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09.30.2020

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Narrative of Families Working for Less than Minimum is Nothing New

By Jesse Becerra, Academic & Career Volunteer Coordinator

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National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 – October 15 and recognizes the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture and achievements of the United States.

When asked if I was still interested in writing a blog post for National Hispanic Heritage Month, I was about to chicken out and not write this blog. Yet, the night before I was in attendance at an online “Pachanga” (a social function or dance) thrown by my Latinx community group. I struck up a conversation with a community member about the wildfires that have been leaving the trail of an obscure skyline choking with smoke through Washington and the West Coast. He informed me of the happenings of the greater Washington Latinx community in which some of his family was working in the orchards and fields in Eastern Washington.

During this wildfire, the workers had to evacuate into a neighboring town and sleep in a public park with what very little possessions they had. He explained to me that as the flames were fought back to manageable levels, these same workers were then called to work in the aftermath of hazardous air quality without the proper equipment while in the middle of the pandemic. It was in this moment I felt a melting menagerie of rage—of sorrow—and a peculiar sinking sensation of emotion.

Steering the end of the conversation into a somewhat jovial conclusion, I began to reflect upon this thought I felt that night. Dissecting this complex but familiar sentiment, I felt as though the flagrant disregard of these workers of course was stomach-churning. Ultimately, it felt “repetitious” to me. I feel as though I am not alone in this. I feel more often than not that this narrative of first-generation and/or migrant families working for less than minimum is nothing new:

To work in questionable environments and have their rights deplorably placed under the threshold of the American norm.

To work long hours and earn the company a surplus of money and in return accrue little to no benefit.

To pay taxes and play by the rules, just for the families (mixed status families included) to be overlooked during the economic repercussions of a nationwide shutdown.

Whether public safety held as a standard, opportunity to become economically empowered or the pursuit of the happiness, many of these families sacrifice their health, wellbeing and whatever certainty they have to provide a chance for their children to taste the mirage of the “American Dream.” This sacrifice also manifests with the youth delaying gratification of education in order to work and help their family or support themselves.

During a conversation with a Treehouse coworker, she explained her fear for her students. She described her disheartening experience of meeting a student that checks all the boxes to be successful but instead is subjected to harmful systems and slim options.

Having worked for an Employment Consortium, I have witnessed these slim options of abysmal support for undocumented students. They have to work twice as hard as their peers to be on par while receiving limited school support and absolutely minuscule career resource/options. They do not have the social safety net that we take for granted.

I imagine my father is not the only one to have spent their physical well-being working 12 hour days, forgoing breaks, in order to provide. When I feel overworked and haggard, I think about how my problems dwarf the weight on his shoulders. My struggle is not comparable to those that work to process meat in cold and tightly-packed processing plants during a global health crisis. Those that pick berries and vegetables in the fields during an all-consuming smoke. Those that work with patients to heal their ailments while taking on the risk of possibly being infected. Those that sit for hours on end making dimes to the dollar of what others make behind machines to produce that of something worn once and thrown into a closet forgotten.

Hispanic/Latinx people (especially Hispanic/Latinx women) are over-represented in frontline work that makes our standard of living possible. The clothes on one’s back, the food on one’s fork, the roof over one’s head—even one’s health through medical and sanitary methods.

Almost any privilege I experience I owe to these hard-working mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. I am thankful to have the opportunity to write this post to highlight their work. I know these narratives are not representative of all Hispanics/Latinx, yet I wanted to shed any light on those that are treated like “trabajadores descartables” (disposable workers).

I want to end this with a call to action. If you are thankful for these frontline working heroes, I challenge you to read more about their tribulations and history:

Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture

Northwest Immigrants Rights Project

Understanding the Latinx Experience: Developmental and Contextual Influences

The Essential Workers America Treats as Disposable

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About the Author

Born and raised in Tacoma, Jesse Becerra identifies as a multiracial man of color and first-generation college graduate. In his role as Treehouse’s Academic & Career Volunteer Coordinator, Jesse puts his passion for youth education, training and employment into action. His tenacity pushes him to create programs that focus on the needs of our youth. His ardent love of community and building new connections is at the heart of his work.


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