Its all about the language.
I eat at cheap Mexican and Central American fast food restaurants in sketchy Las Vegas neighborhoods. I am fluent in Spanish, although you wouldn’t imagine it by looking at me. Strangers tell me that I look like an undercover cop. Ex-cons with blurry tatoos tell me that a lot. Especially if I go to a Vegas dive bar alone, I look suspicious.
Anyway, when I order my “Numero Seis” in Spanish, everyone in the restaurant freezes, and looks at me, stunned. Not realizing why they are surprised at my presence (a preppy gringo in a crummy neighborhood perhaps?); they return to their food, and treat me with unusual kindness thereafter.
Afterall, since I speak Spanish, I am Hispanic. Seriously.
The Hispanic food server, behind the counter, at first, tries to speak to me in English, and then she pretends to believe me when I tell her “no hablo Ingles”. Then everything else is in Spanish thereafter.
When I ask some Hispanics where they are from, some will not tell me. Instead they smile akwardly and shake their head. In rare occasions, when I begin speaking in Spanish to the Hispanic food counter server, her supervisor from the back kitchen will signal her to go to the back of the kitchen. The supervisor will come upfront to the counter to assist me instead.
It’s something about my appearance and the context- a white businessman who speaks Spanish, eating at a Mexican fast food joint, just seems out of place in a dingy Las Vegas strip mall off Trop. and Decatur.
After Hispanics realize I am at least “sort of ” one of them, the tension wanes. Over the past few months, I have been labled as being a “book Hispanic”, accused of being a “Porteno” (from the snooty side of Buenas Aires), and I have been affectionately called Gringo Abogado.
Think about it. The Spanish language is the only common denominator among Hispanics.