Letters To The Editor -- July 2006
I would like to ask a few questions about Ricardo Gonzáles' article, “7 Special Days” (April 2006). I realize that culture and tradition are an important part of anyone's life, but I have to wonder why, when people have “chosen” to move to a new country, do they expect it to be just like their native land?
Mr. Gonzáles addresses this very thing on his Web site under the “Top 20 Reasons to Learn Spanish,” where he states that if you are going to go to Canada, you may want to learn French. Why is the United States different? If people should learn to speak French to live in Canada, why not English to live in America? Why did he not consider this when setting up business and teach Americans of Hispanic descent English?
My next questions have to do with his suggestion that employers stagger time off for their workers from Thanksgiving through mid-January to allow people to go home for Christmas and New Year's. Although I am not sure exactly what workers you are referring to, I know that it took me nine years with my previous employer to accumulate three weeks of vacation. At my present position, I started with one week of vacation, yet you are asking employers to give extended holidays simply due to one's ethnicity. Vacation time should be used in these situations. If I worked for a foreign company in another land, I would be expected to travel home on my own time off.
I am also curious regarding the Christmas holiday. Mr. Gonzáles states in his article that Jan. 6 is the traditional Latino Christmas. Does this mean that Americans (or migrants) of Hispanic descent are willing to work on Dec. 25 if they are given the option in order to have Jan. 6 off?
Finally, I am truly puzzled by his suggestion that employers recognize the independence day of another country as an official holiday. In the United States, Independence Day is July 4. Again, should individuals want to celebrate with family or friends in their native land, that is what vacation days are for.
I am also curious to know if Mexican and Latino businesses give all of this time off? Which Christmas Day is celebrated? Are all of these days paid holidays?
I can appreciate his article as a tool to help explain why certain gifts may be seen as inappropriate by foreign workers, or how they might be ungrateful to receive a turkey at Thanksgiving. However, I choose to applaud any employer for making an effort to give a bonus of any type with today's economy. Perhaps in time, an employer might acknowledge a special day for a dedicated foreign worker in some way; however, to make such gestures mandatory is unrealistic and inappropriate.
I have found that learning about the culture of another country is an enjoyable experience, and I thank Mr. Gonzáles for the explanation of the roles these days play in one's country of origin.
But I do ask that he consider why people move to this country and the effect that issues such as language can have. Please consider these questions: Is Mexico bilingual? If I go beyond the boundaries of the tourist areas, should I expect everyone to speak English? Or should I make an effort to have someone interpret for me, or perhaps learn the language if I am expecting an extended stay? If my children go to school in a foreign country, will they be taught in English? Should I assume that the government will translate labels, etc., into English if enough Americans should move there?
I hope Mr. Gonzáles will consider the following as the crux of my confusion: I truly do not understand why people move to the United States because of all the opportunities that are here, and then work so hard to change it into the country that they have left.
Mary C. Smithmyer
Earl Smithmyer Plumbing & Heating Inc.
Ricardo Gonzáles responds: Thank-you for taking the time to communicate with me regarding this article. I appreciate your concerns and will do my very best to answer you honestly and openly. I am taking your letter one part at a time and writing a response below each quote from you.
My response: I do not believe Hispanics expect to be treated as if in their native land. What I say to people who hire Latinos is that if they take into consideration the cultural appreciations of the people they hire, they will reach their hearts and be more successful with them.
By the way, many of the people you refer to did not “choose” to come here as you suggest. Many are chosen by their parents to come, in order to send 50 percent of their income back to their parents - possibly even more than that. Those who come on their own usually do so as a result of the oppressive economic and social conditions in their home countries. I am not sure this is quite like “choosing” to take a cruise to, say, the Bahamas or Cancún. That is choice; theirs is survival.
My response: Of course they should learn English. I speak English. My father learned English. My wife, from Costa Rica, learned English. It is in their best interest to learn English. I wrote and promote an English course specifically for Latinos. The point is that if an employer hires someone knowing they don't speak English, then the employer has the legal and ethical responsibility to communicate with his or her employees, not vice-versa.
My response: This has nothing to do with someone's “ethnicity,” as you suggest. It is practical in nature. Many people are going to go back home at Christmas, and if the employer doesn't let them off, they will simply come back when they come back and work somewhere else. I am not saying they should do this or not, I am saying they do it and they will continue to do it. It simply is. I simply tell employers the reality of the situation and suggest ways in which to deal with it.
I don't promote this for the Latino people. Sometimes we have to live within the scope of reality. This is not a perfect situation for either the Latino or the business owner. By the way, I am fine with employers asking people to use their vacation time for this time period, as well as not encouraging people to pay employees for this time. The Latinos are not asking for pay during this time period, they just want to visit their families.
My response: All Latin American countries I am aware of have several more vacation days than in the United States.
My response: I agree. I am simply suggesting that a gift is only valuable to the person who receives the gift if it is something he or she actually enjoys. I don't believe such gifts should be mandatory. Every employer needs to use his or her own discretion as to what is realistic and appropriate.
