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.