Several weeks ago I was chatting with a Westport hairdresser. An Asian woman in her mid to late 40s. I suspected she might be Vietnamese (I’ve been to Vietnam three times) but I didn’t want to sound like a dumb Anglo who doesn’t know the difference between people from Vietnam, China, Japan, Burma, Malaysia or Korea.
But I took a risk anyway and asked if she was from Vietnam. Bingo! Born near the end of the Vietnam War, she had grown up near Saigon and emigrated to this country around 1990, she said. So let’s allow that I might have a certain ability to recognize people from certain regions, or at least that I got lucky that one time.
Yesterday around lunch hour I was speaking to a Latina counter waitress in her early 20s. There was something in her features that suggested…I couldn’t be sure. Possibly lower Mexico or perhaps Guatamela. She vaguely reminded me of Yalitza Aparicio, who played the housekeeper Cleo in Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma, only a bit prettier.
I had no real idea, in short, but I took a wild stab and asked, “Have you ever been to Belize?”
Waitress: No, I…I don’t know that. Where is that?
HE: South of Mexico. You know…the Yucatan Peninsula. Caribbean coast.
Waitress: Near Mexico?
HE: Actually closer to Guatemala.
HE: Mostly English speaking.
I’m not judging, mind. I recognize that we all have our own journeys and that we reach enlightenment at different times in our lives, and that includes me. But this woman had never heard of Belize until that moment. She may not have even heard of Guatemala.
What does this say about the teaching of geography in Fairfield County high schools? When I was 21 I had at least heard of all the countries in Central and South America, and about most of the Caribbean islands.