Oh, Mary

Ponte las pilas! (professionally)

January 6, 2020
Maria Robinson

Spring on the UW campus, as true Seattleites know, is unique in its loveliness. On this particular day, I was sitting in my professor’s office, looking down at the blushing cherry blossoms in full bloom. The beautiful old building was made of just enough wood and stone to impress the weight of the institution’s illustrious history upon anyone who walked the halls, and that day, I felt it. I was preparing to teach my first full language class and meticulously planning every detail. 

Taking a breather, I sat back and looked around. The office was cozy and very neat, but my inner anal retentive couldn’t help but notice the thin layer of dust that had gathered on his desk and bookshelves. I was just about to get up and grab a handful of paper towels when I stopped myself cold. Why was I doing this?? My job was to teach college students to read and write Urdu, not clean his office. Yet there was an inner voice telling me that wiping away the almost imperceptible patina of dust was exactly how I should show my appreciation.

Wide hips and other generational gifts

Thinking about this on the walk home drew me into a whirlwind of memories—my mother cleaning my room for me when I wasn’t there, and how she used to tell me proudly that she used to wash the tiled floor of her childhood home when she was barely as tall as the mop, making it shine in the sunlight. Then it hit me. Acts of service, cooking and cleaning until your back hurts, are a love language for Latinas all over. When my mother didn’t have the money to buy us gifts, she could always make things neat and cook us a hot meal. The affection was wordless, but spoke volumes. 

The problem, though, is that cooking and cleaning done by certain bodies is devalued labor. Both at home and at work, it gets taken for granted and called menial. And although I meant well and wanted to do something nice for my professor, it was out of place in the context of my actual job. If he wasn’t the open-minded person he was, it could even have changed his mind about my potential as an educator. 

[Leans in in Spanish]

This past April, Equal Pay Day was announced on the 2nd to mark the amount of time beyond the preceding year the average American woman would have to work to make the same pay as their white male counterparts. That sucks. It sucks even more, however, that Equal Pay Day for Latinas fell on November 20th. For those of us who can’t do math in our heads, that means that Latinas have to work almost 23 months to make the same amount of cash that white men make in 12. Yikes. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that if Latinas everywhere just stopped going the extra mile to make things clean and tidy at work that everything would suddenly be equal, kumbaya! Obviously not, especially for those who actually work hard every day doing these things as part of their job description. The problem is institutional and so must be the solution. 

But it bears some thought, that maybe, just maybe, the love language our mothers taught us isn’t applicable everywhere. In life, and in business, sometimes it’s better to just let it go and stick to the grind. After all, my mother taught me not to echar margaritas a los cerdos.