No, I don't speak Spanish. Yes, I tried - a class, some CD's, but somehow it never “took” although I live in New Mexico where perhaps half the population speaks Spanish, and my daughter-in-law and granddaughters speak Spanish, too. But somehow it never came home to me until we were taking a family Christmas vacation at one of the huge resort hotels that wall the beach in Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja Peninsula - or “Baja” as we tourists call it. Everyone who worked in the hotel spoke Spanish but none of the guests did.
The symbol of this linguistic divide, for me, was the rope that was strung across the beach, about half way between the oceans and the throng of lounge chairs under thatched roofs. Perhaps the rope was taken down each night and put up again in the morning, but whenever I was on the beach, the rope was there. On one side, the tourists sat or lay in their lounge chairs surrounded with the usual sunbathing paraphernalia. I was one of them. On the other side, local men and women held trays of jewelry or bundles of brightly-colored serapes and looked at us. Occasionally, one would softly call out to us, but I sensed that this was probably forbidden.
They stood all day on their side the rope, or sometimes walked up and down the beach and chatted with each other. Meanwhile, we sunbathed, read, drank water, gossiped, talked on cell phones, and avoided making eye contact across the rope. During the week we were there, I never saw any tourist approach a vendor or speak to him or her or make a purchase. Yet the local vendors were there, day after day, even on Sunday.
And so I don't speak Spanish. I love the beautiful Mexican beaches, I love Mexican food, I imagine that they are gentle and kindly people. But the rope is always there.
Sallie Binghamis a short story writer, novelist and playwright whose most recent book, a collection of short stories called "Red Car", was published in 2008 by Sarabande Books. Founder of the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Sallie Bingham Archive for Women's Papers and History at Duke University, she is an avid skier, horseback rider and ballroom dancer; she lives in Santa Fe with the Roommate, her eldest son, his wife and their two daughters and travels only when absolutely necessary.
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photo by Ellen Barone.