So in one of my first posts with Swirl Nation Blog I discussed how within my graduate program I felt very stifled in terms of how to use my Spanish. While I am still finding different ways to combat that in the short time I have left in the program, I received an olive branch elsewhere. When I started working as a fine dining hostess at here in Chicago, I was surprised to see a primarily male staff that was Hispanic. A majority Hispanic kitchen staff was familiar from my previous dining experience, but the lack of women was not. Outside of a few cooks and hostesses, we were unable to hire a waitress, which made for an interesting dynamic.
Now being with an eighty percent male staff has its perks and downsides depending on how you want to look at it, but it ended up being a very rewarding experience. Almost all of the back waiter staff spoke Spanish primarily as their first language so I was once again revisited with the old notion of getting an educational exchange. As a child I got to learn Spanish from my grandmother who in turn learned English from my sister and me so with my co-workers I encountered the same experience. I was extremely deprived of speaking Spanish on a regular basis here in Chicago so I relished going to work and getting to practice, learn, and get insight into the Latino culture in Chicago.
The guys talked to me about where to find authentic food in the city around the various neighborhoods and even brought in home cooked dishes we shared during break time. I got to eat carne asada, corn tortillas fresh off our kitchen grill, mole, and queso fresco that was sprinkled on everything we ate. During pre-shift time we played Selena, danced Bachata, I learned the musical genre of Corrido and felt invigorated by being able to be immersed in my culture once again. I developed and formed friendships with each of them that ranged from platonic friendships to a real familial kinship that I revered in the workplace. My one co-worker Miguel was never sufficed until he knew I ate a good meal before our shift and made sure I had a full plate of food in front of me. In various discussions we had, I learned about what their views were on women, family, and they in turn got to be rattled by my non-traditional opinion on marriage and children.
It was most interesting because unlike when I was sixteen and still trying to figure out what type of woman I wanted to be in a relationship, at twenty-five I could articulate my views in a confident manner. They didn’t always agree with me just as I didn’t agree with their patriarchal opinions on a women’s place in the home, but we educated and respected each other. I loved getting to practice my Spanish and they were more than happy to correct me or answer my questions when I had a brain lapse on pronunciation or verbiage. I remember picking up some slang words and telling them to my own mother who reminded me I was a lady and shouldn’t repeat everything the men told me. Being exposed to my culture here in Chicago through an intimate environment like work has helped me with my writing and overall appreciation for the language as a whole that I was in desperate need of.