Mario doesn’t have much in the way of money, or prospects. What he does have is a highly un-American sense of his own good fortune, and an optimistic joy. Marcy once told me that when they went on dates, he would always stop at Wal-Mart on the way home and buy a three-pack of boxer shorts. Eventually, she found out why. When he lived in El Salvador, he owned two shirts, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of underwear. It is almost beyond belief to him that now, here, he can go into Wal-Mart anytime he pleases and for a couple of bucks, a mere fraction of his hourly pay, buy all the boxer shorts he wants, more than he’ll ever need.
I find myself rooting for him: You go, boy! Pass that driver’s license test! I want to indulge him, bake cookies for him, make what I can less difficult for him. When Doug and I face off against him and Marcy at tennis — which he’s never played before — I long for him to do well, and when he does, I’m elated.
Why, against all logic, am I on his side?
Because he has made my life deeper, richer, stranger. Because he’s teaching me Spanish. Because he’s made me look inside myself at what I think really matters, what I pretend doesn’t matter, and what should. If you try to bring your kids up to believe that everybody’s equal, even if you’re not altogether convinced of that, you’ve got no right to be surprised when they do.
Besides. He makes my daughter happy.
Who would have thought that a country whose per capita income is $4,900 really would turn out to be the land of precious things?