Writer Confronts Racism at a Chicago Store | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Writer Confronts Racism at a Chicago Store

When faced recently with an opportunity to speak out against prejudice and injustice, Chicago writer Elizabeth Sandoval opened up her mouth...and her eyes.

So a good friend of mine recently quit her job at a frou-frou boutique in the Gold Coast. She just couldn't stand the stressful work environment.

Long hours? Nope. Demanding clients? Not really. How about.. co-workers who took great pleasure in making racist comments about Mexicans and Asians.

My favorite? "I like to wear my 'Border Patrol' sweatshirt to the Target on Elston because that's where all of the illegal Mexicans shop."

Yep, this is 2009 in a big city, folks. Surprises the heck out of me, because I'd like to think of Chicago as oh, I don't know, a civilized kind of town. Where people, and not only buildings, are appreciated for their differences.

It's sad to say, but I'd be less surprised to hear these comments coming from a smaller town. Like the communities near Peoria, where a good friend of mine grew up. When her mom drove in this past November for Election Night in Grant Park, she fielded warnings left and right from well-meaning but small-minded friends and co-workers. Concerned about their friend's jaunt to this big city. With all of its blackness.

But here? In this city of the world? A city which is now on a global stage even moreso because of our hometown President? A city which just might snag the 2016 Olympics? How can we welcome the people of the world if some of our people still can't see past their own blonde hair and blue eyes?

If you happened to catch the fact that these individuals made comments about Asians and Mexicans, but not Blacks, it's because my friend is Black. So I imagine these women were polite enough to reserve their Black comments for a more appropriate time.

I have a fantasy where I walk into this boutique, take some especially-pricey items off the rack, and then make like I'm about to pay for them. Only to stop and say, "Oops. Looks like I can't afford this after all. Guess I should stick to the Target on Elston."

The other day, completely unplanned, I passed the shop and with a surge of my stereotypically-Latina sass, I walked in, looking as if I knew exactly what I wanted to buy.

I approached a salesperson.

"Do you ship to Mexico?" I asked.

"No", she answered without hesitation.

Her co-worker, probably sensing my determination and willingness to spend lots of money, interjected--saying she believed that they could ship to Mexico.

"Wonderful", I said, and turned and walked away.

I don't have any advice for curing Chicago or the world of its ever-present pockets of racism. Some things will never change, I suppose. I think I'm just saddened by how real this bit of racism is. And how intense it is. And how close--to me-- it is. Maybe this issue should be put back on the table for further discussion. But then again, it's not as if it ever left.

Music Button: Nortec Collective, "Wanted", from the CD Tiajuana Sound Machine, (Nacional records)

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