As a white person who wants to “do something” but is also too lazy to critique myself too heavily, I’m curious about the U of U’s implicit xenophobia. However, when I researched further, the xenophobia I found was unfortunately…what’s the word? Explicit.
I caught up with Elías two weeks ago at the freshly sterilized Big Ed’s/Publik on Second South and University Street. The space smelled like artisan coffee and veggie burgers. The perfect place for liberal youths to gather.
(Photo by Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune)
When Elías arrived, I pointed out which beers were best. We then sat down, and he told me about himself.
Elías speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Elías’ accent is negligible. He’s an S.I. for Calculus 3 this term, and explains to me that teaching math is nearly identical to teaching a new language. “When you get a question incorrect or look at a string of variables and not understand at all what’s going on, this was exactly what I felt when I started learning English,” he told me. “Teachers would look at sentences I’d write, would say I did something wrong, and I’d feel so frustrated.” He laughed. “It makes me sympathetic, I guess.”
Because I don’t care about math, or, really, about Elías as a person, it was time to get to the hard-hitting questions. “Do you think your students respect you?”
His brow furrowed. “What?”
Suddenly, Elías’ phone rang. It was his wife. He spoke for a few minutes with her, and I would have eavesdropped, if I knew Spanish.
“Speak English,” barked a student as he walked past our table and out the door. I recognized him! I copy-edit his papers. They’re incomprehensible. It’s like the man vomits disconnected words onto paper.
“What a jerk,” I said, heroically. “I’m glad not all white people are like that.” I was, of course, talking about myself.
He looked away and swigged his beer.
“What the hell? Is this beer…vanilla flavored?”
Unfortunately, it was.