Ask a Mexican
Dear Mexican: Where is my America? I’m half-Hispanic and half-Italian. I was born on Coney Island to a drug-addicted father and was raised by my mom, who had to work. We were very poor. I’ve always had to struggle for basic possessions. Spanish was not spoken in my house, so my Spanish is muy malo. I’ve worked since I was 15, barking on the games in Coney Island.
I went to culinary school and became a chef. I’ve worked in the industry for 10 years. It is inundated with illegal Mexican workers. Most of these guys are OK, and they are willing to work longer hours, for less pay. Gone is the eight-hour work day. Nobody gets health coverage. It’s rare to get a paid vacation. It’s rare not to work six days a week. I feel the influx of illegal workers has lowered labor standards for all workers in the industry. I believe it also creates a population of second-class people ripe for abuses. Plus, these guys got skill: They are fast and focused. They never complain and think that complaining a problem in itself. I feel like I can be easily replaced with an illegal worker with whom I can’t compete.
I don’t mind helping out people who need work. But where can I go? Most restaurants are small businesses, and hiring illegal workers is part of the business plan. Where can I go to have my American Dream? I’ve also been called gringo, whitey and pelón by illegals who, it seems, have never heard of civil rights.
Coney Island Angry
Dear Gabacho: I was mostly with you in your letter—yes, American worker rights have suffered during the Great Recession; no, it ain’t the fault of Mexicans. Robber barons are the culprit choking labor now, just like when the Molly Maguires were raising hell in Pennsylvania coal mines.
Then you started whining that the Mexican cocineros you worked alongside with in kitchens called you names. So you’re upset that they called you two types of gabacho, and a baldy, to boot? That just means they thought you were enough of a friend that they felt they could bust your balls. But obviously, they didn’t trust you too much—otherwise, they’d give you worse names. And I’m not talking about the parade of pendejo, puto and güey that any male in an all-Mexican environment must endure. You haven’t earned a Mexican squad’s trust until you have an insulting nickname—the more inappropriate, the better.
In my time, I’ve known of Mexicans in workplaces whose nicknames were El Taliban (for the man’s beard), El Perico (The Parrot, for the guy’s taste in cocaine), El Maricón (The Faggot, because the hombre was gay—he laughed it off, especially when learning more than a few of his macho co-workers were on the down-low), El Panzón (The Fatass) and—my all-time favorite—La Panocha (The Pussy), because homeboy was a player.
But I’m a nice guy, so I’ll give you a new nickname: El Chavala. You can look it up!