Home | Archive | Itineraries | Events | FAQ | Columns/Links
Advertise | Newsletter | About/Subscribe | Submissions | Art Walk | Books | THE2NDHAND Writers Fund

**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

Back to Archive Index

Germania Solórzano

Currently it's the whole class thing that is really bothering me. It is bothering me on so many levels I don't know what to do about it.

My family is middle class. My parents were middle class in the USA. My dad was a machine operator at Rheem Manufacturing, right by the Nabisco factory on the south side. He was a member of the union, and all those democratic, union ideals seeped into me.

Then they move back here and he is such the aristocrat. OK, he deserves some slack. He is 73 years old. But still. He's not weak or feeble. He's got a gardener who comes by once a week who he orders about. Those bananas and platanos and chayotes don't just grow by themselves. OK, he does do farmer kind of stuff, water the plants and check for infestations of zompopos (ravenous killer ants), so, that isn't even what bothers me.

What bothers me is the idea that thousands, millions of people are on this earth just to serve others. That gardener isn't doing his yard work until something better comes along. He will never be able to get anything better. The possibilities open to him are very few. And the wages he earns are so minimal its disgusting. And the middle classes view the lower classes in such a disturbing way. They act so surprised that they should have the same desires.

As we were driving to a restaurant we passed by some little shacks and my cousin commented with surprise in her voice at, "look! Look how they are building their little house!" The surprise probably came from the fact that the little house in question was not mere wood and aluminum roof. It was of concrete blocks and aluminum roof. Why? Why should it surprise us that the poor should want stability? A solid home? All the maids and gardeners go home eventually. They ride smelly, packed buses that they share with chickens and with baskets of onions and cheap plastic toys and they practically fall out of the buses as they hang on by any little strap or handle. And they go home to dim little houses of concrete blocks they saved up for or stole little by little and built. And they have their T.V. set with the antenna poking out. And they have a few chairs, a mattress, perhaps even a bed. Why is this surprising? Don't we all want the same comforts? We eventually will get at least those basics.

I think that the way the middle class and the rich view the lower classes here is very much like the way whites viewed blacks in the United States before the Civil rights movement. So much is expected of them. They have to mow the lawn a certain way, wash your clothes and fold them the way you like. All the nit-picky details must be attended to, otherwise they are proclaimed lazy or viewed as somewhat dim, simple-minded.

And how will it ever end? The middle class is standing up on the backs of the lower classes. It's the only way they could afford the comforts that they have. My parents could not have the life they have here if they were in Chicago. It is a fact. And my parents can rationalize that they pay their maid better and treat her better. That other people don't even let the maid eat the same food they eat. (That is a most disgusting practice. You tell the maid to cook the family a certain food. She cooks it. The family eats it while she eats rice and beans.) While my ma will work with her in the kitchen and sends her home with bags of bananas and chayotes and platanos from the garden. My ma jokes with her. Sometimes she drops her off at home. If the woman needs to leave early, she leaves early. Fine. Fine. It doesn't change the fact that she still doesn't get paid what she is WORTH. She gets paid what they are willing to pay. But what is her time and work really WORTH? But then other people from the neighborhood comment that my mother is "ruining" her. Even my aunt, the once avowed Communist, doesn't like when the Auxiliadora answers the phone because my aunt thinks she's trying to sound like my mother.

And I can easily go back to the USA and forget all that. Because I don't have to see it. But when you go to the store and buy clothes that say made in Honduras, know that those clothes were made in sweatshops where the people earn by the penny. And all the freaking plastic shit and electronics from Asia. I'm sure those people don't have a union to save their eyes or backs or hands.

Yet I'm as cheap as hell. I'll look for the cheapest thing I can find. I'm aware of the time spent to earn every dollar on my paycheck. I want to get the most for my money. I'll scour the aisles of Target and Walmart looking for the cheapest buys I can find, while some poor campesina is carting a huge basket on her head in the midday sun selling papaya slices in little plastic baggies. And whiter, more European-looking Nicas can snub their noses at her and ask if she washed the papayas before she bagged them. And did she use purified water? Fuck, either buy the papayas or don't. Don't freaking waste the woman's life away. You want papayas washed in purified water, buy your own damn papaya and lug it home in your freaking SUV bought in Miami and cut it up your damn self.

And yet here I am playing the role of the tourist. Yes, yes, give me a bag of papaya. How much? Pennies. Pennies. Pennies. I'll eat them and probably die of cholera because she washed them in some well water full of swimming little microbes. Such is life.