Two weeks ago I flew to LA, and last week I flew from New Mexico to California, and both times I've run into viejitas que no hablan ingles.
The first lady was prob'ly only in her fifties or sixties. She's Chinese and had
- Lived in San Francisco for 3 years,
- Arrived in San Francisco 3 days ago, or
- Been to San Francisco 3 times
She was traveling with the limit of carry-on bags with two totes and a backpack, and the backpack was too heavy for her to lift up and put on her shoulders. At the Burbank airport, we disembarked right onto the tarmac. The lady was having trouble with her bags, which were too many and too heavy. So she held her tote bags in each and and tried to drag her backpack along the ground. What amazed me more than anything was that she was having obvious difficulty, but everyone just walked around her. (Is that what will happen after the apocalypse?). I was sure one of the strong young fellows on the flight would help her out, but when it became clear that no one would, I doubled back. After failing to communicate in English, I offered to help by putting her heavy backpack on top of my rolling suitcase. She was greatly relieved. I walked her over to the baggage claim and pulled her enormous rolling suitcase off the conveyer belt, and then attached her backpack to it with the belt. She explained that her husband would meet here there to pick her up, and so I finally went on my way. I continued to worry about her though. How would her husband find her?
This Saturday I returned from New Mexico by air from El Paso to Oakland via LAX. Some passengers were only going to LA, while others were going on to Oakland (like me) and/or Seattle.
The El Paso to LA flight was not that full--in fact, Thanksgiving Saturday is a good day to fly out of the El Paso airport. The lines at security were almost non existent, and the flights were not full.
So I got an aisle seat in the second row, with no one else sitting on my row.
or so i thought. Right before takeoff, the flight attendant helped an elderly lady on board and suggested the window seat in my row. I stood up to allow the lady in, and she spoke to me in Spanish and indicated that she would prefer the aisle seat. In my bad pocha Spanish, I clarified, you want this seat? She said yes, I said "Sí Señora" and scooted myself down to the window seat. She carried a purse, a totebag, and a crocheted black rebozo. I admired the rebozo, which looked new and was made of a very soft synthetic, probably in half-double crochet. I asked if she had made it but she replied que "me regalaron." She was at least seventy, and was from Durango and traveling to see her nieta, though I wasn't a hundred per cent sure whether her nieta lived in LA or in Tijuana. At times she seemed confused (about where the plane was going, about what documentation she would need to show and when), and again, I had a real strong sense that this was someone's abuelita travelling alone. My heart went out to her, and I was especially frustrated that my pocha Spanish was not fully up to the task of assisting her. She was anxious that she had lost a piece of paper that she had tucked into her passport, and which had the contact information for her relatives in LA. I helped her keep track of her passport and green card. When it was time for her to get off the plane in LA she was reluctant to leave without ever having found the paper she was looking for. None of the flight attendants were any better at Spanish than me (the Chicano who came onboard to help her to her wheelchair explained he could only speak German). I had to convince her to disembark and told the flight attendants to find someone to translate for her. I hope she made it safe and sound. According to her papers, she lived with family in Downey.