Guadeloupe Castillo walked into Menards on South Robert Street in West St. Paul last week. The 28-year-old was in the market for a vacuum belt. She had her three children in tow -- Evelyn, 4, Anthony, 8, and 11-year-old Bryan.
The quest for the belt proved fruitless, but not uneventful.
The two oldest Castillo kids were playing with a ball as they followed their mom. Guadeloupe mistakenly found herself in the big-box store’s gardening department. She paused, trying to get her bearings. Evelyn and Anthony grabbed a comfy seat on a patio furniture couch.
Guadeloupe spotted a couple nearby. They looked like “they were shopping for something for their plants,” she says. Guadeloupe sensed a weird energy. The man shot a disapproving gaze in her kids’ direction.
“It was a bad kind of look, as if they were misbehaving,” Guadeloupe recalls. “Even though I was in front of them, I knew what my kids were doing and they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
Guadeloupe started walking away. Her children trailed. Guadeloupe noticed a disconcerting look on Bryan’s face. She asked him if something was wrong.
Yes, Bryan said.
The plant-shopping man in a Vikings camouflage jacket had told the two youngest kids, “Don’t touch stuff if you’re not going to buy it,” according to Guadeloupe.
That raised Guadeloupe’s maternal hackles. She went back to where the kids sat just to make sure the couch wasn't damaged. The furniture was unharmed, save for a cracker Anthony had left behind. Guadeloupe picked it up.
She also had a piece of advice for her fellow shopper.
“I told him, ‘If you see my kids doing something wrong, you talk to me, not them,’” Guadeloupe says.
“Go back to Mexico!” the man shot back.
Guadeloupe paused. Did she just hear what she thought?
“Excuse, me,” she said. “What did you just say?”
“Go back to Mexico,” he repeated as Guadeloupe's smart phone captured the exchange on video.
Guadeloupe’s heart sank. She’s lived in Minnesota for 25 years. No one had ever spoken to her in such a bigoted manner.
She wanted to tell the man off. She also didn’t want her kids to see her cry. Guadeloupe took them and left — without the vacuum belt.
She hasn’t reported the incident to the company. Messages left for the store’s general manager were not returned.
More than a week has elapsed. When Guadeloupe feels the need to cry, she’ll go into a bathroom or closet in her Inver Grove Heights home until the tears stop rolling.
She wants to use the incident as a teaching moment, but she has yet to figure out how.
“My oldest, he understands,” she says. “But my little one, she thinks the man got mad about a cracker.”
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