They Crossed So We Could Flourish

September 7, 2021

I’m a Hispanic male, but I often find myself forgetting that. I was reading Alicia Washington’s article from last year, and I thought to myself, “Yep, uh-huh, oh me, too!”—particularly the parts where she shared how she felt like she didn’t belong at a certain point in her professional career.

There have been many events where I look around and think, “Dang, I’m the only Hispanic here.” It’s something I just pick up on the moment I enter a room, and at some events, it feels like I’m the only minority altogether.

That said, I still live a pretty normal American life. I was born here. I speak perfect English (although I do sometimes trip myself up on words that sound similar in Spanish). My favorite show is “The Office.” And my day-to-day life is probably no different than yours.

But I still am (and look) Hispanic, and I’ve had a fair share of comments made to me. Some of those include:

“They need to hurry up and build that wall!”

“The workers here don’t speak any English, WTF!”

I don’t really take offense to it—ignorance is ignorance—but I often think about my mom and what she endured to ensure I lived an American life. So, I’ll share my mother’s story instead; and don’t worry, I’ll address those two comments above.

My mother is from El Salvador and grew up dirt poor. Poor as in when I visited El Salvador as a child and into my teens, the bath was a bucket of (cold) water, and the toilet was good ole Mother Earth. She would tell me stories about how when they got new (or new to them) clothes for the beginning of the school year, they made sure it was a white or light shirt.

Her brothers would rotate their shirts and her sisters would rotate theirs—not so crazy, right? Well, once that shirt got a bit too dirty, they would dye it darker and darker to get as many uses from that shirt as possible.

She also constantly shares that the only food they had growing up was beans, rice, Salvadorian cheese, and tortillas. A McDonalds Big Mac is considered fancy by her standards.

Now that I’ve shared a little about my mother and her childhood experiences, it’s time to address those comments I’ve heard time and time again.

“They need to hurry up and build that wall!”

My mother did come to the U.S. illegally 35+ years ago and crossed that border. She did so to escape the El Salvador Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992. One of her ten siblings crossed first, got a job in the U.S., and worked their butts off to send money back to the others. The rest of her siblings then came in waves as the previous wave made money to send back for the next wave. So, yeah, she crossed that border and has since become a U.S. citizen and never stopped working her butt off.

“The workers here don’t speak any English, WTF!”

My mother also, for as long as I can remember, worked two jobs to support me and my brother. I specifically recall she would come home around 4-5 p.m. to cook for us, and then she was gone again for the night shift. She never had the time to learn English. And she tried and failed many, many times. I recall the Inglés Sin Barreras (English Without Barriers) VHS tapes she would try to pick up on, but work and bills always got in the way.

So, yes, if you run into my mom and speak English, she will understand some, but she can’t speak it very well. That’s the case for many Hispanics. I often think to myself, “Well, if I knew I was moving to France and had to live there the rest of my life, I would learn French.” While that’s true for me and most of my friends and cousins, we only have that privilege because of our parents’ sacrifices. They crossed so we could flourish in this country.

Some people you run into may have similar stories. They may have never worked in an English-speaking setting or had to jump into a labor gig immediately because those are the jobs most people don’t want—or the only ones they can find since they’re entirely new to the country. I ask that you give some grace. Because the grace you give may be to someone’s mother, like mine, or someone’s father, sister, or brother. Or it simply may be someone who might turn into a new friend one day.

In closing, I’ll lighten the mood and leave you with a challenge—and it involves food. Pupusas are THE Salvadorian dish. You probably wouldn’t believe me, but I had pupusas two nights in a row while writing this.

I challenge you to find a local pupusa spot, try a few (my limit is around six) with the red tomato sauce and curtido (pronounced kr·tee·dow)—no need to look that up, just ask for it when you get there. And please make sure it’s a small business and owned by Hispanics, because it really does make a difference.

 

Article written by SMPS HQ Senior Manager, Component Relations and Systems, Julio Santos. He can be reached at julio@smps.org.