Monday, August 24, 2009

The Tortilla Factory

I was inspired to write this blog because right now, as I sit in my dorm room and listen to the sounds of the frat boys next door, I think of the long path leading up to college....

"Juan Pablo, porfavor guey, take over the tortilla machine for a while I'm getting tired." Ricardo said, removing his clear plastic gloves and tossing them on the counter. The old immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico and I had a deep mutual respect, because we both knew exactly what it was like to be disrespected. Ricardo's English was very strained, so whenever an angry customer came up to yell and complain about how they had asked for chicken tacos instead of beef, all he could muster was a stupid smile and blissful nodding.

And then there was me, fluent in English but with confidence so low that each time a customer or employee would come to chew me out, all I could do was put on a stupid smile and nod. We weren't the only Hispanics working at Rosa's, no, the boss was Hispanic and spoke Spanish so fast that many times I struggled to keep up with him. There was Armando, an immigrant from Chihuahua, and probably the only other person Ricardo and I could have fun talking to. Mostly though, both in front of and behind the counter, it was a hostile environment.

As opposed to the immigrants who seemed content to get a pay check at the end of the month, most of my fellow employees had a huge complex about doing what they did.

"I was too smart in high school man," one of them told me as I rolled burritos and sprinkled shredded cheese on top of the plate, "I wasn't challenged enough so I dropped out. Shit, I'm making good money here, I don't give a damn when people tell me they're graduating. I just say look, I've got more money than you."

"Yeah, school isn't my thing." Another one told me as I struggled to finish reading The Canterbury Tales while working the register, "see how hard you're working right now doing two things at once? I said to hell with all that, and life got way easier buddy I'm telling you. Take it or leave it."

Then one time when I was working the register and thinking aloud about quitting to do better in my AP courses and to better manage my three clubs of which I was president, the person next to me said:

"If you quit then you're just a quitter at everything you do. I got tons of scholarships for college and worked at the same time, it's just that my dad didn't sign for my scholarships. That's the only thing that kept me back, for real. But you just don't have any ambition or drive at all, do you? If you really wanted it, you would stay."

This really upset me, considering I thought I was a real go-getter for all that I had accomplished at high school. For some reason, I allowed her to maintain her story as true, and accepted her statement that overall, though she was making excuses, she was in fact smarter than me and a harder worker.

My worst night, though, came when I accidentally pissed of an employee named Renee...

"Ey Juan Pablo, you can take off now I gotchu, it looks like you busy." Ricardo said, eying my half filled out application to Duke University and a book off to the side titled Civilizations of the World.

"Muchisimos gracias Ricardo, muchisimos gracias!" I said, ecstatic that I would no longer have to write an essay about an intriguing intellectual endeavor and make guacamole at the same time.

Then, Renee walked in.

"You're not getting off early, hell I wish I could go home but my ass is staying here. Why do you gotta leave?" She asked, turning around from the drive-through window, her ponytail whipping to her back.

"Oh, I have school tomorrow and I have a lot to do." I said, as apologetically as I could.

"You don't need school."

"Well, I think I do... I'm going to college."


"Yeah... I'm not sure which one yet, but I'm leaning towards..."

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

I felt a shock go up my spine, I wasn't sure exactly who the hell I thought I was, but I had always been pretty sure that I was someone who was going to college.

"Let me tell you right now," she said, pointing her finger at me as she spoke, "you're talking big now, but you're ass is going to end up here, I'm positive, I've seen it before. And if you think you're just too good for this place, then I suggest construction, okay hun?"

With that, she returned to her post at the drive-through, "May I take your order?" she asked, her voice doing a 360 from angry to sweet.

I packed up applications and my book and set them down at the register, ready to work until midnight if need be.

"Ey, go home man." Ricardo said, nudging me. "Go home and you do what you gotta do."

And now, I'm fairly sure, that I'm someone who is going to do what I gotta do. Thanks Ricardo, I won't forget it.


Not So Glamorous Housewife said...

That is outstanding. Now quit your blogging and get back to studying!

Mr. Charleston said...

In an effort to elevate your spirits my friend, I have just bestowed on you the "Honest Scrap" award which you are to receive over at my place.

You must respond. At least that's one of the rules. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Yep, the stench of bitterness and jealousy are all over this. People like Renee, who are disgusted with the fact they got exactly nowhere, taking it out on someone they know has promise and is twice as smart as them and then some. Fuck those guys, dude. Except your friend who knows. Can she spell "inferiority complex" do you think? :)

mysterg said...

College isn't everything and there are plenty of people who never even finished high school who have gone on and achieved all manner of things.

But you don't want to end up like your co-workers who are excusing their own inadequacies. Go chase whatever dream you have, and keep believing.

glorv1 said...

Hola Juan Pablo! That post is about the real world, and it happens just like you wrote it. I'm proud of you for not giving up and standing up for what you know is true. You know why you did that? You have FAITH in yourself to do the right thing. You really should be proud of yourself and please continue the posts.When I leave here, I'm going to go roast all the chili we picked this weekend. I guess your talk of working Rosa's, a Mexican restuarant reminded me that I too am a Mexican person. Well Mexican and Portuguese, but I function as a Mexican woman. Chalk it up as another experience in your life, because there are many more to come. This is all part of what is making you get to where you are going. On to chili roasting time! Que te vaya bien.

YayaOrchid said...

I loved this post JP! It really shows the struggles you had to endure and it makes me respect you for rising above it all to 'just do it'. I think you can easily tell that we, your readers are all rooting for you. Just stay focused on your dreams, and you'll do fine!And I hope when you're an accomplished and well known writer that you remember us, and maybe bestow a signed copy of your first book. :)

Sally-Sal said...

You're going to do great. Just believe in you, and the rest is just following your heart. And your dreams.

Cyndi said...

Great Post Juan. I don't know what you are planning to do with your life but I hope it includes writing to the masses

Simon said...

mysterg said it best. College (or the qualifications it may give) is indeed not everything; if you’re clever and a true entrepreneur you will do well regardless. But needless to say the put-downs from your colleagues are more to compensate for their own state than to benefit you.

Juan Pablo said...

While it may not be "everything", education is extremely important to me. As far as writing is concerned, I can do much more here than elsewhere. There's a university magazine and a newspaper, and people who can nurture my skill. So while I agree it isn't everything, it is indeed something. :)

rebecca said...

No puedo creer que nuestra propia gente no estaría feliz de que usted quiere hacer mejor para usted. Esto nunca me ha sucedido a mí, pero me alegro que estos incidentes no impidió sus objetivos. Mantener el rumbo ....