Dear Mexican: Where is my America? I’m half-Hispanic and half-Italian. I was born in Coney Island to a drug-addicted father and was raised by my mom, who had to work. We were very poor. I’ve always had to struggle for basic possessions. Spanish was not spoken in my house, so my Spanish is muy malo. I’ve worked since I was fifteen and barking for the games at Coney Island. I went to culinary school and became a chef, and have worked in the industry for ten years. It is inundated with illegal Mexican workers. Most of these guys are okay, but they are willing to work longer hours and for less pay. Gone is the eight-hour work day. Nobody gets health coverage. It’s rare to get a paid vacation. It’s rare not to work six days a week. I feel that the influx of illegal workers has lowered labor standards for all workers in the industry. I believe it also creates a population of second-class people ripe for abuse. Plus, these guys are skilled; they are fast and focused. And they never complain, which I think is a problem in itself. I feel like my job can easily be replaced by an illegal worker that I can’t compete with.
I don’t mind helping people who need work. But where can I go? Most restaurants are small businesses in which hiring illegal workers is part of the business plan. Where can I go to have my American Dream? I’ve also been called gringo, Whitey and pelón by illegals who, it seems, have never heard of civil rights.
Coney Island Angry
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Dear Gabacho: Yes, American-worker rights have suffered during the Great Recession; no, it ain’t the fault of Mexicans. Robber barons are the culprit choking labor now, just as the Molly Maguires raised hell in Pennsylvania coal mines. I was mostly with you in your letter, until you started whining that the Mexican cocineros you worked with called you names. You’re upset that they called you a gabacho and a baldy?
That just means they thought you were enough of a friend that they felt they could bust your balls. They didn’t trust you too much, though, or they’d have given you worse names. And I’m not talking about the parade of pendejo, puto and güey that any male in an all-Mexican environment must endure. You haven’t earned a Mexican squad’s trust until you have an insulting nickname — the more inappropriate, the better. I’ve known of Mexicans whose workplace nicknames were El Taliban (for his beard), El Perico (The Parrot, for the guy’s taste in cocaine), El Maricón (The Faggot, because the hombre was gay), El Panzón (The Fatass) and — my favorite — La Panocha (The Pussy), because homeboy was a player. But I’m a nice guy, so I’ll give you a new nickname: El Chavala. You can look it up!