The clock hits 6:30 am and the alarm rings. I get up, shower, eat oatmeal, get dressed, and I’m out the door by 7:40 am. Hustling to the subway station, I rush to reach the platform quickly and I don’t miss the D train. When the train arrives, the hunt is on to find a seat quickly and rest some more before a ten-hour shift. That’s right. A ten-hour shift. Ten hours (minus 45 minutes for my breaks) of making coffee, bagging sandwiches and soups, standing behind a register, catering to bankers and construction workers, and hearing my new boss complain that I move too slowly.
I’ve only been at this deli as a cashier for two weeks and I do not know how nor why people do this for years. I have found it impossible to do much besides work and sleep. I barely have enough time to speak to my mother, who I live with, when I’m not working so meeting friends during the week is definitely not happening. The craziest thing is that some co-workers work 12-hour shifts DAILY. I cannot imagine how they have time for anything besides work and sleep.
Working near corporate office buildings, I have many customers who work long hours as well, but the difference between their career and my job is that they work humane hours in a cushy office environment. I’ve never worked at a location where you start immediately ( i.e. the next day) after an interview, where you are expected to work a 12-hour shift once a week, and speed trumps quality customer service.
I look at the faces of co-workers, most of which are older Mexican and Central American immigrants, and I wonder how they can endure the working conditions day after day. The answer comes to me easily. The job duties are not difficult, the pay is good and unregulated, the co-workers all bond over their similar culture, and their lack of English-speaking and writing skills are not severe hindrances.
Nothing has taught me more about the brutal reality of being an immigrant worker in New York City in such a short amount of time than this job. It saddens me that these immigrants work so hard catering to corporate America and that this is a CAREER, not a temporary occupation. I have the privilege of being raised in this country and being college educated while older immigrants who come to this country, like many of my own family members have done, have to resort to such laborious work to sustain their families. These unappreciated immigrants fulfill the unglamorous and necessary positions that keep this city operational. New York City, like many other cities, depends on an immigrant work force that is greatly unsung and unappreciated. The least we can do is open our eyes to the reality and respect these immigrants as fellow human beings.