Updated: May 7, 2019
"There is a horrible imbalance, there is a lack of information, and there is abuse due to this lack of information ... my job is to inform people [because] ignorance is what gets us into problems."
Teresa Garcia – Comparing Police Customs in the United States and Mexico
Thank you so much Marta for saying that they should hug and love each other because I didn’t know how to follow such a beautiful speech and message about acceptance. So beautiful, thank you. Well, I don’t know… do I start with my name or does everyone know it? Okay well good evening, thank you all for taking the time to be here. My name is Tere Garcia, and I got to the United States a thousand years ago, but to be more exact it was almost 42 years ago. And it went really well, so I came back and then it continued to go well so I kept coming back. And later I meet Ricardo Garcia and boom, I get married. During those times when I would come and go, I would never drive. So when I married Ricardo, I think we had been married for 5 days, and one day he said something he would continue saying for the rest of his life – I have a meeting – I’ll be right back. So I said to him… I don’t remember exactly what we said, but well he said – “why don’t I let you use the car” – because I did know how to drive. In Oaxaca, in the city of Oaxaca – I wasn’t born there, but I had the enormous pleasure of living in Oaxaca, in the beautiful city of Oaxaca. That is where I learned to drive. And you all know that driving in our countries is about driving defensively because you know that nobody follows the rules, right? So when I came to the States I still had that tendency of how we drive in our country, and I had my license. So I said to Ricardo “Yeah, sure, let me use the car. And La, la ,la I began to drive from north to south on Broadway – and you all know that Broadway is full of traffic, right? – so as I was driving, I saw a police car with its lights on. And I said “oh, ok. Don’t worry” and I continued. And then I saw that the police car was following me. But I continued, I said to myself “well I’m still moving because in my country when you see those lights it means; keep moving, don’t stop.” And I kept going. I then noticed that the police didn’t only have the yellow light on, but also the white one and said “oh wow, something must be going on over there” and kept going. Then the police didn’t only have the yellow and white lights on, but also the blue and red ones. And I was like “Wow, there really must be something going on around here, I don’t see what it could be, everything looks so calm.” And I continued moving with the police behind me. Suddenly, aside from the lights, I begin to hear “bamabamabmachichacham” and I was like “Wow! Something is really going on, I’m going to pull over so that he can continue past me.” So I pulled over and; “What!?” he pulls over behind me. And so I found a place to stop, miraculously, and he stops right behind me. I though “what!?” So here comes the police, and I was thinking “I didn’t do anything, no.”
He comes up to me and says “Did you not see that I had my lights on, on 13th street!”
I said “Yes, that’s why I continued!”
He said “No! you’re not supposed to continue moving, you’re supposed to pull over.”
“No.” I responded. “I know that when I see a police car with lights on I have to continue and move over so that you can go on and do what you have to do.”
“No, no, no! Didn’t you see that I turned on the green and yellow lights and that…”
“Yes! That’s why I kept going so that you could move past me!”
And he exclaimed “No! That’s not what you do in this country! Where are you from?!” as if he couldn’t hear my… my German accent.
So I said; “I’m from Mexico.”
“Do you have a Mexican license?”
“Yes!” I said and showed him my license.
“This license is not valid here!”
“No, but I was trying to tell you that I can drive.”
“No, but here we have certain regulations! Don’t you know what it meant when I said “bjgdsfjsskf” – you know whatever it was that he said through the loudspeaker – “
“Well no! It’s not possible to even understand you.”
“So you couldn’t understand me?”
“No! I didn’t understand you. And, from what I know, I speak English.”
“What, in your country they won’t speak to you through the loudspeaker?”
I said. “Yes, but it’s so they can tell us to move aside. But well I don’t know. What did I do!?” I still didn’t know what I had done wrong up until that moment.
So he said “look, here, when you see that a police has their lights on you have to pull over, because I was trying to tell everyone that I needed to get by.”
I said “Oh, okay. So next time I’ll make sure to pull over.”
“Okay, and especially when you see all the lights on and the next time that a police officer gets out of his vehicle and comes up to your car” – because oh yes, I forgot to tell you that I had my radio on and the window up because I didn’t know he was pulling me over! And when he came up to the window he screamed “turn that radio down!”
So I said. “Look, I didn’t know anything about this, but now that you’ve told me, I understand and next time I’ll be ready.”
“Yes, turn the radio down and pull out your license immediately!” – because it had taken me years to pull out my license because I had no idea what was going on.
So in the end he said “Okay, so what are you doing here?”
I told him I had gotten married.
“Okay, so tell your husband that … Is he from here?”
“Well then he must know. Tell him that he needs to take you to get your license immediately.”
I said “okay, great will do. Thanks."
So I moved on, still completely unaware of what had happened. Why? Because from what I knew, that’s how they treated everyone. From what I knew, this was a normal situation, where they stop you to give you an explanation. But once I became a teacher here in the U.S. and the parents began to explain that they had pulled them over and handcuffed them and taken them. I would say “Why?!” Well because I didn’t understand what was going on. “The same thing happened to me.” I responded. Now I thank the heavens, and whoever is up there, because the police officer that pulled me over was decent. But my parents were not as lucky. So there is a horrible imbalance, there is a lack of information, and there is abuse due to this lack of information. We Latinos can’t continue: if I know that this is what causes problems, my job is to inform people that come from our countries that that is how the law is in our countries, and this is how it is here. That ignorance is what gets us into problems. If you are lucky and get someone that explains something to you, that’s great, but if you aren’t, like some parents – nowadays these transit violations are what is impeding people from being able to stay in the U.S. In Mexico – I don’t know about your other countries – but in Mexico, if you are driving drunk and kill someone you are still able to pay off the infraction, but if you don’t kill anyone and you make it all the way home, then that’s great – but what does that mean here? … Let me know if I’ve gone over 3 minutes or else I’ll keep going. Oh yeah? Oops, okay, well the homework for tomorrow is, well, you already know what goes on here, if you’re driving and don’t kill anyone then they still give you the worst outcome.
And, really quickly, I remember my mom saying, “No! They’re going to take my husband. And why?! Because supposedly he has committed a criminal infraction. But he hasn’t killed anyone! They just stopped him because he was driving drunk and nothing else.” I said. “Here in the States that’s a crime.” “Oh, how awful!” And so I think, how awful it is that I haven’t done anything to tell the world about the problems that we get in because of a lack of information. So our homework is to be aware of what the differences – the opposites issues – are between our countries and this country so that we can inform people, so that there is no longer an injustice due to a lack of information.
Translated into English by Martín Better.