Maybe it’s the pandemic that has me riled up. Maybe it’s that the state is opening things way too quickly. Maybe it’s the spike in cases. Maybe it’s because I’m on a time frame. The sooner we reopen [redacted], the moment my time with my son ceases. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Last month, I posted several poems about identity. Namely, Latinx/Chican@/Hispanic (whatever you want to label them) poets talking about how they’re not seen as enough. And I relate to these poems because I’ve been there, still standing there, for the better part of my life.
I guess I’m considered “white passing” because I’m three shades too pale to match the stereotype. When I speak, I don’t carry that accent. Because I’m so Americanized that even my white friend in high school was in shock when he learned my real name.
I don’t speak Spanish. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But that never meant I can’t speak Spanish. It’s a skill for survival when your grandparents only spoke one language. When your favorite food comes from Mexican restaurants. When the majority of the population around you speaks Spanish. When you have Spanish-speaking patrons who need assistance.
I may not have enough to carry a full conversation with someone, but enough to have polite conversations and point them in the correct direction.
But now, after nearly nine years working at [redacted], the ability to do my job correctly has been called into question. And once again, I’m standing here trying to prove myself to my peers. Because they didn’t understand me in the first place.
When my city put out a shelter-in-place order, a few of us were relocated to a call center. When asked if I was comfortable with answering questions in Spanish, my response was, “No.” To which I added, “Because I’m not even sure I’m comfortable with answering these questions in English. I don’t understand the order.”
There wasn’t a lot to the order, but certain things contradicted previous or later things. For instance, people were told not to go out for nonessential reasons, but can still have a party at a relative’s home so long as there is no more than 10 people and they practice social distancing. Several business were exempt, but still had to submit plans. When asked for clarification, we got contradicting answers from several different officials. They didn’t even give us a script to follow, which is something call centers are known for in order to prevent misleading and vague responses.
I’m not being singled out in anyway. Other staff with issues have to improve their skills. What gets me is that I’ve been on this job for nine years and not once have I been unable to assist a patron. And when I can’t assist them, it’s for reasons that I wouldn’t be able to assist them in English.
Yesterday, I sat in front of my supervisor and a witness and spoke to them in Spanish. My tone was angry and annoyed. And I could see the change in the demeanor of my usually perky supervisor. And I saw the expression of uncertainty in the witness. Neither of them knew I could speak Spanish. Not proficiently, but enough to assist people. Enough to do my job.
Truth is, I’m not annoyed with any of the two. They’re pawns. Doing what they’re told. I’ve worked at [redacted] longer than the two of them combined. And my speech wasn’t for them, but for the two that put them up to this. So I amended it when necessary and left things out.
Especially my final words: “Si creen que no puedo hacer mi trajabo, me voy. Esto es mi dos-semanas.”
Mind the missing accents (if any), I can speak it but writing it still befuddles me. And as my supervisor (whose first language is Spanish) stated, it confuses her too.