Today I went to the laundromat, which is usually a purgatorial experience anyway, but today it was even more harrowing than usual. As I approached the place there was a guy sitting in a chair by the door who had that kind of desperate, haggard look that usually precedes a demand for money. He didn't hassle me when I went into the building, but I had to go back to my car for my detergent, and as I came back the second time he said "You're doing some serious laundry, aren't you?" I glanced at him and he seemed like a totally different person from the guy I thought I saw at first; handsome, well dressed and groomed, with a charming smile and a twinkle in his eye. I was quite relieved. About fifteen minutes later he came into the laundromat and struck up a conversation with someone about how he had come from New Orleans, had lost everything, but had made the best of it in Birmingham. He sounded pretty balanced; this wasn't a warmup to a request for money, just a friendly chat. But then a latino family left the laundromat-a family that had simply been doing a load of laundry, not bothering anybody-and this guy burst into a foul-mouthed rant about how much he hates Mexicans and Mexico. Apparently Mexicans come up here and take all our money while failing to love America.
This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if I'm missing something-why do so many people hate immigrants? Why does the hatred seem to be tied to (or rationalized by) an economic factor? If a shmuck like me can get a good job then I have a hard time buying the idea that Mexicans are taking all the jobs, and since there doesn't seem to be a bunch of wealthy Mexicans in Alabama I don't get the idea that Mexicans take all the money. It seems to me they take the money they can get, just like anybody else. You'd think that living in New Orleans would make a person a bit relaxed about racial and cultural differences, but racism is founded on stubborn blind spots that must not be so easy to erase.
Anyway as I left he had finished his tirade and slumped into a chair (no one had said anything once he started ranting) and he seemed like the sullen, desperate, diminished person I'd seen at first. I wonder if the handsome, charming face was the norm for him before Katrina, and if his friends would recognise the bitter little troll he'd become. Not that I blame him for being sullen and desperate; I would be too. I'm trying (to paraphrase a gospel song) to look past all his faults and see his need... I wonder if he ever ranted against Mexicans before? Maybe he sees them as undeservingly living off the fruit of the country, while he undeservingly has lost his share. Perhaps in a submerged way he thinks they take the equivalent of his fair share; an absurd way to think, but if humans were consistently lucid it would be an unrecognizably different world..