Like many college students, while I was going to school, I also worked a few part-time jobs. I will admit that my experiences at those jobs weren’t completely horrific, but I did find out that the world of professional office supplies was not for me. It’s not so much that I learned what I wanted to do, but what I didn’t want to do.
When I started working at a deli, located in the basement of a larger department store, I barely knew how to make coffee. Strike that, I didn’t know how to make a pot of coffee. At my house we’d always brewed individual cups with a kettle and Nescafe. I didn’t have any experience pouring sodas in mass quantity, chopping vegetables in a manner that didn’t take twenty minutes per vegetable, or washing dishes by using an industrial machine. Total newb.
My first day of work at this job was on the worst possible day of the retail year: Black Friday. Thrust into a chaos I could not have apprehended nor prepared myself for, the food service industry ate me up and spit me out. I couldn’t believe or accept the fact that I had to do the same thing the next day and the next day after that.
Three years later, I was still there.
Sometimes you make things work out, out of necessity or sheer ganas. The people around me—strangers in the beginning—became a second family. Not only was I close to the people in my department, but I got to know the entire store. From juniors, to misses, to men’s formal, to children’s, to housewares… anyone who ate at the deli, I became to know.
One lady has always stood out. She worked in the basement as well, so she had more access to the deli than other people around the store. It was great to sit at the counter with her, swapping stories in Spanglish. She would always come up to the deli counter and ask me, “How are you nene? Como va?”
A reoccuring subject of her stories was her teenaged daughter, who had been going through a few difficult years. A few years older than her daughter, I listened and offered the best advice I could. What she recalled to me about her daughter seemed to me very typical of a young person these days. Space, everyone needs space at this time. Whenever I saw this coworker, I would ask her about her daughter. She seemed like such a caring mother. Genuinely concerned and reaching out, as she had done with me at work. I could tell her anything without being judged. When I studied for exams or wrote essays at work, she’d come over, give me a hug, and as always ask me, “How are you nene?”
When the day came for me to quit, I had a very specific set of people I knew it would be difficult not to see on a consistent basis. She was one of them.
Eventually, life led me here, working with Amigas Latinas. There are some ways in which a nonprofit and food service/retail are similar. But the work I do at Amigas isn’t for me to put a sleeve full of money into a mysterious slot at the end of the night. It isn’t all measured by sales, profit, or upselling. When I stay up until two in the morning working on flyers for this, planning events for that, etc. I feel like there’s a bigger purpose. My coworkers are comadres and jefas that genuinely care about the experience of learning and the value of doing. It’s nice. More than nice.
So here I come to the entire point of my article. Sometimes I still find myself back at the old store. I say hi to everyone and catch up here or there. But this past weekend was totally different. I was there to buy part of my gala outfit. After an hour of searching through the 70% and 50% off racks, I stood in the middle of the jewelry department, waiting for a friend.
Out of nowhere, I spotted her. I called out to her because my apperance is different from when I last saw her. She gave me a warm hug and without missing a beat, asked, “How are you nene?”
We got to talking, admist busy shoppers, and she confided in me that she’d been having a tough time with her daughter. Her daughter had come out to her as a lesbian recently, and she was struggling with it. Not in terms that she had a problem with same-sex relationships (I’d always been out to her about my relationships and she had been supportive). What she was struggling with was a very real reality for many parents of LGBTQ individuals: “I don’t want my daughter to have a hard life.”
These are the moments that fuel us here at Amigas Latinas. These are the stories, the experiences, the times that remind us there is a need in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Not only do LGBTQ Latinas need support and advocacy, but so do their allies and support networks. My coworker had always been open minded and nonjudgemental, but she understood that not everyone was like her.
“I don’t want people looking at her like she’s different. I don’t want her to miss out on anything.” These were her legitimate concerns. I hugged her then and there, because not everyone has a mom or parent or guardian that cares like that.
From there on I was able to tell her about the variety of mujeres I work with, and how they are all strong, successful, and happy LGBTQ Latinas. I was able to tell her that she’s not the only mother in this situation, that her daughter has so many positive role models right here in Chicago. I told her to please, come to the gala because you will see us at our best: when we are celebrating who we are—fierce and proud.
I will continue to work with her and her daughter to make sure they both have the support, resources, and networks that they want and need. Not only does Amigas have a great network of members, but we also have wonderful partnerships with other organizations.
In the little over three months that I’ve been here at Amigas, I’ve learned a lot. More than can fit in one blog post. And yet this moment really tied it all together. A lot that I’ve learned I was able to apply with someone who really needed it. She was in tears by the time we parted ways. Grateful for somewhere to go, people to talk to who could relate to her experiences, she left hopeful. So did I.
Life takes you on some pretty strange routes and detours. But this moment made me stand in awe of how all those routes and detours came together.
It’s amazing to know that you are supported and cared for, and likewise to provide that support and caring. This story is what I love to hear. I can help! Amigas can help!
Alright Amigas, Amigos, Amig@s. Til later!