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Outsiders

Updated: Feb 14


Yesterday Jack and I went looking for a kitchen store for a second set of measuring spoons. Jack found an address online for a kitchen store that seemed nearby and so we headed out to buy our spoons and explore a new area. Instead of turning right when we got to Canal Street at the bridge and heading into town, we turned left, taking us in the opposite direction of el Centro. The area is decidedly blue collar, with every humble little doorway offering everything you can think of, and all of it all at once in the same teensy space; clothes next to batteries for computers, curtain rods alongside Spanish-to-English dictionaries, dog food mixed in with a heap of electronics. But trying to locate a particular address can be a challenge. Most of the buildings are not numbered, and there are no signs identifying what’s inside. Vendors move or go out of business so frequently their stores are like backpacks that can be picked up and carried away easily to another location.

Peering into dark openings for telltale signs of kitchenware, we popped in and out of doorways as we walked down Canal onto Estación. Eventually we realized that the address for the shop turned out to be much farther away than we expected, but we kept walking, abandoning our original destination along the way, seeing if we could find among all the mishmash of other items a simple ring of graduated measuring spoons. We would have settled just for the tablespoon if we found that. We were walking slowly and I started thinking about what a different environment I was in, how foreign we are to the Mexican strangers we meet when we pass them on the street, eat in their restaurants, buy in their stores. When they see us coming, even before we open our mouths, they identify us as Gringos and speak to us first in English, if they can. Our North American origin oozes from us in the color of our skin, our features, our hairstyles and even in our bearing. (Supposedly Gringo is not a perjorative term. But it comes from the time of the Mexican-American war when the US soldiers wore green uniforms and the local people would shout at them in broken English, “Green Go home” which sounded like Gringo as it was repeated through the years) There are many of us Gringos here in San Miguel, but we don't run into other ex-pats in this lower class section of town or many other areas where Jack and I find treasures.

We come to one tienda that sells kitchenware, along with childrens’ toys and various other goods. It Is unusual well-lit, with aluminum shelving and neatly displayed items for sale, including some with familiar brand names. It feels different, more modern, more like what we’re used to in the States. A nicely dressed youngish Mexican man asks if he can help. I tell him we’re looking for “cucharas medidoras” and he leads us down a few rows taking us right to our prize. We put the colorful plastic spoons into our bag (most stores don’t give bags, so we are now used to carrying our own) and I’m ready to go. But Jack, who loves to shop and always finds something we “need” to add to our purchases, wants to keep browsing. I tell him I’ll wait outside in the sun where it’s warmer. Standing by the door, I have time to look around. There on the door frame is a silver mezuzzah. Although there are a few stores or galleries in el Centro that have Jewish stars carved above their doorways that identify the building as having once belonged to a wealthy Jewish family, or business many years ago. I have never seen a mezuzzah afixed to a doorway.


I am amazed and feel instantly at home. I go back into the store and say to the man who helped us find the spoons, “This is a mezuzzah?” “Si,” he answers. “The owner of the business is…how you say… Judío. Me, no. I am Mexican. Catholic. You are JudÍo?” He seems amazed. Likely he doesn’t know any Jewish people. “Yes,” I tell him simply, without explaining that Jews can be Mexican too. He brightens, extends his hand and dives deeper into the rapid warm waters of the Spanish language. “Mucho gusto,” he says effusively. “ I am so very happy to meet you. Please come back again.” In that split second we have exchanged more than spoons for money, Catholic to Jew, no matter how much of an outsider I may be, I am welcome in San Miguel.

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