I was an ass.
I brought three friends to La Magarita Mexican restaurant. I was a kid showing off. I was loud and rude to the waitress. The owner had to come over.
Leo was a hulking Mexican American. He owned the place.
He looked at me. Looked at the other young people I was trying to look cool in front of.
With one word he could cut me. Embarrass me. Make me look like the idiot I was.
Inside I was scared and ashamed.
I was like a sweaty spaghetti western bandit. Hands shaking. Looking into the eyes of Clint Eastwood.
Leo saw the whole thing. How I was showing off. How angry the waitress was. How stupid I was.
A quick flash of anger. I saw in his eyes he was thinking about throwing me out.
It was coming… I’ve screwed up big time.
… god; why did I do this?
In my head I heard the theme from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”.
His eyes turned to slits.
“It’s OK”, he said. “This is my friend - make things right for him”.
Everyone's jaw dropped. Especially mine.
He looked through my stupidity. He chose compassion. He was kind.
That was 30 years ago.
Ever since then I’ve been a racist.
I can’t help it.
Every time I see a Mexican American I think of that one act of kindness. I know their are bad Mexicans. I never see them.
Bad Mexicans are like Bigfoot. I believe in them; but I haven’t come across any yet.
Leo made it impossible to see bad ones.
I just got back from Tucson.
Things are different there.
Everyone is SO friendly and kind.
Tucson is heavily influenced by Mexicans.
I met Raul on the way to the dumpster. He was working for an insurance company on a water leak.
I said: “Wow; what a pretty day”.
He said: “Yes it is; I’m so lucky to live here near the mountains. I love my job. I like to work and it’s fun to help people”.
I said: “What do you do”?
“I work for a company that fixes water damage. Here’s our card. If you meet anyone who has a leak please call my boss”. - He was selling; always selling his company. I like that.
“I just bought a place. We’ve got a lot of odd jobs. Some plumbing, painting, a door that needs repair. Does your company do anything like that”?
“No, I am sorry. We do strictly insurance work. But I do all of those things; plus I am an artist. I weld metal sculptures”.
“Could you take a look and give me a bid”?
“No; I’m sorry - I am working for my boss right now. But if you give me your number I’ll call you after five and look”.
Raul handed me his card. In the bottom right hand corner it said:
I like that too.
Raul came back after five. Gave me an estimate. Not cheap. Not expensive. Fair.
He showed up on time. Worked hard. Cleaned up perfectly. Took pride. Thanked us for using him. Ran into several problems and handled them despite some unexpected trips to the store.
“Because of the problems do we owe you more”?
“No. I always expect problems. I build them into my bids.”
Tucson is different.
At least Raul is.
My experience with Raul reinforced my racism. Mexicans are some of the most honest, hard working, and kind people I’ve met. I know it’s wrong to favor them over other Americans. I do anyway.
I love their art. Their food. Their culture.
I want to be more like Leo and Raul. I’ve learned from them Here is what they’ve taught me.
Every day is a gift. Remember how good we’ve got it in this rich country.
Say thank you and please. Say it a lot.
Push yourself. By working harder than others you will get blessings that others don’t.
At the end of the day they are the ones that will take care of you when you're old. They'll be with you when you're sick. They love you no matter what.
Show up when you say you're going to. Plan ahead for problems. Build potential problems into your promises. No excuses.
Respect Others Equally.
Don’t treat a person with a lot of letters in front of their name as if they have more value. Usually they don’t.
Treat everyone the same no matter income or position.
Don’t hire based on a degree on a wall. Hire based on the degree of character in the heart.
Raul said: “I stay at home and I spend money. I do jobs and I make money. I’d rather make money than spend it. It’s better for my family and my life”.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Look at the whole picture. Strength is not measured based on who you defeat. Strength is measured based on who you help win.
Talk to People.
Your success will be measured by the quality and quantity of the friends you have.
New friends are waiting. They can only be your friends if you talk to them.
If you're ever in Tucson and need some work done, give Raule a call. Email me and I’ll send you his number.
If you’re in Fort Wayne give La Margarita a visit. The first Mexican restaurant in Fort Wayne, still family owned. Still the best.
I’m a racist.
No one’s perfect.