Tag: trabajadores

Under the Bridge

One of the amazing things about living in a city like Los Angeles is its sheer scope. I lived here for five years in the 1990s, and yet there are whole neighborhoods that I’m only seeing now that I’ve moved back.

Recently, I was running errands and, as usual in this town, driving from one part of the city to the other. I drove beneath an underpass that’s part of a labyrinthine alcove of freeways and bridges. All the concrete and cars blotted out the very sun (ok, that’s a little hyperbole, but not too much).

I had never been to this part of LA before, and my attention was fixed on reading street signs and searching for landmarks. Still, I couldn’t miss the encampment as I drove past it – no one could have.

There most of been a hundred of them, there beneath the intersection of multiple bridges. They were trabajadores, the immigrant workers who gather in places like that to beg, cajole, and hustle jobs.

Some of them were gathered around a pickup, shouting or gesturing in what I presumed was an attempt to communicate to the driver (their day’s potential employer) that they were the strongest and hardest-working of the lot. Others were sitting on the gravel, talking among themselves or playing some card game that was hidden to me. Others lay spread out with cowboy hats over their eyes, trying to catch a nap. At least one small group was cooking something on a portable-stove type thing.

I saw all this while stopped at the light. And then traffic surged forward, and I continued on my task.

As I drove away, I realized that I had never witnessed that before. Despite seeing trabajadores hard at work myriad times, and writing about them at length, I had never viewed the genesis of the process: a swarming in their shanty town where they jostle one another for the chance to labor for a pittance.

For some reason, I abruptly remembered when I lived in New York City, and I saw my first drug deal take place on the street (for the record, I was neither buyer nor seller; just a passing bystander). I had seen plenty of college kids buy pot, but this was different. It was what people really did when they wanted heroin or crack or the mythologized “hard drugs.” The transaction was much sloppier and less dramatic than television makes it out to be. Still, it was an authentic moment – not a fictionalized reference point.

It was like that when I saw the trabajadores. This was an authentic part of our culture, officially underground yet instantly recognizable to just about everyone. But like the drug deal, few people had actually seen it in the real world. We adopt images from movies and news stories, and assume that this counts as experience. But no editor or voiceover or carefully studied camera angle got between me and the crowd in the immigrant camp.

It was real. But of course, for me, it’s fodder. For the trabajadores, it’s their lives.

I Already Write This Blog for Free

As I’ve mentioned before, the one-two punch of getting downsized and moving across the country has forced me to rethink my career options. I’ve made a living as a business writer for awhile now, so other word-centric professions are a natural fit.

That’s why I’ve ended up bidding on freelance projects to write company blogs, handle social media, and the like. So far, I’ve landed little work – not because people disrespect my qualifications, but because of a sticking point with potential employers:

I’d like to make more than minimum wage.

Yes, back in the pre-recession days, freelance writers could make a decent living, with the best or most experienced rivaling lawyers on a per-hour basis. Now, the market is flooded with people who can fling words together, along with those who think they can, driving down wages to laughable levels.

A company posted an ad that said, seriously, they would pay one dollar ($1) for a writing-heavy assignment. And they had bidders (I was not among them; good luck to my competition on landing that plum gig).

So now there are even more similarities between me and the trabajadores who hustle for work. They too get paid less than they’re worth and have to deal with people who want scam them.

Those are already more similarities than I would like. If I start hanging out in Home Deport parking lots, flagging down passerby in the hopes of snagging an editing assignment, I will know that I’ve taken the connection too far.

The Injustice of It All

At my day job, we recently had a brainstorming session. We had to come up with ideas for an industrial video to illustrate abstract psychological concepts, which is primarily what I write about for my company. It’s a niche living.

The videos are set in white-collar environments, and we try to make them as diverse as possible. This is why each vignette is so perfectly balanced in regards to gender, race, and ethnicity that viewers are forced to marvel at this workplace nirvana of cultural harmony.

Still, it has led to some borderline deceitful behavior. For example, our last Hispanic character was played by a very dark Jewish man. We simply couldn’t find a local Latino thespian.

In any case, we were discussing casting for the latest video when the Bitca informed us that we were running short on older, white male actors. It seems that we’ve used them all in previous videos.

I found this shocking. How can you run out of old white guys? Is there a shortage that I haven’t been informed of? Are they endangered within the general population?

We discussed having an open casting call, and this caused me to picture hordes of white men in business suits, hanging around parking lots, all of them just waiting for that truck to drive up and offer them acting gigs for the day. The men would jostle each other for the opportunity to be trabajadores, and they would climb into the back of the truck, where someone would hand them fake IDs and tell them the job was cash only, under the table. And then they would sweat under the hot lights of the set, avoiding the suspicious glares of the director and sound technicians and boom operators. Then they would do it all the next day.

Ultimately, it’s true: these guys are just taking the acting jobs that no one else will take.

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