I was born in the town of Pueblo in the great state of Colorado. My childhood house was on East 19th Street, though I can’t remember the exact address, so I’ll just assume it was the best house on the block. Across the street, a huge park ran the length of the block, with highway 50 bordering the other side. A pedestrian tunnel ran underneath the highway and I would often cross under with other neighborhood kids to go hunting for lizards and other local wildlife small enough for kids to handle. Now that I think about it, we never much looked out for scorpions, but I don’t recall one incident with them, so maybe the lizard population was controlling them (not like mind control or something, in case you thought I was nuts – though once you have a lizard’s tail come off in your hands, you start to believe…).
My family was best friends all the way around with the family next door, a Mexican-American family named the Garcias. I have several siblings and the Garcias happened to have a couple of kids in the same age range, including a girl about my age. I was too young at the time to be concerned with whether or not she was a girl, I only wanted to know if she wanted to go ride bikes.
The Garcias kept a small pet dog that we all loved to run around with in their front yard. The name of their dog was Perro. At least I think it was. I did not know a lick of Spanish and I was very young, so I assumed the dog’s name was Perro because that’s what they always called it. Naturally, I called the dog Perro as well, never really connecting the dots, even when the Garcias would giggle a little bit every time I did it. They never corrected me, so what was I to think?
Fast forward for a moment to this last weekend. I had pretty much forgotten about “The Perro Incident” long ago, but now it came back. I attended a brief men’s retreat with several members of our church and an affiliate church. One of the purposes of the retreat was to get to know the members of the other church better. The other church was from Waukegan and made up of mostly Hispanics, not just from Mexico, but mainly from Honduras, along with Brasil and Nicaragua. During this retreat we had to tell the group a little something about ourselves and the first thing that popped into mind for me was the Garcias and their dog named Perro. Quite rightly, the group thought that maybe I was a little slow on the uptake.
For the members of the Hispanic church, many of them had horror stories about immigration, which is, of course, a hot-button issue these days. All of these men are in the country legally, yet it was a struggle, and several had friends and family members going through trying times due to U.S. immigration policies. As a white male who’s lived all of the Midwest, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about the Hispanic population (as well as Latino and everyone else) and immigration from other whites, most of it negative towards immigrants, even around Chicagoland, which has a large Hispanic contingent. It’s never occurred to me to be against immigration reform or to blame anyone in this country illegally for our lack of jobs. Mostly because I believe our current system simply does not treat those people like the human beings, but also because my whole life I have always had friends and neighbors who were Hispanic and Latino, so I’ve never thought of them as anything other than my friends and neighbors.
I think that started with the Garcias.
I was only in first grade when we moved away from Colorado. About ten years after I moved, maybe a little less, I took my first Spanish class. Early on there is a lot of pure memorization. I recall on that first day of class opening my book to a list of Spanish words and their English equivalents. That list happened to contain the Spanish word for dog.
Like Captain Kirk shouting the name of Khan in his anguish, I thought, I’ve been played by the Garcias!
They had led me to believe that their dog was named dog.
Now that I think about it, Hispanics do have something to answer for: practical jokes. Honestly, setting up a 5-year-old boy for a payoff almost ten years later? Are you kidding me?