The Longest Shifts
Like most immigrants in a foreign country, Ana Rodriguez, Cesar Mazat and Nestor Cabrera had to adapt to a new culture, learn a new language and create a new identity for themselves.
Their backgrounds and wants are unique to them, but Hispanics are frequently seen as a homogenous group. And their stories are more diverse than the versions you generally get from politicians, news anchors and oped authors. Although many of them are trained professionals, once in the United States immigrants often have to take manual labor jobs—and sometimes more than one at a time—to support their families.
Only 20 percent of the Hispanic labor force in the United States had a job in management, business, or arts and sciences, according to the 2013 Census. Instead, the reality for many immigrants is that they are invisible workers: We see the work they do—the offices cleaned each morning, the dishes pushed across the counter—but not the people who do it.
Ana Rodriguez works as a home health aide in Washington. She moved from El Salvador, where she worked as a nurse, 15 years ago after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, in which 500,000 had to flee their homes. Two days after arriving, she started cleaning hotel rooms.
Ana, 51, works as a home health aide in Washington. She moved from El Salvador, where she worked as a nurse, 15 years ago after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, in which 500,000 had to flee their homes. Two days after arriving, she started cleaning hotel rooms. She has since worked at a pizza place, various other restaurants and a coffee shop, and as a house cleaner. But, she says, “I like to work with old people. I feel something special for them because they rely on others to take care of them. I feel like I’m taking care of my grandmother or my mother.”
Cesar Mazat works at Pansaari, an Indian market and bar, as a musician and as a pedicab cyclist in Washington. He moved to the United States from Guatemala in 2006 after meeting an American woman and falling in love.
Cesar, 36, works at Pansaari, an Indian market and bar, as a musician—he plays guitar, charango, pan flute and quena and also sings—and as a pedicab cyclist in Washington. He moved to the United States from Guatemala in 2006 after meeting an American woman and falling in love. His work at Pansaari is enjoyable, he says, because it allows him to interact with different people and learn cooking skills. But Cesar’s true passion is music, which, he says, is “a magic that takes me away from reality. It is saturated with so many things—good things and bad things. So without music, I don’t know how I could live here.”
Ingrid P. Ramallo, who is the owner and manager of a housecleaning service business. She came to the United States from Bolivia, and has lived here for 23 years. Ingrid is dedicated to her family, especially her children for whom she gave up her studies to care for. She is very proud of their achievements. One is pursuing a doctorate at Stanford.
Nestor moved from El Salvador nine years ago and works as a cook in a Washington cafe. He is married and has a 3-year-old son and wakes up at 4:30 a.m., to work 11-hour and sometimes 16-hour shifts if the restaurant is crowded.
Nestor, 26, works as a cook in a Washington cafe. Nine years ago he moved from El Salvador to live with his father, whom he hadn’t seen in more than a decade, and for better economic opportunities. He maintains a close relationship with his mother back home and recently got to visit her for the first since he left. He is married and has a 3-year-old son, but he wakes up at 4:30 a.m., and then his long days unfold. Sometimes his 11hour shifts can turn into 16-hour shifts if the restaurant is crowded. He wants to be a mechanical engineer. “When you have a family it’s difficult to do what you want,” he says. “But after discovering my talent in the kitchen, I do not regret my decision.”