Burying the Hatchet With Day Laborers

How I Learned to Love the Men Outside My Starbucks

A couple times a week, I, like 5 million people worldwide, head to my local corporate coffee joint. I love the Starbucks on the corner of Wilshire and Union near downtown L.A. The baristas all know me by name, the cashier has long since memorized my order, and they all take turns adorning my grande latte cup with smiley faces, stars, and hearts. Plus no one there has ever misspelled my name–unlike the barista on Fairfax who called me “Tulsa.” I attach relevant exhibits.

How author likes her cup:

How author does not like her cup:

But as much I enjoy the baristas inside my SBUX, I’ve grown to appreciate my porristas (“cheerleaders”) outside even more. They are the several dozen day laborers who take over the parking lot outside The Home Depot every day.

I used to dread them. They would stare at me. They would whistle. They would call out for me. I’d think of comebacks–“En tus sueños!” (In your dreams!), “Ya quisieras!” (You wish!) and my favorite, “No seas naco!” (Don’t be so low-class!)–but none actually made it out of my mouth. One day, I did flick one of the guys off, which only made me feel naca.

I couldn’t understand why the whistling and catcalling got to me so much. A part of me felt small and helpless, and another part would think, “How dare they think they could ever have a girl like me?”

Then, when I was on the verge of finding a new morning coffee spot, something in me clicked. I realized how much I am actually like those men: born in Mexico (check! ), dark skin (check!), dark brown eyes (check! ), pin-straight, thick, dark hair (check, check, check!). I’m fighting to make a living, trying to be successful, trying to make my family, which is thousands of miles away, proud. Take away the Ann Taylor suit and I have more in common with them than with most of my friends or colleagues.

After that, my attitude changed. The next morning, I pulled into the parking lot, got out of my car, and cheerfully greeted two of the workers: “Buenos días!

Friends and porristas now.

Since that day, the catcalls have subsided and the leering has become almost familial. Now, whenever I see my porristas, they cheer me up. Just like the hearts on my cup.

Dulce Vasquez, managing director of Zócalo Public Square, was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, and moved to South Florida at age seven.

*Photos by Dulce Vasquez.


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