From my blog Soy/Somos, a series that celebrates the many identities of Latinos in the USA. You can read the introductory post here: Soy/Somos: We Are Many.
Three men in khaki pants and light blue shirts have arrived to deliver two wooden beds for what I am calling "our grandchildren's room." The beds are country-style with baked on white paint. Headboard, rails, and footboard have to be attached. The men are young--in their mid-twenties and thirties.
The one who is almost as short as me comes up the steps to look at the bedroom, now almost empty. He moves my single twin mattress on its edge against the wall and agrees to bring down an old boxspring that I no longer need. Before I can blink the other two men are climbing the stairs fast, carrying some piece of the three-part puzzle for each bed. The small, square room fills up with the three men and the bed parts which they clamp together quickly. The wooden boards for the sides of each bed are screwed in six places with the power drill. Brrrrrrrrrrrr. The 1x3 slats European style will suspend the mattress for each bed. The men look alike. I am hoping I have not generalized too much or stereotyped. All three have that Latino mix so typical in the American Northeast, their skin golden with a little bit of brown. They are similar in height. They tease one another. This is my chance to investigate. "¿De donde son?," I ask one of the men. "Del Salvador," he responds. I can see they are pleased that I speak Spanish--but not surprised. This is something I've been finding among my people since the days long ago when my husband and I lived in Manhattan. People on the street will ask you in Spanish for directions, expecting you to understand.
So the men in the small square room are not surprised, and they shoot smiles in my direction. I tell them that I was born in Panama. Bingo, I've got it! "Son hermanos?" I ask. "No. Only two of us are brothers," the two answer in unison. More smiles. This small adventure is about to conclude for they move quickly and are done. One forgets to clamp one side of the headboard to the rails. They accuse one another good naturedly for not tending to the detail. "Los tres chiflados," I say laughing. (They do remind me of The Three Stooges.) Off they go, down the stairs. Outside, their khaki pants flap against the breeze. They climb into the company truck parked in my driveway. Though it's a well-known company, these men--I am certain--are getting minimum wage. $9? One of them must have a truck driver's license and may get paid a little more than the others.
Their job I suspect is simply a way to earn a partial living. Will they move beyond this type of basic work? Do they want another kind of future? I expect the men will have a beer with their friends when the workday's done, insult and joke with one other. They'll return to their neighborhoods, maybe to a wife, to cramped quarters sharing a room among several, a fringe group not much understood by the greater culture.
We are all pleased to have made contact. But the young men from El Salvador know that I have advantages over them that they can never attain. That we are separated by economic class more than by culture. And yet the common language and understandings have given us this bridge. And any bridge between people is worth crossing.
Follow Marlena on Facebook Marlena Maduro Baraf Author