It was culture shock when my mom moved away from hot, sunny, diverse Juarez, Mexico/El Paso, Texas and arrived in cloudy, cool, tree-covered, monolithlically white rural Ohio. This was the early 1970s and she was likely the only Mexican in the surrounding 25 miles.
She struggled with her accent & people not understanding her–they told her in blunt and unkind terms.
My dad told her she didn’t need to work, but when my brother was a toddler, my mom was alarmed at how angry my dad would get if my brother left the lights on in the bathroom. He would rage. She decided that if money was so tight they couldn’t afford to leave the lights on by accident, then she needed to work. She had always worked. She is one of the hardest workers I know.
But her job search was fruitless. Someone she knew would mention that a factory was giving out applications, but when she arrived, they would tell her they were not giving out applications.
She would cry over her situation–she wanted to work so badly. She wanted to be able to support her family should something happen to my dad. People around her were applying everywhere, but she couldn’t even get an application.
She figured it had to do with her skin color or her accent…that was why she was being turned away. She recently shared a story with me that confirmed that idea.
My dad was on an unemployment. Both of my parents were factory workers in their early lives (my mom continued as one until her factory closed, but my dad moved on to being a cement truck driver). I don’t remember why dad was on unemployment at this particular time, but occasionally there would be layoffs at the factory, but workers knew they would eventually be called back. In the meantime they’d receive unemployment.
However, one stipulation of unemployment was that you had to actively look for work. My mom says an unemployment office worker called our house and she heard my dad say he wasn’t interested.
“Who was that,” mom asked.
“The unemployment office,” dad replied.
“What’d they want?”
“Oh, Lawsons is hiring and they wanted to know if I wanted an application.”
“Why didn’t you take it?”
“I’m not interested in working there.”
“I would work there. Do you think they’d give me an application?”
My dad said he didn’t see why not, so they got into the car and he drove mom to the unemployment office.
He waited in the car as she went inside. Soon she walked back out and got in the car, empty-handed.
“What happened?” he asked her.
“They said they weren’t hiring,” she responded.
“Come with me,” he said and they walked in together.
He went to the front desk and said to the woman, “I received a call awhile ago offering me an application for Lawsons. I don’t want it, but my wife would like to have it.” Mom stood next to him, quietly. She told me you could tell the woman at the counter was flummoxed and looked back and forth between dad and mom. She finally said she needed to speak with her boss, so she went to a back office. Mom said they could see the two unemployment office workers talking and looking over at mom and dad. Eventually the woman returned and gave the application to mom.
Mom applied and GOT the damn job at Lawsons and worked there for a bit before getting a better paying job at a different factory, where she stayed for 30 years.
I love and hate that story. I hate that my mom had to deal with such stupidity and ignorance, but I love this show of solidarity between her and my dad in the early days of their marriage. My dad could be an intimidating guy, so I love imagining how pissed he was when he saw for himself the prejudice mom had to deal with, and decided to address it himself.
This story came to mind when I read in the NY Times today about Trump’s rental practices in the 1960s, and not allowing blacks to rent from his buildings. It is such a passive, bullshit way of mistreating people and making them feel inferior. It is infuriating.