CALIFORNIA’S KINDEST PEOPLE
At least the kindest to me . . .
I first noticed this group while standing in line outside a jail—an unwelcome interval in an active life. I was there to visit someone I cared about.
I arrived full of irritation and snobbery. I hate this! I hate being here . . . standing among this crowd. Can’t relate to any of them . . . why am I even here? My internal hostility went on.
And then to my surprise, a Hispanic lady leaned my way. “Why don’t you go sit down over there?” she said. “I’ll hold your place in line.” She was so utterly selfless, I accepted her offer—instead of standing, I perched on a nearby cement block.
You can’t generalize from a single incident. But I’m here to say that in that same jail setting, I’ve been offered solace in line so many times it’s no longer an accident or an oddity. It’s cultural. Kindness that emanates from within certain people.
In fact, the last time I was in a line elsewhere, it was raining, and it was a Hispanic lady who offered to share her umbrella.
My guess is, no such scenario would result from a line at Nordstrom’s.
Yesterday, in a wholly different setting, it happened again. Because I teach on Wednesday nights, my routine starts with an early supper at Soup Plantation. I get there first, and twenty minutes later Rob joins me.
But this week I was faced with an impossible situation: I couldn’t walk.
Well, I could, but the pain in my leg was awful. Took me five minutes and a cane just to get from my car—parked right outside—to the door. How will I ever make it to class? I wondered. Down an impossibly long hall? When I can’t even reach the inside of Soup Plantation? I’ll have to call the school and cancel.
Still, I had to eat something.
Just outside the door, a Mexican woman and her grown son saw me coming. “Can we help?” she asked. When I hesitated, she said, “Here, I’ll carry your purse. Put your arm around my shoulders. We’ll make it to the counter.” To her son, she said, “Get a tray and a dish. You handle that part.”
So between the two of them, with me leaning first on the mother, then on the counter, and the son scooping onto a plate whatever I wanted, the two became a kind of three-legged team . . . until we all reached the check-out station. Without those two wonderful strangers, I couldn’t have managed any of it.
From the cash register, our favorite waiter, Baldo, carried my tray to a table--while I painfully limped along behind him. To help out, Baldo went back for soup, drink, and muffins.
By coincidence, as I hobbled out of the restaurant, another Mexican lady expressed concern and an offer of help. Before she backed away, I had to reassure her that I’d be okay . . . meaning that someone else would come to my rescue.
About then my close friend and student arrived. She drove us to the school and left me just inside the office while she hurried to my class . . . down that long hall to bring back two, strong-shouldered men. Instead, they brought a wheelchair—a light bulb idea from the woman who habitually arrives on wheels. My students are terrific, always have been—so no surprise there.
But it’s the kindness of strangers I’ve found so remarkable. And so did my grandson, two days ago, when it was a Mexican who worked for hours to pull his truck out of the mud. No matter what the setting, it’s invariably someone of Latin heritage who reaches out, fanfare-free, to offer help.
Clearly, kindness is everywhere. But why do Latinos offer so much of it? Why, in general, are they so willing to assist strangers? And why do they make so little distinction between themselves and everyone else?
It’s with such thoughts that I grieve over today’s headlines—that ICE plans to “uncover” millions of these mostly-kindhearted people and mercilessly rip up their lives. Never mind that their crime rate is statistically lower than that of the native-born. Thanks to our vindictive president, a number of Americans express delight that we’re “hunting them down” . . . that we’re inflicting cruelty on some of the hardest-working, most unselfish people within our borders.