Proud to be an American
She stood at the hotel counter, the African-American woman’s eyes on the computer. She turned to my guest, “Indian, huh?”
I was stunned. I thought a natural retort for my guest would have been to say, “Negro, huh?” But he just smiled gently and kept his comment to himself. Me, too.
I don’t think the motel clerk meant anything necessarily negative, it was just unthinking. I also sense she may have been accustomed to “white folks” letting it go; that it was all right for a person of her racial persuasion to say whatever he/she wants and not be held accountable.
I was escorting the leader of an international veterans' organization; his credentials impeccable, his military bearing that of a senior soldier. The situation stayed manageable because he took his command school training to heart. “Never complain about anything!” He kept a poker face.
A day later the subject came up privately because I wanted to find a way to apologize for the gaffe. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I usually just say I’m Mexican.”
He had been through this before. The situation was compounded by the day’s events. He had flown all the way from his home in Arizona.
His habit is not to eat or drink anything other than water until he arrives at his destination. In this case, he left home about 7 A.M. (MST) and arrived late at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport at 5:30 P.M. (EST). An hour and a half later we had crossed the Bay Bridge and arrived at the hotel on Route 50 in Talbot County. He was hungry and tired.
His plans had changed some 10 days before. He had to arrive a day early because of airline connection problems.
“I’m sorry,” the black lady said matter-of-factly. “I don’t have a reservation for you.”
He looked at me without expression and I reached inside myself to engage my emotional controls. The reservations had been made nearly two weeks earlier, I explained, showing her the confirmation number. “Oh,” she said, “who made the reservations for you?”
I explained I had been at the hotel and – face-to-face – changed the reservations from two nights to three starting on a Thursday night. My guest was to have the best suite in the house. He was our VIP and deserved all deference.
Instead, the welcoming party didn't show; he was insulted with the racial reference; and made to stand awkwardly in the lobby of a hotel while this “real American W.A.S.P” had to use his best manners and persuasion to set things straight.
Finally we got our rooms; thank goodness his room was on the first floor because the hotel had no elevator. His room contained two doubles; it certainly wasn’t the expected suite with welcome fruit basket. He didn’t complain. The next morning we discovered the entire row of rooms across from the pool had been vacant. What was that all about?
My room was worse. It had the residue and smell of a smoker’s room, the bed leaned down from the foot, the commode was slow and the shower almost drained. Remind me to commute next time.
But it was the personal insult to my guest, the lack of record for the reservations and the long wait at the sunset of a long day that rankled me. This commander is a class act; a Vietnam War combat veteran and military retiree. He kept his promise to his fellow vets, paying his dues to be elected last year as the top volunteer of his organization.
He honored us by agreeing to be part of the state convention and playing his part with distinction.
He is not ashamed of his heritage as a Yaqui Indian, a tribe that was victimized by the Mexican government in the late 1800s, causing many to escape circa 1910 into the Territory of Arizona. They are a proud people, proud Americans.
He joined the U.S. Army following graduation from high school and served from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond, his awards and decorations a private matter to him and his family.
He said it best when I asked why he didn’t have his military service in his official biography. “I believe it should be enough just to say that I served.”
It should also be sufficient that he is an American. ‘Nuf said.