It was a hectic day. Waking up before the sun had even risen in the sky, I awaited the delivery of one of the first pieces of furniture for my new apartment – a couch. What would otherwise have been a simple delivery quickly escalated into a difficult situation. Ultimately my couch was left out unexpectedly without any driver notification while I was at work. Nightmare fuel on the first day of moving.
My apartment wasn’t ready on schedule for the day either. Skilled workers painted, prepped, sawed, and cleaned up what soon will be my new home. Unbeknownst to me, their presence was a blessing in disguise.
As I moved in my boxes, I noticed they seemed shy to speak to me in English and tried not to bother me. But I wanted to make sure they knew how grateful I was for everything they were doing. Busting out my heavily French-accented Spanish, I welcomed them into my space. I instantly saw a spark light up on all of their faces. “Thank you much, you are so kind,” piped one of the workers.
The workers began to check on my work and make an effort to ask me questions. I saw one worker checking Google Translate on his phone before asking me some questions. That made me smile. It reminded me a lot of my students.
One of the workers asked what I did for a living and practiced some of his French. Others helped grab boxes as I walked in, making brief comments as they went along.
As the day passed by, I went from organizing cutlery to learning a little bit about each worker.
“I do this for my son. I want him to go to college. I don’t want him to be me.” I saw the rough skin on his knuckles. His eyes looked like he was always peering into the sun – weathered, yet powerful.
Another worker passed by with a mop, using Pine Sol Lavender Scent. “It is so fresh, yes?” He smiled. “You’re making every part of my home beautiful!” I replied. “It is why I love my work,” he said humbly. “Who had lived here before did not care as much about walls and floors.”
Another man saw the sofa and had asked about the situation. His face became stern. “How can someone do this? This is not okay. We are here for you. Let us finish our work first.”
I wondered what their work meant to them beyond a paycheck and what had brought them to Virginia. So I decided to ask a very broad question: “What is your America?”
The worker I was speaking to at the time looked like I had asked him to describe someone he loved when he replied. “My America – mi America – it is this. It is making things beautiful. It is cleaning what others don’t like to keep clean. It is building nice places for families to sleep. It is bringing God’s love.”
Another smiled over. “Here I can do what I could not back home. I am from three hours outside of Mexico City. Hot, like living in the desert hot, with the sun all the time. Sometimes I miss it, especially the food. You know elotes? The corn? I miss this. But I would not trade that for now.”
“America is my home. I am American. I am Mexican, but now I am here. I am home. I am building. And I am still talking with smiles when people cannot understand me because people are all people.” This worker was covered in sawdust, yet his expression looked like he had just won the lottery.
What was my America? I was seeing it before my eyes. A complex country filled with people who work hard and believe harder. I got back to putting my dishes in the cupboards.
About an hour later, I heard loud grunts from out front. All of the workers teamed up to bring in my sofa. They unpacked it and noticed that the legs needed to be attached.
“We will do this for you, do not worry.”
Not only did they assemble the couch, they went above and beyond. There was a part that didn’t seem to fit, so one of the workers took his own vehicle to a hardware store just to make sure that he had the right piece.
“We don’t want you to have a dangerous sofa. You are a good person.”
After having spent the entire day working in my apartment, these gentlemen took yet another hour and a half to do something that was completely unrelated to their work duties. Their reasoning was that they felt I was a good person and cared to talk to them. When I tried to pay them back, they refused my money and instead gave me some snacks from their truck as a housewarming gift.
“Muchas gracias!” I chirped over. “De nada. May God bless you in your new home.”
This is my America.