I believe in heat. I believe in colors and noises and movement. I believe in Latin culture.
Cold air rushes in as I open the door to my car, pulling the keys out of the ignition and grabbing my purse. I lock the car behind me and walk across the parking lot, around the corner, approaching a neon green building. I pull the door open, walking into another world. This world is warm, loud, and crowded, with palm fronds floating high above my head to the sound of blaring salsa music.
This world is my job. I work at a Puerto Rican restaurant in San Rafael, California. It is my first real job, and the most fitting one I could have found. Every Sunday morning, when I walk in, I am first greeted by my friend Leonel, a middle-aged Mexican man, the kindest, friendliest person I have ever met. Leonel is practicing his English, and loves to tell me about all the new words he has learned, and how he learned them. Next, I walk past the kitchen on my way to the cash register, and say hi to the cooks, men who love to tease me by speaking Spanish extremely fast.
I love my work. I love it for the friends that I have made, friendships that cross over age, class, or language differences. I love it for the glass jars in which we serve our limeade, the colorful doors that make up the walls, for the smells of fried plantain, and the sounds of latin horns that make me dance from table to table. I don’t know any other teenagers who work somewhere where their friends represent five or more different countries around the world, or find themselves having to explain the difference between tostones or maduros, or having to yell in rapid Spanish that “Number seven needs their tembleque!” I don’t know any other teenagers who use their job as something to identify them, who can say “ I work at Sol Food,” and trust that that will describe them a little bit more. And lastly, I don’t know any teenagers who believe that their work represents a whole part of their own culture. But I do.
There is so much about Latino culture that I love, the colors of the dresses, the passion in the music, the heartbreak and the melodrama; the sound of Spanish or Portuguese on my lips and the feel of merengue, salsa or samba in my body. I love the heat in the culture, the passion, the colors and the warmth of the people. I love the way I feel when I am a Latina.
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