Read the first post in this series here.
By Eddy Davila
The pay at my new job was paltry, so I worked as efficiently and thoroughly as I could. I excelled in my duties but promotions and raises always escaped me. It took a long time for me to realize that I could ask for a raise and that this was an acceptable thing to do. In my mind, I was the problem. Perhaps I wasn’t working hard enough, fast enough, well enough. When I finally dared to ask for a raise, it was indirect and with little self-confidence: “Are you giving raises this year? It’d be helpful for me.” I didn’t receive one. The truth was I needed a raise, but I didn’t know how to feel like I deserved one.
I blamed my performance because I carried an inferiority complex—quite common among Latino immigrants. This is part of the Latino cultural psyche. From their very beginnings, the Latino people have been a dominated people, denigrated and subjugated by the ruling cultures of the day. Latinos are a people born of sexual violence and racism, and who were rejected by their Spanish fathers. They have always served other powers, and even after reaching national independence, Latino countries are still subject to the aftereffects of the political decisions of their northern neighbor. This socio-political trauma persists to this day, and even weaves its way into the racial dynamics of everyday work.
After I finished my graduate program, I decided to venture off for a higher paying job to pay off my student loans. But when I tried to leave, the restaurant offered me a raise with a promotion so that I would stay. I stayed. Three attempts to quit, and three raises later, I learned that while hard work took me far, it was privilege that gave me the opportunity to attain more. Simply believing that there were better opportunities out there for me was a privilege. It empowered me to risk my job in order to attain a higher wage. It made me a more desirable employee and gave me confidence and a sense of merit.
The privilege of believing that there was more out there for me is one of the things that separated me from my kitchen colleagues. Unlike me, these first-generation immigrants accept whatever is offered because they can’t expect more. They are undocumented, speak poor English, and can’t drive. They try not to change jobs too often to avoid being noticed to minimize the risk of deportation. They work hard in the US to support their families and send money orders to extended family in their home countries. Still, they can’t afford to not work for a day. They choose to live shadowed lives because their lives, and the lives of their family here and abroad, depend on it. Still, they are so grateful they can work here since even minimum wage in the States is an extravagance in their home countries. They, like my family growing up, work to sustain and provide for their families.
As a student of theology, I understand that work is a beautiful gift that God granted us at the time of our creation. Work is intrinsic to being human. It can serve as a sacred space for redemption and self-discovery. As a Latino, I pay close attention to the fact that in the same breath that God called humanity to rule the earth, he also said to multiply and take the plants for food. Work, family, and sustenance are inseparably bound together in the creation blessing.
While it is tempting to desire more from our jobs—more pay, more personal fulfillment, more status—I wonder whether in the end the richer and more satisfying perspective toward work is one that returns you to the most basic reason that anyone works in the first place. Perhaps work is beautiful because it can provide sustenance for the family. Perhaps it is wonderful because through it we sustain the gift of life we all share.
Yet some of us, like me, no longer work for mere survival. We have the privilege of moving from job to job without endangering the lives and health of others. There is a risk and temptation, for all of us, to use our privilege for our own well-being and the steady pursuit of upward mobility. I too feel this. Yet the faith we profess demands that we refuse to forget who we once were and who we are all called to serve. To use our privilege for our own sake is to forget the God who gave up his claims to privilege that the unloved should share in his glory.
So perhaps work is also beautiful because it can remind us we are all of the same fragile human family. Perhaps work is also wonderful because through it we can help provide sustenance for our brothers and sisters. Perhaps, for me, herein lies another privilege: the Latino name I bear, which seemed like a hindrance before, now helps me pour out my privilege and resources to love a people God so dearly loves.