My response: I have considered these matters in detail. I have personally lived these matters. I have had employees who live these matters. Is Mexico bilingual? Some Mexicans are bilingual, just like some citizens of the United States are bilingual. As I said at the beginning, I believe they should learn English. I also believe that if a leader is hiring Spanish-speaking help in this country who do not speak English, he or she has a legal and ethical obligation to be able to communicate with the people they hire. In my thinking, they have two options: 1) Don't hire them if the person doesn't want to learn to communicate; or 2) learn to communicate. Communication involves both language and culture.
I hope that my answers help you to better understand my thinking. I know this is a confusing and emotionally charged subject, but we must address it openly and honestly, or we will not improve the situation for both Latinos and business owners here in the United States.
Thanks again for taking the time to communicate with me.
An Unsung Hero
Editor's note: This letter comes in response to Jim Olsztynski's editorial, “Let's Sing About Our Unsung Heroes” (May 2006). We want to hear more about how either you or an employee have gone above and beyond. You can e-mail your stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several years back, when I was still working in the field, I was awakened about 1 a.m. on a weeknight by my boss. (Currently, I'm a licensed master plumber and an instructor at Mechanics Institute in New York City, and a former city plumbing inspector.)
After the apologies, he told me about a building on Mott and Houston streets in New York City that had suddenly lost all domestic water. It was a high-rise apartment house with a storage tank on the roof.
My wife, awakened by the phone, suggested I hang up and go back to sleep. You see, it was the end of January and the current weather conditions were that of a blizzard. The boss said he really tried to get out of it, but the owner was crying that there were lots of elderly people and children in the building, and they just had to have water. I told him I'd call him when I got there and give him a status report.
It normally would take about 25 minutes to get there at that time, but I arrived after about an hour.
The building superintendent said he was awakened about midnight by a tenant complaining of being left in the shower without water. His evaluation was that the tank went empty sometime after 11 p.m.
We went to the roof to have a look, after shutting off the house pumps that had been running continuously. When we got there, I asked if he had any ice skates, as those pumps had been showering the roof for a few hours in sub-freezing weather.
After getting past the laughing, we made our way to the water tower. It was on top of the elevator motor room, about 30 feet up. The only way up was a metal ladder attached to the wall of the elevator shaft. Needless to say, the ladder was covered in ice. I took his flashlight and began my ascent. Upon reaching the top, I thought I must be insane, standing almost 200 feet above the street in a freezing blizzard in the middle of the night.
I found that a 4-inch grooved elbow on the tank's drain piping had burst due to freezing, emptying the tank all over the roof. Thinking there was no way I could fix it at the time, I went back down the icicle of a ladder and gave the super the bad news. As we walked back to the bulkhead door to go down, I noticed a couple of open-ended valves on piping secured to the wall near the door. Asking out of curiosity only, the super said they were drain valves for the domestic and sprinkler tanks. He then asked why I was smiling like I won the lottery.
I had him get me channel locks and Vaseline, and moved the grooved butterfly drain valve to where the broken elbow used to be, explaining to him that we were lucky the construction plumbers were so thoughtful in their placement of these tank drains. After wrapping it with covering removed from downstream, I asked him to turn the pumps back on.
When I called the boss and said the water was back on, he wasn't surprised. He said, “James, I called you knowing you'd go and expected you to find a way to make us look good.” He thanked me several more times and suggested I take the next day off on him. I came in about an hour later than usual and worked the whole day. I like what I do.
We never did restore that elbow. The owners just forgot about it and the super didn't care where the valve was.
I still go back up there, in my mind, whenever I'm driving on Houston Street. Each time, I smile like I won the lottery!
Lost In Translation
I was behind on my monthly reading and just finished [Ricardo Gonzáles'] article on the critical training needs (“Five Critical Training Needs,” March 2006). I couldn't agree with you more on all five of the points. Thanks for the insights. And although you speak of the training needs for the Hispanic community, some of those lessons can be “translated” to the non-Hispanic population as well. Training for every community, no matter its origin, is necessary to maintain the HVAC/R industry workforce.
It is my responsibility to maintain and develop the HVAC/R industry testing and certification program at North American Technician Excellence (NATE) to prove the excellence of the industry workforce. I know that eventually I will be translating the exam into Spanish. And in fact, NATE is getting “encouraged” by some of the coalition partners to move the translation process forward at a more rapid pace.
As a native Spanish speaker, I'd like to ask if you know of a translation service that is very familiar with the HVAC/R industry and its terms. There are glossaries in some of the textbooks, but they are not consistent. To be fair, in the testing world I have to assure that the information put into the tests is consistent for all the populations that may test. And when the textbooks don't agree on the terms, I can't make sure the Hispanic candidates will get a fair testing experience.
Before I translate the exam I need to develop the resource for the Hispanic population to understand the industry terms so they can have a successful testing experience, be it pass or not.
Any insights and resources that you might be able to share with me would be greatly appreciated.
Patrick L. Murphy
Vice-President, Certifications NATE