Lateen Workers

The following entry serves as a second part to the previous entry, “A Lateen in a Latin Country.”

I think anyone with a good set of eyes can tell blue apart from red, yellow from green and white from brown. In my short week at Costa Rica it was obvious to many of the locals that I was different from the majority of the other Americans I was traveling with. Not just because of my personality, but because of the color of my skin. Although the group I was with did an awesome job, the locals of Parismina asked so many questions about what they do at home because, as they insisted, it seemed like they had never worked a day in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great group of people and all of the tasks we took charge of, we finished together. I really don’t think there is a group with more heart. But as I interacted with some of my new friends from places like Canada and Colorado, I was shocked by a turn in the conversation.

“Adan, you are a very motivated and ambitious guy,” one said. I smiled and said “I just want a better life for myself and my parents.” She smiled and responded “I wish that I had a reason to push myself more, or at least to be hungry for something better.” This struck me, and very curious, I had to ask, “Why?”

“Everything has been handed to me all my life. I really do not know the meaning of hard work besides school work.” We both laughed, but I can’t manage to forget her words. I know I cannot speak in generalities, but I came to the conclusion that many other non-ethnic groups really don’t know the meaning of working hard to survive in this greedy world, or at least in the United States of America.

As many of you know, I am 17 years old and like the majority of Lateens in the U.S, I work. By work I don’t mean going school. I work a job during the week and another part time job on the weekend. Many people tell me that I choose to work. They are right, but I also work because I know that my parents can only give me so much, and if I want something extra, work is my only option. The majority of the Lateens live a life that is unique. Many of us fall into in the lower middle class, if not at the poverty level. I know this, I see it with my own eyes everyday, and I live it myself. Many of our parents who are from a Latin American country came to the U.S to achieve the almighty American Dream, but it’s been an elusive dream for many of them. Still, besides having a roof over our heads and food on the table the only thing our parents want is for us to get a good education. However, the reality of putting food on the table, paying bills, and the apathy that comes with being a teenager often lead to the more immediate plan for the future – work, not school.

To be honest it’s hard – wanting something and not being able to just ask mom or dad if they can buy it. It’s frustrating to have to cut the neighborhood’s lawns to get enough for a haircut. I am sure many people, Latino or not can relate, but it is something tied to our identity from an early age. It helps us become hard working, self-determined, always-looking-at-the-positive kind of people. These physically hard and mentally taxing experiences prepared me for the volunteer work in Costa Rica. For example when we painted the school it was hot, and everyone was tired. But the other teenagers who were there would get tired much faster than I did and they would just sit down and be satisfied with the little that they had done. It may seem arrogant to say, but I didn’t stop. Even though I was thousands of miles away from Dallas I could hear my dad, “Vamos Adan, no pares, echale ganas.” I’m glad that I kept going because while they were drinking a Coca-Cola I was proving to myself that if I really want to make a difference, I need to be more than just a cheesy smile in the picture at the finished project. I need to leave my sweat behind on the walls in the background. Many of us teenagers grow up and learn to take advantage of every situation and hope that the hard work will soon pay off. Then again, we really do not have an option. Hope is our last resource.

It’s funny to me when I do something or earn a scholarship to Costa Rica like I did and others compliment me. I’ve learned from all the hard work that to me these compliments are really expectations. It’s something that I see people thinking of me and I will never ever be less. So I wonder how I’m going to raise my children. How will this generation treat the Lateens that follow us?  Will we gladly grant our children anything they desire, whenever they desire it?

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