Friday, June 17, 2005

Hispanics in Houston

Thursday I was walking up to my office building and I heard Spanish music in the air. I looked up to the roof and it was definitely coming from up there. I smiled at the thought of how those men were playing their music freely while working and going about their business, apparently not bothering anyone else, because more than likely they were all Hispanic and they all enjoyed the same music.

I thought of how different a city Houston is than when my parents moved here in 1952 now that Hispanics are 1 in every 7 Americans. They make up a large part of the work force, especially when it comes to roofers.

Later during lunch I took my lap top to the break room to write a little after eating lunch. A group of three Hispanic women came in speaking Spanish and laughing and talking. They warmed up their yellow Spanish rice, some kind of meat I couldn’t see, and corn tortillas in the microwave. They sat together and chatted as they ate quickly. Another woman was already in the room when I entered and she sat quietly and watched me.

I looked at all of them curiously because I didn’t know where they came from. I’m new in this building and besides my office, the promotional printing department, art department, and press room, I don’t know what other areas are there. They looked like some women I’ve seen working in print shops, when I sold direct mail and printing, who sorted the jobs as they came off the press. I wondered if they worked in the press room area. I'll ask my friend who is a pressman when I see him later this week.

What was also interesting was that they apparently didn’t speak very much English. When a co-worker came in to speak to them it was obvious as he tried to make them understand him by making hand gestures. They smiled and nodded like they understood him but they didn’t say much more.

I also noticed how they looked at me curiously but not too obviously. I’ve noticed that Hispanic working class women look at me like this sometimes. Why, I’m not sure, but I can only guess that they are curious about a Hispanic woman who looks like a professional. They don’t realize that my mother was a cleaning woman, among a few of her jobs in her lifetime, and my father was a city truck driver.

I sneezed a couple of times and one of them said, “bless you” instead of “salud.” They apparently thought I didn’t speak Spanish. Little do they know that I speak it fluently. Since I wanted to finish my task at hand I didn’t say anything to them in Spanish because I was afraid I’d get into a long conversation.

Then I saw a man I’ve worked with before walk in. He’s White and although I know nothing about him and his personal life, he looks the part of someone who isn’t very tolerant of diversity. When he walked into the break room I saw him glance at the group of women with what looked like a look of disdain on his face. I wondered if it was just my imagination but then I also noticed that he never even noticed me sitting there a couple of tables away from them. He knows me and has spoken with me on various ocassions regarding work. I wondered if I just blended in to him. All he saw were Hispanic women and maybe he didn’t like it.

I thought what a funny contrast this was to my point of view. Here I was thinking that I stuck out in my business dress as compared to them in their jeans and work aprons but in his eyes I was just another Mexican woman. How hilarious!

When my parents arrived the only Hispanics were Mexican and now they are from different areas of Latin and South America. Houston is almost as diverse now as other parts of the United States but we will always be more Mexican because of our proximity to the border.

I’m so excited to be Hispanic at this time in history and I love living in Houston with its rich history and culture.

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