by William Michaelian
Would you please speak English, the man said to one of his customers in a loud, arrogant voice. Speak English, or go home. This is America. I run an American business. See? He pointed to a stack of bumper stickers on his counter next to the cash register. You know what that says? It says, Proud to be an American. But of course you can�t read, either, can you? No, you expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. Well, I got news for you, mister. I�m fresh out of platters. So take a hike. The man opened the door and made a motion with his head toward the parking lot. Kapish? he said. Cumprendee?
The customer looked at the store owner, then out at the parking lot. He smiled. Before I go, he said with only a slight accent, there is something I want you to know. It�s against the law for you to throw me out of your store for speaking Spanish with my wife and children. So let me ask you. Is that what you are doing? Or are we leaving because we couldn�t find any merchandise here worth buying?
The store owner�s mouth dropped open. By then, several other customers were watching and waiting to see what would happen. He didn�t say a word. Finally, he turned around, went behind his counter, and pretended to look for something.
After saying a few more words to his wife in Spanish, the customer and his family left the store. Outside, in English, he said, Today it is getting harder and harder to be an American. Sometimes I wonder, what are we doing here? What is anybody doing here, who isn�t white bread?
They don�t understand, his wife said simply. Let�s go home.
Oh, they understand, all right. That guy in there? Pooh! He pretended to spit.
No, she said. You don�t need to act like that. These kind of people, they don�t know what it�s like. This country was stolen from the Indians, but still they forget.
It makes me mad, he said. Doesn�t it make you mad?
Why? she said. Why should I be mad? Haven�t you always said, you just want to live? So, live. We don�t need to go to stores that all they do is wave flags. We can go to other stores. We can go to places where all they speak is Spanish, if that�s what you want.
No more English, the man said in Spanish.
Yes, his wife said in English. No more English, even with your job, and with our kids in school. She laughed. No more English?
We�ll move to Mexico, the man said in Spanish. We have relatives there.
And we have relatives here, his wife said in English. Then, in Spanish, she added, Or have you forgotten that? One day you say you want to be American, then the next day you want to be Mexican.
What do you want to be? he said in English. Maybe I should ask you that question.
Me? I want to be happy. That�s all. I want to be with my husband, and with my family. And I want you to be happy. So. Let�s go home and be happy. It�s Sunday. We�ll buy some ice cream and call your sister, tell them to come over. The kids can play together and we can talk. Okay?
The man smiled. He looked at each of their children, two girls and a boy. What about that? he said to them in Spanish. What about your crazy mother? You want some ice cream, or should we stand here in the parking lot?
Ice cream, the children said in English. We want ice cream.
Look at them, he said to his wife in Spanish. Why are they speaking English, when I am talking to them in Spanish?
Because they are Americans, his wife said in Spanish.
Her husband laughed. First he laughed in Spanish, then he laughed in English, and then he laughed in several other languages he�d never heard all at once. He was still laughing when they stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought a whole gallon of ice cream.
William Michaelian�s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian�s other books and links to this site�s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.