I live in a moderately fancy-ass suburb of Dallas, am super-white, and make decent money. Naturally, I have a Mexican gardener/lawn dude who works his ass off, has 14 brothers and sisters in Guanajuato, employs all his relatives, etc. He also has a sweet wife and three little boys. He does extra landscaping, and I pay him whatever he asks. At this stage in life, I have lots of extra stuff — household items, dishes, clothes, toys (my three boys are older), and stuff you'd put in a garage sale, except I don't do garage sales. What's a tactful way to say, "I have a load of my used crap and you're welcome to take it if you want?" I did give him my 1993 Ford Taurus with 180,000 miles on it a year ago, which he liked, and give his boys new toys every Christmas. However, I grew up poor on a farm up north and the lessons pounded into me by the Lutheran Church say to give to those you know can use it. Is it racist to think that if he can't use it, somebody in the extended family will? I don't want to offend him. (The fact that he is super-hot has no bearing on this question. Really.) What should I do?
Dumb Scandinavian-American Chica
Screw your gardener — give all your excess to this poor Mexican and his extended familia. The tactful way to handle your situación is by asking your Mexi if he knows anyone who needs any of your items. Detail exactly what's available and what's not, and stress that what's available can go to anyone. Your gardener, if he's a good Mexican — and by your account, he is — will let you know what he and his family needs, and take it. He'll probably take any remaining items as well, but give them to poorer Mexicans in Guanajuato when he goes back home for the holidays. The lessons pounded into us by the Catholic Church say to give to those less fortunate than you (ah, the Roman-Lutheran divide between charity and utilitarianism!), and it always amazed the Mexican that, even in this Great Recession, his out-of-work papi will still ask us kids for used clothes and shoes so he can gather and deliver them to orphanages in Tijuana. That, America, is your Mexican invaders, not the leeches of your fevered imagination.
Maybe you can help me out. My gabacho boyfriend spent Christmas with mi familia this year. Two days later, he mailed off wonderfully witty and gracious thank-you cards to everyone for their gifts and hospitality. My gabacho has manners, ¿sí? Well, upon asking me more than a couple of times about these cards, it struck me that he was, perhaps, waiting for thank-you cards from us, or perhaps wondering why I had not mailed any to his family. I told him Mexicans don't do that. At least I've never gotten a thank-you card in the mail (for anything other than wedding gifts) from anyone with a Z at the end of their names. Am I wrong in my overgeneralization? Is it all of us, or just my family, that needs a lesson from Señora Manners?
La Bella sin Gracias
What a good gabacho you have! But you're right: Mexicans traditionally don't send out gracias cards. The only cards we traditionally send out are arabesque invitations for weddings, quinceañeras, and baptisms listing a million padrinos and enough vellum paper to cover the Templo Mayor.
Good Mexicans of the Week! My readers (and for the purposes of this gracias note, "Mexicans" is expanded to include all races — even Guatemalans!). Gracias for the notes, the letters, the rants, and remember to give the gift of my ¡Ask a Mexican! Orange County: A Personal History books this Navidad! Shameless plug aside, I do want to thank all of ustedes — los buenos, the Know-Nothings, even the Guatemalans — for making this columna such a damn pleasure to write. Onward to 2011 and the final stage of the Reconquista!