Tag: white-collar work

Did I Jinx Myself?

In my most recent post, I wrote that the economic collapse has hit Latinos particularly hard. This pain is not confined to day laborers and construction workers (although they are hurting more than others), but also extends to those Hispanics who have ventured into the white-collar world… like your most humble blogger.

Yes, recently I was laid off from my day job. Thus, the Fanatic has joined the 8.1% of Americans, and 11% of Latino males, who have said adios to regular paychecks. My company, hereafter referred to as “the ex-job,” canned four other people the same day. For the conspiratorial among you, let me be quick to point out that my fellow downsizees are all white. They include a woman who devoted twenty years to the organization and another who is a single mom.

I was surprised to get the news, of course, but not shocked. The ex-job is struggling, and if the economy doesn’t stop hemorrhaging, I fear that the thirty or so people who still work there will be joining me in the nation’s cool new fad of updating resumes and emailing LinkedIn requests.

At the same time, I would be lying if I said that I don’t harbor some hostility toward the ex-job. I worked six years as a business writer for them, and it’s impossible to not feel like a sap when your boss says, “Your performance has been excellent, thanks for your great work and loyalty, and now… bye.”

One reason for my WTF reaction is that despite the very real fact that it is a business decision, there is also a personal judgment being made: You (the freshly unemployed) have been determined to be less valuable to the company than those who remain. You are more expendable.

Since my number came up in the great economic-misadventure lottery, I haven’t been depressed or even worried (my wife and I are in better financial shape than many people in a similar situation). But there are still bursts of anger, which I’ve always thought is the most productive of the negative emotions.

Nothing sets off this anger more than the banal clichés thrust at me by well-meaning friends. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that it’s always darkest before the dawn, that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, that there’s a reason for everything, and that God never gives us more than we can handle. By the way, I find this latter statement theologically dubious – people who commit suicide, for example, obviously got a lot more than they could handle. But speaking of the Almighty, I’ve also heard that when God closes a door, he opens a window. If you’ve just been blindsided with a layoff, however, you don’t feel like God has been messing around with doors and windows. You think that he just dynamited your house.

Still, I remain optimistic about the future – not just for me but for all of us. Common sense, the laws of economics, and basic karma all say that we’ll pull out of this financial freefall soon.

Perhaps the Obama plan will be the answer. At the very least, maybe the stimulus package will help me land a construction job. I hesitate to look into this, however, not because I’m too good or genteel for blue-collar labor, but because I was really looking forward to continuing Hispanic America’s infiltration into the white-collar world. Also, I’m much better with words than I am with a backhoe. Trust me on this.

So until I land that next office gig, I will be sharpening skills, hustling for freelance gigs, and networking like an overly caffeinated, extroverted state senator up for reelection. And of course, I will remain thoroughly and completely fanatical.

White-Collar Blues

For years, the diversity at my job consisted of an Asian woman and me in a sea of 40 white people. A few months ago, everyone got excited because it seemed that we had hired our first gay employee. But as it turned out, he was merely effeminate and not so exotic after all.

So we were all disappointed.

Still, we recently added a woman who is half-Mexican, so the Hispanic population has doubled. Or to look at it another way, because we are both half-Hispanic, between us we add one Latino to the staff. This is progress.

The lack of Hispanic representation in the so-called respectable professions (often defined as those that pay a decent wage to fuck around in a cubicle) is stunning. Aside the time I spent toiling in fast food as a teenager, I’ve usually been the only Hispanic at a given job. I’m used to it, and it’s never been an issue, at least not in the sense of overt hostility. Confusion, however, is much more common.

On occasion, I’ve worked with people for years who are surprised to find out that I’m a Latino. Perhaps we’re making small talk and I’ll mention that my grandmother speaks only Spanish or that my last name has its roots in El Salvador or that I know what “puta” means (hey, it comes up). Then I’ll get this strange look as if I’ve been hiding a secret life or pulling an especially egregious fast one on them.

“Are you Hispanic?” they’ll ask in perplexity. And when I confirm it, they’ll frown or shrug or cluck their tongues with the peevishness of the mildly deceived. They appear to want to follow up with “And when were you going to tell me this?”

It’s not that they’re closet racists. It’s that their worldview has been altered abruptly. What have they believed to that point? I can’t say for sure, but the thinking seems to be, “He’s sort of white, but not really. He’s clearly not black. If he’s not one of those, but still does white-collar work, he must be Asian. Probably Japanese.”

I had one co-worker who wanted to know if I had any female relatives I could fix him up with because, as he stated, “I’m into Asian girls.” He was heartbroken to find out I could not help with his cause, so I refrained from pointing out how painfully common his fetish is among white men.

In a future post, I’ll have more on people’s frequent insistence that I’m really Asian (it’s ranged from comical to combative). But for now, let me return to my original point, which is that very few Latinos read “Dilbert.”

In fact, the only other Hispanics I usually see in an office building are the guys mopping the floor, and they often give me quick, embarrassed smiles as if to say, “Sorry I don’t make you prouder” or “Aren’t you afraid they’ll catch you impersonating a white guy?” Otherwise, we avoid eye-contact, because the Latino janitor is probably thinking that I look down upon him, while I’m super-conscious of the fact that I don’t want to appear like I’m looking down upon him. Perhaps we should engage in a moment of solidarity, or I can emphasize the importance of education so his children can go farther than he has, or we can snicker and say, “How about those Anglos, huh?” But we do none of this, because the class difference between us is vaster than the racial similarities that bond us. I feel that I should say something to the guy, but no words of wisdom, in either English or Spanish, arrive. So I keep walking, and I hit my cube, and he keeps scrubbing, and I’m sure that no one thinks for a moment that he is Asian. 

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