Thank goodness for the Washington Post. If it did not exist, we would have to invent it as a plot device for narrative purposes.
Some of you may recall the Post’s unwittingly ironic 2006 human interest story about Latin American men who come to the DC area to play soccer and work in jobs that Americans just won’t do, like carpentry.
Which, incidentally, explains why we in Sterling were all living in mud huts before the Salvadorans and Mexicans arrived to build houses for us.
The focus of the story was entrepreneur Jorge Morales, semi-pro soccer coach, owner of J.K Carpentry of Sterling, and also owner of numerous local houses which serve as “dormitory style” residences for his player/workers. Interestingly, the print version of the August 7, 2006 edition of the Post featured a photo of a number of players in the front yard of their “dormitory,” which was also a house across the street from one of Help Save Loudoun’s members. This HSL member remembered fondly the time when that dormitory was a single family residence – but that was another era, thanks to the Loudoun County Zoning Enforcement Team.
Today, the Post has another priceless, unwitting stunner, detailing how Male Latino Workers Find Domestic Skills Are Survival Tools (below the fold):
For many, life in the Washington area is an all-male existence, from their construction and landscaping jobs in the day to the apartments crowded with fellow laborers at night, with no mother, wife or sister to handle the domestic chores…
“Mostly I learned from Marco Antonio,” said Virgilio, a 19-year-old recent arrival from Guatemala who is one of Rosales’s roommates. He declined to give his last name. “I work at McDonald’s, but I want to eat something besides hamburgers all the time.”
According to social workers and activists familiar with the immigrant community, Rosales’s cooking-and-cleaning arrangement is not just good for the health, but also gives him and his housemates a better chance of avoiding the loneliness and heavy drinking that plague many of the single workers…
The alternative, Sota said, is equally common: apartments crowded with men in which no one cleans, meals that come exclusively from convenience stores or pupusa trucks and a social life defined by little more than long hours working, or waiting for work, and alcohol.
“We see a very high rate of alcoholism,” Sota said…
Beth McNairn of Takoma Park remembers a glimpse her family got into that often-barren male world when an intoxicated man rang her doorbell by mistake on a recent Christmas Eve. McNairn’s husband escorted the man to the address he was looking for, a neighboring house where numerous Latino laborers lived. Inside was a living room devoid of furniture and filled with men sitting on the floor, talking into cellphones that were plugged into wall sockets…
Jose Campos suffered in packed, chaotic apartments for several years after coming from El Salvador in 2004. The 57-year-old laborer rented a sliver of floor space among an ever-changing crowd of roommates who were, he said, more likely to steal his modest possessions than neaten up the kitchen or bathroom.
“It was very bad,” he said. “When they were home, they were drunk.”
How singular is the anecdote of Mr. McNairn’s response to the drunken man at his doorstep! Yes, it was Christmas Eve, and I am sure most of us would have been similarly charitable on that night. But the scenario in the context of this story is entirely false. If a drunk stranger shows up at your door, 99% of the time you are going to see that as a problem in the neighborhood, especially if the episode ends in a house full of illegal workers. The lesson Mr. McNairn took from the event is not one you would likely have taken, for example, if you had young daughters in the house next door to the boarding house in question, so it is appropriate to note what the Post is saying about Takoma Park.
As a side note, I personally know one man who lost both “construction and landscaping” companies here in Sterling because he could not compete with new businesses that used illegal laborers, so I’m sure he will appreciate this news, and of course many, many Northern Virginia workers could share similar tales about THAT particular problem. I am also guessing there will eventually be more local evidence about people who WOULD give their last name in order to work at McDonalds.
The way to properly read these amazingly obtuse samples of “journalism” from the Post is to read them twice.
First, read from the sanguine perspective of the reporter and editor, focused on the “immigrants.” Second, read from the real-world, common sense perspective of legal residents who happen to live near the subjects of the story.
For the soccer story, it means putting yourself in the shoes of the person across from the dormitory, as well as those affected by the semi-pro soccer games, like the games which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office currently allows to take place on the grounds of Sterling Middle School throughout the week. If you are a legal resident, you cannot walk your dog on the Middle School lawn or park your car along the entrance driveway. But if you are associated with a Latino adult soccer game, you get a free pass.
For the men-next-door story, it means imagining you have one of these “chaotic apartments” on your street where laborers are renting “slivers” of floor space. Here in Sterling, these tend to be formerly single-family residences, and they also tend to be accompanied by lots of cars, trucks and pieces of commercial equipment parked on what once were quiet neighborhood streets. On my street, some of the houses which are in the process of turning our neighborhood into an industrial park appear to have many residents in the employ of subcontractors for Verizon, judging by the coils of fiber optic cable in the truck beds. The rules against this behavior were put in place years ago, before the illegal workers arrived.
Loudoun County’s Zoning Enforcement Team and Sheriff’s Office are now, shall we say, rather reserved when it comes to enforcing those rules.
But everyone – even foreign laborers taking the jobs of American blue collar workers and helping to put American companies out of business – has a story, and it is good to see the Washington Post sees fit to tell at least half of that story.