Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

We have a symbiotic relationship – they bring me food, I look out for them. Sound like the mafia? It’s my relationship with the Salvadorans who clean my office.

I have grown to love this extended family over the years. I originally started talking to the mom who is now a grandmother so I could practice my Spanish. That was probably 7 years ago. She’s only 39 and in that time I have watched her bring 2 new babies into the world.

For a while we worked on her literacy in English. She said she wanted to learn how to write so she could send notes with her children to school. But it turns out that her barely 3rd grade education in El Salvador left her lacking even in her own language.

She is one of the hardest working people I know. She bought a house in her name, not daring to use her husband’s name because he is still trying to gain legal status in this country. They have carved up the small house into lots of rooms and I couldn’t tell you how many people live there.

I help them when they need to contact a repair person or get a bulky trash pickup arranged or even pay a parking ticket. I go with Morena if she needs to have a conference at one of her children's schools. The whole system is still somewhat foreign to Morena, after being here for probably 15 years. She is reluctant to make phone calls that require English.

They have come to know that I love tamales and really all sorts of Latin American food. Morena invited me over to her house to learn how to make tamales, but I was not nearly as deft as she is at rolling them into those leaves. So they are always sharing with me. Last week I had two different varieties of tamales. Today it was a chicken sandwich that was like no chicken sandwich I had ever eaten. This one had beets and radishes and cucumbers and some green leafy herb that I couldn’t recognize. Yum!

Sandra, the 19-year-old daughter, now works in my office as well. She graduated from high school just as her baby was due. She seems to be content to have joined the cleaning brigade. Her baby was born just one month before her mom’s youngest daughter. I recently brought them a disposable camera with the idea that if they took the pictures, I would pay to have them developed. I handed over the pictures of the two adorable little girls (the aunt who is younger than her niece). And I was greeted with the chicken sandwich and the biggest smile you can imagine.

Sadly, this was the highlight of my day! I had a series of work-related problems to deal with. No yelling today, just problems. But things looked up when my trash can was emptied.

My dream is for those two little girls to escape the life of the cleaning brigade. They will grow up knowing how to make dynamite tamales, but I hope they will find something more fulfilling to do than empty our trash. They certainly have role models to demonstrate the importance of hard work!


Blogger Kristin said...

What a great relationship. I wish the best for those little girls, for the whole family.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They have YOU for a role model! I'd say you are all lucky.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gah. Why is every post I read today making me hungry? And for Chinese food when you're talking about Salvadoran food! Gaaaaah. Stupid New Year's Diet resolution.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has to be hard in a strange country to learn the language and the red tape. I'm glad they have you.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Isn't it gratifying to see such hard-working people appreciate what you do for them? You are so thoughtful. I wonder how those kids will get to the point of having bigger dreams?

8:14 AM  
Blogger steve said...

I have had the priviledge of working with some really great Latinos... what a great work ethic and loyalty to family and friends their culture has fostered.
I always think of Mariano, a dishwasher that I lobbied for and was named Employee of the Year- which came with a $2000 Cash Award.
I should do a post on why Mariano was so great. I loved him.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I'm sure you will be hearing more about Michelle and Nayele as they grow up. I hope to stay involved with this family.

Pauline -- I was thinking more of their moms as role models, but I guess you are right!

MSnay -- Most ethnic food is more interesting than the garden-variety American cuisine.

OL -- You can't imagine how hard it is for them to do some things we don't think twice about. There's a huge fear that they will do something wrong and have to go back to where they came from.

MOI -- The work ethic of Latinos should be a model for all immigrants. They aren't out there with their hands out. Instead they are working hard for every penny they earn.

Steve -- I look forward to reading about Mariano. I have a soft spot in my heart for all Latinos!

12:51 PM  

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