May you come back as a day laborer

While driving to work, I would often pass Latino day laborers waiting to be picked up in front of McCormick Paints, which was located on the corner of P and 15th. One day, I saw that the paint store was gone; the building, stripped of signage, was a shell; and the workers were nowhere to be seen. 

In recent years, this particular part of the city has seen significant “revitalization,” which, according to Latoya Peterson, is “heavily cosmetic and heavily skewed to a younger, moneyed class.” As a result, some of the older businesses in the neighborhood have had to move to more affordable areas. Because I thought it unlikely that any of the other businesses on the street would let the laborers continue to gather at the corner, I found myself thinking that life, for many of them, would become even more difficult than it already was.

Once the store closed and the workers disappeared, I lost heart and only occasionally returned to that part of the city. Not too long ago, though, while en route to the market, I drove past the same corner and, to my great surprise, saw that McCormick Paints had become Tortilla Coast. According to its website, the restaurant “serves fresh, authentic and flavorful Mexican fare in a lively and colorful space with true south-of-the border ambiance.” The irony here was not lost on me.

Trawling the Web to see if anyone else saw the same, sad irony in this makeover, I came across a post about the emptied paint store on Prince of Petworth, a well-respected blog published by Dan Silverman. The post itself was not in any way provocative, but the racist comments certainly were:

Bob McFadden 

“Well, at least they won’t have to look too far for busboys, given that there are about 10-20 illegal day laborourers (sic) hanging around all day long, waiting for work, watching people park their Bikeshare bikes, and leering at pretty young white chicas.”

Anon

“Unless they are a rare species of day laborer they’re gonna leer”

We should be grateful to Jim, who said, “Please go back to your comic books and skateboards and leave the blog race-baiting alone.” And also to anon, who said,

The leering comment was a low blow. I live right there and the men are quiet and tend to keep to themselves. They did offer to help me move in and I took one of them up on an offer to help me with my dresser. He was polite and there was no leering.

Having worked extensively with people from Latin America, and having been married to a man from Bolivia, I am well aware of how difficult life can be for those who come to the US–whether they are documented or not. The Latinos I know are among the most hard-working and respectful people I have ever met, and I can only hope that Mr. McFadden, anon, and those like them never know the kind of suffering endured by many immigrants in this country. 

Photo and Latoya Peterson quote

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