SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Nikolas Hauswirth

A Case Of Mextaken Identity

My job a few years back was theft prevention and security. Management gave me the instruction, to assist in the prevention of shoplifting and to use discretionary monitoring of the business’ personal equipment. I was tasked with assisting consumers in ensuring that their goods were paid for and to help reduce the cost of loss within our business. We constantly had situations where children came in and drove the carts around the store. There was always an excuse as to why they needed it. It could be they fell at school and they claimed it was crucial for them to use the motorized cart or they just were plain lazy. I could say that I was within my rights as an employee to monitor specific activity, but from what I experienced one day in question I had no idea what would be coming my direction.

“I was sitting in my living room catching up on some news. My son came home in tears and told me of a story about his experience at the local store. My son had told me that someone had told him to get off the moving carts. Knowing my son he may have been a little dramatic about the situation. My son does have a slight disability, his leg is slightly crippled. I was a bit enraged to hear that my son was mistreated during his visit. I asked my son to describe the person, so that I could contact the management to discuss my concern. I was a bit upset when I he told me that the man was Mexican.”

I was awakened one morning to the screeching sound from the telephone. In an instance, I was placed on notice that there was a discrepancy in my job performance from earlier in the week. I was suddenly bombarded with difficult questions about a particular incident that had taken place in our store. It was referencing a consumer complaint about specific treatment that his child had endured while visiting the store. At first I thought nothing of it until I heard the explanation of the situation, then I recalled the incident. I had to go into work to discuss the incident in detail and to make a statement about what had happened. Apparently the child ran home to his parents and told them about his experience. He probably described his situation to his parents as if he had done nothing wrong and that he had been yelled at. To my discomfort the management explained that the consumer had a complained a “Mexican” had kicked his child off of the disabled customer carts.

“I contacted the store to speak with the management to address my concerns. I told the management that a Mexican guy had disrespected my son, and that I wanted action taken against this individual. The store asked me what day the incident had taken place to narrow down the schedule to a more precise search.”

In this particular situation, the child had hit a display and knocked over some product. I promptly advised the child to remove himself from the property. He defied my instruction and I raised my voice a bit to stress my point. I told him that I had no problem with him using the cart, but he had caused damage to property. He told me he had a problem with his legs but I interpreted it as another excuse from a teenager. He probably described me to his parent as being the “Mexican guy” who yelled at him for doing nothing.

A few days later I had been contacted by the management to discuss the issue. They told me that they had found the individual that was part of the situation. They discussed with me options on how I could handle the situation and I agreed to meet with the individual to address my concerns. I wanted to give this individual a piece of my mind and I was still a bit upset at what had happened. We agreed upon a date and time and they reassured me that the individual would apologize to my son. I became more enraged as the time got closer. My son was by my side as the management brought the individual in front of me.

I was then confronted at my job by management and forced to apologize for doing my job. I felt that the father had escalated the situation to a heated issue due to the fact that he thought I was Mexican. To avoid a further confrontation with the customer the management had pulled him aside and explained that I was only performing my job and for him to take issue with me was ridiculous. He had made an assumption based on a racial situation that caused him to become more enraged.

“I am not sure how it was discussed between the management and their employee but the individual did apologize to my son.”

An overwhelming feeling of anger came over me when I met him. I felt that I had no reason to apologize for my actions. The animosity that I felt towards the father about the situation, spawned from his predetermined census about my ethnic background. I suspect that he may have been more aggressive had it not been a professional setting. Could the situation have been that the father was upset about the way his child had been treated? Or could it have been because he assumed I was Mexican, and therefore had no right to treat his child that way? I juggled many thoughts in my analysis of the situation as well. As the space around us was decreasing the situation was further escalating.

It was with a swift hand and a confident stance that my manager sprang into action to defuse the situation. He had felt the tension from the two parties because he was the acting leader in the store. He had no intentions of putting himself at risk being in the middle of a possible brawl, so he told me that he wanted me to return to the office so we could discuss that matter in a bit. In the meantime while calming my nerves, numerous thoughts crossed into my mind of what I still wanted to say to the boy’s father. My emotions were running wild their echoes were bouncing off the office walls.

My manager returned to the office with a look of anger on his face, you could feel the intensification of his anger towards the consumer for taking the situation beyond a positive level. He spoke in a way where I had to listen and assured me that all was well.

“ I pursued this matter further and continued to threaten legal action against the local Fry’s. The employee was then no longer seen, and my goal was reached. To me it was a victory in defending my son.”

My situation may have been a small incident in the big picture of racism. We can look back onto some historic events to which we can apply this racism. Throughout the late 60’s and early seventies we saw a leader for those who could not speak for themselves and a major historical event which has changed the fiber which America had been built on. Cesar Chavez was part of the NFWA made a huge protest, including a march for migrants rights?, as we read in Gloria Alzaldua’s “Borderlands” book about the significance of being surrounded by different cultures and having to accept certain indifferences amongst the growth in our community. The civil rights movement laid the groundwork for passing the Equal Employment Opportunities Act of 1972. This gracious act was followed 20 years later 1992, by race riots breaking out in Los Angeles as a man known as Rodney King was brutally beaten by a band of local police officers who abused the power of the badge. This riot caused looting in the streets and led to another beating of Reginald Denning.

These types of situations continue on through my incident and beyond. I was transferred from that facility to another store location. The reason I was transferred was to ensure the customer that I had been let go, but because I did not sign anything stating I did anything wrong, my transfer was probably the best for both parties involved. It had been a Case of Mextaken Identity.

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