March 12, 2009

Playing the dumb immigrant card

highway, La Ceiba, Honduras

Immigrants anywhere: Admit it. Have you or have you not ever played the 'dumb immigrant card' to your advantage? Not ever?

You've never said, "Discoolpay. Yo no intendo." or "Me no espeak English."?

Instead of standing in line like everyone else, have you never wandered around with a dumb look on your face hoping someone will take pity?

Have you never met "Hey, you can't do that..." with a confused response in your worst accent?

Or, most shameful, have you never pretended to be a dumb tourist (the people who get all the breaks) when you've really lived there for 5 years?

Hey! Immigrants don't get many advantages anywhere, so what the heck! Why not? (Note that La Gringa is not talking about committing crimes, just occasionally avoiding those little inconveniences.)

I saw the transito police road block just as I pulled over to the side of the highway near the gas station to drop off El Jefe. Oh, no! Not having planned to even drive out on the highway, I didn't think to take my purse and therefore didn't have my driver's license and car registration. That lack of documentos is one of the few delitos in Honduras for which the perpetrators will always be punished!

I thanked God I hadn't gone out in my jammies as I had briefly considered doing. I truly had an flashing vision of me cowering in my nightgown in the middle of the police station while everyone pointed and laughed.

The situation was that El Jefe had to go to a meeting and I had to go pick up someone at the airport later. So he asked me to drive him down to the highway to catch a taxi so I would have the car for later. I didn't plan on driving out on the highway, but he couldn't quickly get the attention of any passing taxis so he said to drive on down to the gas station where there might be some waiting taxis.

Pulling over just before the roadblock of course is very suspicious. I rolled down my window as I always do when the police are around. (This is a tip for all the ladies in Honduras: Apparently there are very few women car thieves, so when they see a woman driving − or at least one with an honest face like me ;-D − they just wave you on.*)

This time, however, all of the police were intently staring at me and looked none too friendly. After all, I had pulled off the road just before the road block and a man had jumped out of the car and ran for a taxi. A tad suspicious, no? The head guy hollered across the street to me, "What are you doing?". I hollered back, "My husband needs to catch a taxi." (All this in Spanish, of course.) He frowned and then made what looked to me like an irritated arms-wide sort of shrugging gesture.

I didn't know how to interpret that. I thought that maybe he had said, "Dale!" (okay, go ahead) but he was in the middle of the highway with traffic going by and maybe he was actually saying "Halt!" or something like "Don't move or I'll shoot!". I didn't want to take a chance that they would get angry or shoot out my tires. (Immigrants everywhere have an exaggerated fear of the police, no?)

The police can impound your car if you don't have your registration card and going about with no ID is a big no-no. This has happened to El Jefe. Once I had to go to the police station before they released the car and another time I was able to get a neighbor to take me to the roadblock with the registration card so they let him and the car go.

El Jefe, who is generally very protective, incredibly just got in the taxi and left me to my fate as the criminal I was! After a few moments of looking confused and inching the car back and forth to turn around for my getaway, a female officer took pity on me and hollered that I was free to go. Not only that, but the police stopped the traffic from both directions so I could get back on the highway! Whew! That was a close one.

You'll be happy to know that El Jefe did call me (an hour later!) to make sure that I wasn't in jail. He said that the taxi driver refused to wait. I told him what happened. Damn!, he said. Not that he wanted anything bad to happen to me, he was just a little jealous of my 'dumb immigrant' status. ;-D

*Aside: This preferential treatment of women irritates El Jefe to no end. In the 7 1/2 years that we've been here, he has been stopped by the police and checked for license and registration, oh, probably 200-300 times! Granted, he drives a lot more than I do, but I've been stopped, oh, maybe once.

Sometimes they even search the car or him personally, putting him spread-eagled against the car while they check for weapons or drugs − never when I am with him, though. Since we have to pass one or another of their favorite road check spots to get to town, sometimes he's been stopped on his way to Wendy's for hamburgers and stopped again by the same person on his way back. Waving the Wendy's bag with protests of "Don't you remember me from 10 minutes ago?" fall on deaf ears. The rules are the rules. Unless you're a woman or a dumb immigrant, that is.

So, have you ever played the dumb immigrant card and how did that work out for you?
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