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Friday, August 21, 2015

Immigrants: A Parable

I was sitting in a café the other day, as I do every day, when a young African boy asked me if I wanted to buy any of his wares—he was hawking Polo® shirts. A lot of times I will buy something small from them just because they are always polite. I once bought a round of socks for everyone in a bar from one of these merchants but a 10€ shirt was too much. I’ve noticed that you see far fewer of these ambulatory vendors in recent years. Maybe I’m wrong but I have asked other people and they all agree with this anecdotal observation. A few years ago young black African youths roamed through every bar in town selling everything from cigarette lighters to children’s toys. Perhaps the bad economy has forced them to find other ways to make money.

I was busy typing away on my netbook and hardly gave the young entrepreneur a second’s notice. Just before I started to politely wave him away I thought to ask him if he would like something to drink. I offered him a beer and he refused as he said that he was a Muslim. I always play dumb and ask them why they can’t have alcohol, as if this is the craziest thing in the world and it sort of is the craziest thing in the world. I’ve always said that if Mohammed had really wanted to help his followers he would have banned smoking.

The boy asked for an orange soda so I ordered it from the proprietress. When the Chinese woman brought it to him I handed her what I thought was sufficient change. It turned out that without my glasses I had mistaken a .20€ coin for a .50€ so I was short .30€. The woman waved away my attempt to give her the remainder when she realized that I was buying the soda for the kid.

The Chinese here in Valencia are sort of famous for their pecuniary prowess so for this woman to let the .30€ slide in this transaction was unusual. I think she just thought it was nice that I was doing this for a stranger. I have been going to this café for years and I always treat this woman with exaggerated respect and politeness. I’ve always been taught that it’s much, much easier to be decent to everyone than go through life causing friction.

Of course, there is more than enough racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Spain to go around but I think that there isn’t the malignant cancer of racism that seethes beneath the surface in much of the United States. Immigration is a very complicated issue but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about fellow human beings.

I'm not trying to pat myself on the back for parting with 1.20€ but I hope that it made the boy feel, if only briefly, that not everyone is against him in this strange world. It made me feel good. Do Donald Trump and his ilk feel good after they rant about the horrors of illegal immigration?