Whenever I meet new acquaintances, fairly often they are surprised by my last name. (Yes, a random topic I pulled out of a rhetorical, imaginary hat.) “Valdez, really?” “No, really, what’s your real last name?” Or sometimes there’s simply a momentary pause, followed by a quiet nod. This happens in both instances where the other person is either white or is blessed to heartily enjoy the more exotic fair from the taco truck’s menu. In the case of the latter, I get, “¿Verdad?” or “But you are white.”
Once, on my first day of a new job, I was waiting to be picked up by the crew on the way out to our job. I was waiting outside my motel at four in the morning with my hard hat and lunch box, when a three quarter ton Dodge Ram with the company logo on the side pulled up. I could see the puzzled looks on their faces. Then, still not sure if they were relieved or disappointed, they smirked as I began walking up to get in and go. It all worked itself out from there.
I enjoy getting junk mail in not-my-first-language. It’s like a free mini language course. You know it’s junk mail, as opposed to something legit, when the words, “¡Todo es gratis!” grace the front of the envelope in a bold, zesty font.
Back to acquaintances. Every once in a while, after the cordial exchanges are through, the guy I just shook hands with moments before will ask me a question. It’s happened enough that I anticipate the question. It goes something like this:
“Have you ever watched that movie, Valdez is Coming?”
“Oh, the one with Burt Lancaster?” I’ll reply.
“Yeah! That’s the one!”
“You know, I really haven’t.” And then we get on to talk about other things.
I really hope that it’s a good movie, or at the very least be Burt Lancaster’s best movie. With a title like Valdez is Coming, there’s too much anticipation to be a complete and total bomb. Someday I will take the time to track it down and watch it so I can form an opinion and thereby enrich later conversations. Or the polite exchange will go something like this:
“Hard to believe, I know. But I really am an albino guy from Zacateca.”