No Speak English

Monday, 01 November 2010 18:52 Written by  Priya A. Shah

It’s mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, and Maria, sweet Maria stops by a local diner after her morning walk.

ch She sits herself at a table, nearby a window and looks out into a world—one she doesn’t understand. Lunchtime has rolled around and nearby workers and passersby have stopped in the diner for a quick bite. Maria, sweet Maria browses through the menu, but unfortunately she’s unable to read it.

See, Maria, sweet Maria, lives with her American son and his American wife and her American grandchildren. But Maria, sweet Maria, who’s lived in this country for nearly seven years doesn’t consider herself American—no, not at all. Maria only knows how to speak Spanish, nothing more, and nothing less. Though she’s attempted to learn over the years, she’s been unsuccessful. So she spends all day in her own little mind, watching her Spanish soap operas, unable to communicate with her grandchildren and wishing, so desperately with all her fiber being, that she was back home.

And besides, her son, her grown up son, who works 9 to 5, five days week, still needs his mommy to take care of him. After all, her son fell in love with his estúpida blonde, tall, leggy wife, who is unable to cook. But she can order a pizza in no time. What’s sweet Maria to do? What’s a mother to do?

And her grandchildren, her Americanized grandchildren, don’t even speak to her. They don’t know how to speak Spanish, so they pretend as they watch their American television shows, do their American homework, listen to their American music and speak their American language like Maria, sweet Maria, doesn’t exist. Maria yells in frustration at her son, “Teach them Spanish you fool,” but he only shrugs his shoulders and responds by saying, “This is America.”

So on this beautiful fall afternoon, Maria, sweet Maria, sits at the diner table, waiting to be served.

“Hi, I’m Kim. I’ll be your waitress today. What can I get you?” A petite young Latina woman stood in front of Maria, wearing thick eyeliner, heavy mascara, and shiny lip gloss. She looked as if she belonged in a Hooters restaurant. Maria, sweet Maria, smiles, looks at the menu as if she’s able to read it and turns her head back to Kim and says “pie.”

“I’m sorry ma'am. We’re all out of pie. Can I get you something else?”

“Yes,” Maria smiles and there’s a brief pause.

“Well, what can I get you ma'am?”

Maria, sweet Maria, smiles and repeats the word “yes.” The waitress looks irritated, tapping her pencil on her notepad and rolling her eyes. Kim has her own problems to worry about. She works two jobs; she’s a single mom, and takes online courses to get her degree in Psychology. And although she knows the stereotypes that are associated with Latina women these days—Kim’s tired, her feet ache, she has a paper to write, a son to feed, and the last thing she needs right now is some old crazy woman who can’t speak English.

Kim puts on a smile, and as kindly as possible says: “Ma'am, we’re out of pie. Can I get you something else? Some coffee, perhaps?”

Maria, sweet Maria, looked confusedfrustrated in fact. She could tell by Kim’s facial features that she was Latina American. Maybe she speaks Spanish, Maria thought.

“Hola, Quiero la tarta,” Maria said.

Kim was more annoyed. The small visible bags under gray eyes showed she was exhausted. Her red curly hair tied back into a sloppy bun specified she needed to make a hair appointment ASAP. And that B.O. coming from her underarms just proved that she needed to soak in a bubble bath for about two hours without any interruptions. Kim tried to look attractive, especially since the male customers were her usual tippers. But she doesn’t have time to look like a supermodel beauty queen. She didn’t even have time to shower this morning.

And in times like these, Kim wishes she learned how to speak Spanish when she was a little girl, or at least paid attention in high school. If she did then she would know a thing or two and could respond in Spanish: “No crazy woman, we’re out of fucking pie, you fucking lunatic. But I’d be happy to get you something else. Comprenda?”

“No pie,” Kim said. “No tarta.”

The sun beamed in through the window and landed on Maria’s shoulder length light brown hair, highlighting her face with a sudden sadness that was sweeping across her lost face, screening the deep laugh lines on her light skin tone. What was sweet Maria to do? She opened the menu again, glancing at the salad options. Kim saw Maria was eying a picture of a plate filled with vegetables, cheese, pasta, and fruit seasoned with dressing. Maria pointed at the picture and looked at Kim for authorization.

“So you want a salad?” Kim said. “What kind of salad would you like? We have taco, spinach, chicken, Mediterranean?” Maria, sweet Maria, tried to follow Kim’s voice tone, but didn’t understand a word she said. Maria pointed at the picture again.

Kim was becoming impatient.

“What kind of salad would you like, madam?”

“Si,” Maria said and let out a smile even though she could feel Kim’s frustration. Kim sighed and walked away.

The box shaped narrow diner was starting to fill rather quickly. Kim came back with a veggie salad, dressed with ranch.

“Here you go ma’am, enjoy.” Kim placed the plate in front of Maria. “Let me know if there is anything else I can get you.”

“No!” Maria exclaimed, and pushed the plate away. A few people sitting nearby turned their hands towards Maria. Trying not to lose her temper, Kim calmly said: “Is there a problem?”

Maria, sweet Maria, almost had tears in her sad eyes. She wasn’t pointing at the picture of the salad, but she was pointing at the picture above it. She wanted the gooey warm grilled cheese on white bread with a pickle on the side. Maria, sweet Maria, had enough. She wasn’t even hungry anymore. She pushed the salad aside again, and stood up. Kim’s eyes grew with curiosity wondering what Maria was going to do. Maria, sweet Maria, met Kim's eyes, shook her head and said “no” once more, this time in a calmer tone. And she strolled out of the diner and back to her son’s house, not home.

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah lives in Chicago. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010, where she studied magazine journalism and fiction writing. She has been a staff writer for GMO since 2007. She’s written and interned for various media outlets such as India Tribune, Today's Chicago Woman, Tribune Media Services, GlossMagazineOnline and Echo (the student produced magazine for Columbia College Chicago). She’s contributed to A Fresh Squeeze (, an online publication for green living in Chicago, and her school newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle.

Priya can be reached at or