Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Working Latinas

Latina Worker
by Doren Robbins
Then I notice through a triple-Americano-awakening moment,
in the mall food court, a young Latina cleaning around by the chrome rail
at Sbarro Pizza. Maybe a Guatemalan, possibly Salvadoran or

could've been Argentinean or Columbian, Chilean, Bolivian,
Panamanian—good chance a Peruvian, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Mayan,
Toltec, Sephardic, Huichol coffee plantation or U.S. Fruit Company

or tobacco company or auto industry slave labor robot or CIA-trained
death squad Guardia Nacional butchery massacre survivor.

Several tables down from mine--roughly stacking chairs on tops
of tables—cussing in Spanish, in the mall food court, she hates her job,
I hate her job.

This poem is on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac* today. Two working Latinas immediately tumbled through my mind.

As the whole world knows, Sonia Sotomayor faces her second day of Senate questioning about her fitness to serve on SCOTUS. Her appointment may not be a slam dunk, but near enough.

Not many people know of the other Latina worker whose face came to me. Eridania Rodriguez, a handsome 46-year-old, came to New York from the Dominican Republic more than two decades ago. She’d raised her three kids in Inwood, the neighborhood surrounding the Cloisters at the northern end of Manhattan. She vanished from her job last Tuesday, leaving her purse and cell phone behind.

Rodriguez cleaned offices in a Wall Street-area office building and thought her working conditions were dangerous. A man working in the building had exposed himself to her, and she was frightened enough that she planned to leave at the end of last week. She was missing for four days before her body was found jammed into an air conditioning duct in the building.

I was struck by Rodriguez’s good looks. She was an attractive, strong-looking woman, and her children have been reported as ambitious and hardworking.

She could be Sotomayor’s mother. One Puerto Rican, one Dominican, one story. Ambitious for her children, hard-working, minding her own business. A day’s work for a day’s pay, sensibly knowing that if you’re scared it’s for a reason, and dignified enough to know there are things you don’t put up with. Being responsible and working out her notice. But, being unlucky.

When Sotomayor’s appointment was announced, in the New York area it was no surprise. It’s amazing (since Hispanic surnames are everywhere) that we’re still saying it’s time. After all, these are people who have been here for generations now. Its time was years ago.

But that it’s noteworthy for two Latina workers to be in different headlines the same day? It should be noteworthy that it’s noteworthy. It’s time.

*"Latina Worker" by Doren Robbins, from My Piece of the Puzzle. © Eastern Washington University Press, 2008.

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