Thursday, September 4, 2008
If you have been to a restraunt with Amado, you have most likley seen his obligatory head-poke into the kitchen after the meal to thank the cocineros.
I am in the world of higher education on a couple fronts - as a student in a school of Education, as someone who works with underrepresented first generation college students as my job, as a researcher who is studying youth and student activists. Something you hear alot about is giving kids of color role models of successful people so that they can see themselves in these people and also aspire to great things, not feeling limited by what society tells them about who they are and what they can accomplish because of the color of their skin, their last names, their accents.
The subtext here, of course, is that these role models are doctors, lawyers, professors. People who are 'successful'. And I hear that. I can see why that is important to people. But there is something else I think we need to be just of mindful of, actually, more mindful of. And that is teaching our kids to thank those people who stay out of sight, who are literally and figuratively in the shadows, and who work hard to give us what we have.
Not just the cocineros, of course, but the people who picked the grapes for his fruit salad, the mamis who stooped over the chicharro plant so they could appear on his plate. When we drive through Downtown Oakland when its already dark outside, he sees the tall buildings completely illuminated inside. Without fail, he asks us, "porque las luzes estan prendidas? " We explain, long after people leave their jobs, they are home with their families and friends, relaxing, but the janitors have to stay and clean. They work hard and they don't get paid a lot. "Porque?" he asks, concerned. Some kinds of work are not valued as much as other kinds. Its not fair, its not the way things should be, we say. "Como la mama de Carlos," he says knowingly, rembering the little boy in the book "Si Se Puede" that he loves, about the Justice for Janitors Strike.
One of the things thats hard about raising a monolingual Spanish speaking kid who is VERY friendly is that he often is in situations where he really wants to communicate, and he is not understood. In the park, with a plane flying overhead, he says to another kid, "wow! mira el avion!" and only gets a blank look in reponse. Or sometimes the kid will look quizically at me, and say, "What did he say?"
But in the kitchen, with the cocineros, its all good. It doesn't matter if he just ate Pad See-Ew, Pupusas, or Pollo Asado. He is always understood in the kitchen. They are always Latino.
He admires the cocineros, he appreciates them. He knows what they do and he knows how important it is. He knows its hard work. He looks up to them. He is amazed by them, at what they are able to pull off. He appreciates them. And that's how it should be.