. It’s not mean or evil, but it sticks with you.

For example, a couple of months ago I went into a sandwich shop and my culinary artist told me — but not the people in front or behind me — that they just ran out of jalapeños.

I went on a quest recently to decipher where the epicenter between English and Spanish stood. Turns out its near The Coffee Bean.

I started my quest on the street corner where Avenida Cesar E. Chavez becomes Sunset Boulevard. I got as far as a coffee shop on Wilshire and Vermont when it happened. The young man behind the counter was a fresh-faced Asian gentleman with large, black-rimmed glasses. He looked like a hybrid of Malcolm X and Rivers Cuomo that had gone horribly wrong. As soon as he spotted me, he motioned to a second young man of Latino descent to come over. The Latino man was working hard at looking busy as he pushed around a mop that was not going anywhere. In a simultaneous motion the second young man took over the register like John Wayne commandeering a stage coach in one of his old films filled with blue-eyed Indians.

I took my time to find something that I wanted to order. I guess he mistook my indecisiveness for confusion.

“’qui vend… em.. os café” he said to me in a lowered voice that struggled to find the right verbs to marry with nouns. Spanish was definitely not his strong suit.

“I know, I was deciding between hazelnut and vanilla.” I replied, trying to find a smile on his face that was not there. I replied in English because I felt that he would put down his defenses and relent a little. We could be on the same page. He relented speaking Spanish, and now used a surfer lexicon of elongated words in English.

“So, um… what can I get started for you?”

I finally decided on hazelnut, but I was corrected in an automatic, yet chastising manner by the person behind the counter. It seemed that I had committed the egregious sin of ordering it as a “hazelnut coffee,” rather than a “hazelnut latte.” I felt like I would have to plead down to community service from the powerful International Coffee Court. After all, there are some things you cannot expunge from a criminal record.

He then suggested that I take my coffee to go because they were closing down and needed the time to begin cleaning up – even though the placard on the door read that their business hours were over at 10:00 PM and it was only 8:30, and the place was still littered with souls.

I drank my coffee, or latte rather, and wondered if this was a typical business practice. I mean, is it just me? Do I have the kind of face that make business sales and property values plummet? Am I so backwards and uncultured that dare to confuse a frappuccino with an iced coffee? I guess people just assume that I have that kind of face that leads people to conclude that I’m stupid enough to think that The Coffee Bean sells frijoles as opposed to coffee. Or something like that.

Follow Oscar Barajas on Twitter @Oscarcoatl

[Photo By Jocelyn]

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