I told the cabbie my destination and was startled to hear him respond, "Si, senor."
"There has to be a reason why you're abandoning your native tongue," I told him. "Perhaps you'd like to let me in on it."
"Sin duda, amigo," the cabbie said. "That's Hispanic for 'no sweat.' I've decided to learn Hispanic, and if you're as smart as you think you are, you'd better be learning it too."
"Oh, look," I told him. "I've read those projections of how, by the year 2000 or whatever, Hispanics will constitute the largest minority in the United States. I don't know if that's true, but even if it is I don't see the point of switching to Spanish--or Hispanic, as you call it. Just because they are going to be the biggest minority doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to get any particular breaks. Blacks have been the country's biggest minority for some time now, and the payoff hasn't been all that obvious."
"I'm not talking about the year 2000," the cabbie said. "I'm talking about right now. Hispanics are in. Even Larry Speakes acknowledges that this is Hispanic Week at the White House. There was that Hispanic Heritage Week ceremony in the Rose Garden Monday. Tuesday, it was Hispanic educators; Wednesday, the Hispanic Basin Initiative . . ."
"Caribbean Basin Initiative," I corrected him. "Of course, I read about these events, and I think it's a very fine thing for the administration to do. What surprises me, though, is that back in July, when the president showed an interest in us, you and a lot of other black folks denigrated his effort as 'Black Interest Week.' Now here you are not only giving your blessing to 'Hispanic Week' but also proposing to become some sort of an ersatz Hispanic, like Richard Pryor in 'The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars.' What's got into you?"
"Didn't you see the announcement?" the cabbie said. "Reagan's named Katherine Ortega to be treasurer of the United States. When Carter was in office, we had that job. We might have had it again if we had played it smart in July. Now the Hispanics will get it, and Lord knows what other big jobs they'll be getting."
"Come on, man," I said. "The woman is highly qualified for the post. After all, she was the first female president of a California bank. Surely you're not suggesting that she got the nomination for treasurer just because she's Hispanic."
"Let me put it this way," the cabbie said. "It didn't hurt. Look, Reagan reads the polls, and he knows he's going to need help if he's going to win a second term. He tried to get us, and we stood there like idiots yelling, 'Run, Jesse, run.' Now he's going after the Hispanics, and I don't intend to get caught short again."
"I don't believe you," I said. "You're the same guy who has been criticizing Reaganomics and Reaganism since the day the president took office. You've been telling me why Jesse Jackson should run for president. Surely you're not abandoning your idol?"
"Don't get me wrong," the cabbie said. "Jesse's a cool dude, but the brother's got no jobs to hand out. I'm just looking out for No. 1."
"I've seen some cynicism in my time," I told him, "but this is the most cynical thing I've heard of. You mean to tell me that you're willing to abandon your hero, swallow your principles and even pretend to be something you're not, just on the outside chance that you might get a federal appointment?"
"Si, senor," the cabbie said.