Rasiel Guevara was working when he picked up on a common thread on his Twitter feed. As he scrolled, the Yahoo Life features producer and editor noticed many of the users he follows listed a hodgepodge of jobs their parents held to get their children to where they are today. Many of them were fellow Latino journalists whose tweets were in response to a column written by Los Angeles Times staff writer Esmeralda Bermudez.
Guevara kept a tab open on his computer to Bermudez’s piece but didn’t get to it until later.
“When I read it, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion,” he said. “I had to walk around and catch myself a little bit. Then the wave of emotions brought me back to my mom.”
In her column titled “On the shoulders of our parents — the cooks, nannies and gardeners — we’ve traveled far,” Bermudez pays homage to her mother, Lucy, and other working-class parents. She writes about seeing her mother in seamstresses, janitors and nannies. Lucy, an immigrant from El Salvador, worked cleaning houses for years and has also worked as a nanny and garment factory worker. She also steam-pressed people’s clothes.
Moved by her mother’s sacrifices, Bermudez — a narrative storyteller well known for her nuanced reporting on the lives of Latinos — felt compelled months ago to pose a simple question to her more than 30,000 Twitter followers: What jobs did your parents work to get you where you are today? She included a list of jobs held by her parents.
Thousands of people from around the country and world responded to Bermudez, some with the hashtag #ParentsWork. While some were children of working-class Americans or immigrants themselves, most were the adult children of immigrants from Latin America.
I’d love to hear about you. What jobs did ur parents work to get you where you are today? Here’s mine:
Dry cleaner worker
My job: Narrative Journalist @latimes
*Quote this tweet with ur response🎉
— Esmeralda Bermudez (@BermudezWrites) December 10, 2019
“I never imagined that putting together just a simple list and asking that question was going to create this very lovingly nostalgic and spontaneous quilt of connections across the country — of people sharing,” Bermudez said. “Just about every person who messaged me — it didn’t matter the age, their ethnicity, their geography … their initial words were ‘I’m in tears.’”
Guevara immediately thought of his mother, Elba Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who has worked for years as a nanny in New York. She raised him and his three siblings as a single mother.
“Sometimes we are too focused on our own struggles that we forget the struggle of our parents. I felt almost embarrassed coming to that realization,” Guevara said. “Yes, I had a job in college and yes, I did all these things, but without the support and effort and sacrifice of my mother, none of that would matter. Sometimes we lose sight of that.”
Guevara showed his mother the Spanish version of the piece and she was also moved.
Had to step away from my desk for a bit after reading this. I then sent my mom the Spanish version of your article and now we are both crying into our coffee. Mil gracias @BermudezWrites https://t.co/t1p5JnmmtK
— Ras Guevara “Former Harlem Resident” (@RasGuevara) August 6, 2020
“Ya lo vi hijo y ya lloré como tú! (I already saw it son and I cried like you!)” his mother texted him.
Bermudez put some of those responses in a separate story. For her, this story and how it resonated is about much more than the romanticized version of the American dream.
“To me what it’s really about is this kind of silent pledge that is made between immigrant parents and their children. The pledge the parents make is: ‘I’m going to sacrifice for you. I’m going to work my fingers to the bone for you. For us, for the family,’” she said. “And then the child, in turn — no matter their age — says ‘I’m going to protect you. I’m going to translate for you. I’m going to navigate this new world — the United States.’”
Bermudez, who was born in El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles, is a prolific tweeter whose work is followed closely by many other Latino journalists, among them WNYC reporter Karen Yi.
“It’s bizarre to see your experience, that is not often told and not often shared, so explicitly written and so clearly articulated,” Yi said. “That is so rare because, growing up, you didn’t really read stories about your family.”
She said the silent pledge Bermudez mentioned captures how she’s felt her whole life as the daughter of Peruvian immigrant parents with Chinese ancestry. Yi was raised in Miami.
“My first language was Spanish. I learned English in school and I was always the translator for my parents,” Yi said. “I always had to call the company if the power went out. That was me in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, with my own school, in PTA meetings, and teacher-parent conferences. You have to be that person to translate not just language, but also culture — ‘This is how things are here in America.’”
After sharing Bermudez’s column on Twitter, Yi said she sent it to her parents Enrique and Yadira in their WhatsApp family chat. They then brought up an even longer list of jobs she forgot they had.
“It’s a quiet pledge children of immigrants make..to care for our parents, to be their translators, personal assistants, protectors..their retirement fund”
my dad sold purses, make-up, batteries. my mom sold in a flea market. a love letter to our parents https://t.co/dRSurZgtZ2
— Karen Yi (@karen_yi) August 5, 2020
Mónica Rhor, an editorial writer, columnist and editorial board member with the Houston Chronicle and a friend of Bermudez, also chimed in about her parents. Her mom, Rhor wrote, worked in all sorts of factories and as a secretary. Her dad worked as a handyman, security guard and more. They both rose from assembly lines to management, Rhor tweeted.
My mom worked in all sorts of factories (sewing Barbie clothes, packing ceramics, making cosmetics) and as a secretary.
My dad worked as a handyman, security guard, in light bulb factories, in a Drake’s bakery product plant.
They both rose from assembly lines to management. https://t.co/ygx0qxZsFs
— Mónica Rhor (@monicarhor) August 7, 2020
The longtime journalist said she’s always credited her parents with helping her get to where she is.
The story resonated, too, because of the backgrounds and life experiences journalists including Bermudez bring to their work for people who don’t usually see themselves reflected in the news. It underscores the importance, for many, of greater Latino representation in media.
“Normally we don’t see ourselves lifted up, or our parents lifted up like that,” Rhor said. “So it took someone who came from that experience as well to be able to really shine a spotlight on that.”
Amaris Castillo is a writing/research assistant for the NPR Public Editor and a contributor to Poynter.org. She’s also the creator of Bodega Stories and a very tired mom. Amaris can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.