“Pregunta del Dia” by Esther J. Cepeda
“Pregunta del Dia” translates from Spanish into Question of the Day and today’s was delivered at 12:15 am this morning at the McDonald’s inside Chicago Union Station by a seemingly stone-cold-sober Cubs fan catching a snack before boarding a Metra train out to the ‘burbs.
After the blond-haired, blue-eyed young man let loose a string of vile expletives to his eating companions, then caught my icy glare for polluting our communal space with his negativity, he retaliated against my silent protest of his rude behavior by asking me the following:
Q. Do you have fun blowing up buildings, you ------- terrorist? Huh? You heard me, you ------- ---- terrorist!
A. How to reply?
My mouth dropped open and I smiled, 100% sure he was kidding. His mocking face followed by another string of even worse garbage set me straight.
I tried to lighten the mood with the platitude: “Would you talk like that in front of your mother?” Things devolved from there and after he reiterated today’s “pregunta,” with various vivid details added, my loud indignation had attracted one of Chicago’s finest who directed him and his posse to leave the station.
Let me back up. Twenty-four hours prior to the incident, I had decided to write for Friday about the ridiculous accusations made about Food Network star Rachel Ray’s Dunkin’ Donuts commercial being taken off the air. Conservative Filipina columnist Michelle Malkin, and other bloggers, said Rachel’s scarf looked like a keffiyeh reminiscent of those that some Middle Easterners wear. Malkin has dropped bombs like this on America’s dark-haired sweetheart over the last week: “many readers have e-mailed about, Dunkin Donuts’ spokeswoman Rachel Ray’s clueless sporting of a jihadi chic keffiyeh in a recent DD ad campaign. I’m hoping her hate couture choice was spurred more by ignorance than ideology.” Apparently Rachel would be a lot sweeter if her costume designer was less flamboyant.
Early Thursday I’d started my day at the Chicago Google offices munching on bagels with some of the smartest innovators in the world and brightest young business people in town at the Executives Club of Chicago’s New Leaders general meeting.
A few hours later I lunched at a fancy downtown restaurant with the leader of a multi-million dollar business. Later I hopped into a cab – the driver had greeted me warmly in a language I didn’t understand because he mistook me for a fellow Indian – on my way to a lecture at the Arts and Business Council of Chicago’s “Rise of the Cultural Consumer” program at the Alliance Française where I learned about the bright future of our society. I topped the night off with not one, but two, fancy parties with some of Chicago’s most influential young professionals. Shortly after midnight I was attacked because I quietly resisted someone’s foul language with a disapproving look.
For the first time in my Cinderella-story-book life, I was simply one of so many others who are looked at with suspicion because of the color of their hair, eyes, and skin. I was shamed in front of an instantly-alarmed crowd at a major Midwestern transportation hub by a dangerous federally-defined insult.
Informing my fellow midnight-snacker that I was born in the United States as I gathered my things – and as the policewoman started getting heavy on him – probably went unheard. Besides, I was too busy scurrying away to cry out of sight to enunciate properly.
Here’s my answer again: On behalf of myself, of good-lookin’-and-good-cookin’ multi-millionairess Rachel Ray, and on behalf of every other person in this country with dark hair, dark eyes, but no dark intentions: I am not a terrorist.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the “600 Words” & “Pregunta del Dia” columns, and is also a Director at the Chicago-based United Neighborhood Organization. Her reporting and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of UNO. “600 words” is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org