I went to the car wash yesterday to knock the crud and grime off. I vacuum the interior every week, one of my OCD things, but I gave-up washing the exterior a couple of years ago. To old, to fat, to hot, too much trouble.
Depending on how busy they are the whole process takes about 20 or 30 minutes. I typically sit outside and read the news on my phone and watch the workers clean and dry the cars while I wait. The car wash attendants are now almost exclusively Latinos, as are construction crews, and restaurant staffs, a phenomenon that began occurring in our community about 15 to 20 years ago.
Several years ago a friend of mine who owns a construction company called me to reschedule our lunch. He had a conflict and wanted to know if we could go the next day. Sure I told him and asked if everything was okay. It was and he said he would explain tomorrow.
I learned the following day that he had hired someone to come in twice a week to teach his project managers conversational Spanish. His company was using more sub-contractors made-up of “Mexicans” which was the term people used to identify Latino workers back then and sadly even today. My friend was not excited about this “change” but he knew, through his contacts in larger cities, that this was the trend and it wasn’t likely to change.
I remember how taken aback my friend was to the cultural differences between the “Mexicans” and the white Good ol’ boys he was used to dealing with. Each Latino crew had one guy who was “in-charge” and spoke some English. These crews showed up on time, worked hard and seemingly did good work. But my friend said the biggest difference was demonstrated most evidently at lunch. As the Good ol’ boys opened-up their lunch pails the “Mexicans” started a small fire using 2 x 4 scraps of wood and heated up cans of beans and tortillas. I remember my friend using the term “third world” to describe this scene.
That was 15 or 20 years ago. Today Latinos aren’t the mysterious curiosity that they were back then. Signs posted for restaurant workers are now written in both English and Spanish. Customer service calls have a press #2 for Espanol option. Construction crews are now dominated by Latinos. Even my children got into the act. They took Spanish classes from the time they were in middle school through high school and are both fluent in Spanish which for one, who is in the construction industry, has been very handy.
It took awhile for the rest of us to realize that the term “Mexican” was racist or at the very least derogatory. Not all Latinos are from Mexico and certainly not all appreciated being lumped in with their Mexican brothers and sisters.
The Latinos have become a part of our community and they haven’t. Though we all interact with them one way or the other everyday, like the car wash, they remain separate from our society in a sense. They have clustered in a single section of our city with Latino stores, Churches and other services they need and use. But they have little to no political representation and there are some in the Latino community that would like to see that change and that has caused some of the Good ol’ boys in my city some serious heartburn.
The Latinos positive contribution to our society is undeniable. I would even go so far as to say that the cogs of commerce would slow down dramatically if they weren’t here or decided to abandon this country. But because they keep to themselves, speak a different language, and don’t conform to what “we” consider to be the normal society which is white, and English not brown and Spanish they are over looked or worse, simply disregarded. Trump’s “America First”, national rhetoric hasn’t helped their lot in life but I would suspect without Latino workers Trumps trendy hotels and country clubs would close their doors tomorrow.
I ask that each of us not overlook these wonderful people. Don’t look past them. Respect and honor their contribution to our society. Smile, shake their hand and thank them for their work and service. It makes me sad that we fail to notice how important the Latino population is to the American society. Trump wants to build a wall to keep these hard-working people out rather than embracing and thanking them for all they do for us. As Pope Francis implored we should all be building bridges, not walls. Each of us can be a link in that bridge, a link of compassion, empathy and thanks to our Latino brothers and sisters.