This is my first Medium post, which I want to devote to the community I interacted with at Stanford last Friday. I became the director of the Center for Latin American Studies on September 1st. I wanted our first formal event to be an Open House, where we would express our gratitude to all the service workers in campus (janitors, gardeners, maintenance, food services, etc) that are overwhelmingly Latino and are seldom recognized for all their work, making our campus such a beautiful place. The first thing that struck me when our staff was preparing the invitation was the difficulty at finding how to issue our invitation. We do not think these workers are unskilled or “no calificados”, as a conventional job classification would have us nominally call them. How can we think that preparing food or tending a garden is not one of the most culturally rich and qualified activities someone can do? Of course other workers on campus have PhDs and have spent years in formal education, but the distinction of skill (and class, status, earnings or in general social distinction) is one of those barriers that we should work so hard in breaking.
What struck me most, when listening to the many stories that we were told, is the rich lives that so many of our service employees had in their home countries, before migrating to the US and their very strong sense of labor rights and participation in civic, political and union life once here. But what struck me most of all is how little we know about them. I know that our MA students and Latin Americanist community that joined in during the day to greet them at Bolivar House felt just as compelled by the rich unrecognized lives of our fellow employees. I also loved at the end of of the day that the voice went around that tamales were still leftover, and we had African American and white workers in our community join us, just because they love tamales and could not bear the thought of some of the food going to waste.