The Ecphorizer

A Little Knowledge Can Hurt You
Susan Packie

Issue #39 (November 1984)

Plan your high school curriculum carefully

Thanks to three years of high school Spanish, I am now an enforced resident of Mexico.

Don't ask. I still don't know exactly how it happened. I am quite sure I was born in New Jersey, went to college in Massachusetts, and moved to California to be part of the Los Angeles scene.

I wanted to be a movie actress, so what better place to go? I shared an apartment with two other women and took acting lessons. Naturally, I had to have money to do all this, so I got a night job in a factory.

Nobody there spoke English, but that didn't bother me. I was glad to have the opportunity to use the Spanish I had studied back in the dark ages of high school. I had taken it because it seemed such a practical thing to do.

That's what landed me on the wrong side of the border. One night out of the clear blue-vergingon-black sky these police officers came crashing into the factory, guns drawn. There must have been at least fifty of them!

"Okay, everybody against the wall for a body search. We've had this place bugged for weeks. We know what's going on."

My wallet, my watch, anything that could be removed and looked valuable was taken from me. I was so frightened I couldn't even protest.

"You, you, and you, in the van. You're going home."

Me? Had he really kicked me? But why? Then I remembered that I hadn't spoken a word of English in three months. Of course they thought I was Mexican! Just another illegal immigrant! But hadn't they checked my identification cards in my wallet? I started to explain.

"This one knows a little English. Sure, honey, we saw all those cards, but any good forger can produce them. Now come along."

I begged them to call my apartment and ask one of my roommates who I was. A man answered. I had already been replaced! No one had ever heard of me!

So here I am, sitting around in a serape eating tacos. The worst part is, no one can understand a word of my Spanish. I may even be deported. To the United States.

French would have been more practical.

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Susan Packie

Susan Packie teaches anthropology at Malcolm-King College, which is located in America's premier anthroplogical site, New York City. She has had her work published in more than 80 magazines.