This Is What Undocumented Restaurant Workers Think About Donald Trump
"His hurtful words have only motivated me to work harder than I have ever before. I know that my work is valuable. My boss knows this, and I know this."
All photos by the author
For many back-of-house restaurant workers, Election Day 2016 was the most traumatic day of their lives.
Of course, it's one thing to strongly dislike Donald Trump and his political viewpoints, but quite another to personally feel threatened and fear that your family's way of life will be taken away under his presidency.
I sat down with five undocumented workers who all work in the Los Angeles area to get a better understanding of their fears, concerns, and general feelings toward the new POTUS. After all, they are the backbone of the American foodservice world.
Domingo, 36, Busboy, Oaxaca
Like many other immigrants, I crossed the border illegally in 1997 to pursue the American dream. I got my first job as a dishwasher in an Argentinean restaurant almost immediately through family members who had arrived to the US before me—every single one of my family members work in restaurants. I did a quick stint as a prep cook, then as a busboy, a position that I truly love and still proudly do to this day, 15 years later.
On the day of the election, I had to work but was closely following the election on my phone and felt demoralized when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. The worst, though, was when my middle daughter started to get bullied by her classmates at school as a result of that. She would come home crying from school saying, "My classmates told me that Trump is going to deport you and that we won't be together anymore, and that I'm going to stay behind." I tried to make her feel better and told her how the deportation system is very complicated, it is not that easy, and, "If I leave, then we will all leave."
I'd like to stay here for the rest of my life, but with him as president, the future is uncertain. Nonetheless, my philosophy is: Everything happens for a reason. I am prepared for anything that will happen.
Micaela, 29, Busgirl, Oaxaca
I came to the US when I was 15 years old, in 2005. I came with my newborn baby and things were very hard at first. Then, I was fortunate enough to meet my current boss, whom I've worked under since 2008. I felt he was able to see me for who I am as a human being and not judge me as an undocumented immigrant. I had no experience in the restaurant industry whatsoever but he still gave me a job and I grew to love being a busgirl very much.
When Donald Trump won the election, I felt very disappointed with the US. How can a man who thinks the way he does about hard-working Mexican immigrants become the president of the United States? His racist comments hurt me, as they don't reflect me or anyone that I know. I just came here looking for work that my home country, unfortunately, cannot provide.
I felt very emotional to the point of crying on the day after he was elected when I came into work because all I'm doing is getting by day-by-day by working very hard. Still, his hurtful words only motivated me to work harder than I have ever worked before. I know that my work is valuable. My boss knows this, and I know this. This has helped me keep my spirits up. I don't know what the future holds. It may be tough. I am still scared, but I am maintaining a positive attitude and know that deep down, everything will be OK.
Bertha, 28, Prep Cook, Oaxaca
I got to the US in 2005. I worked at Jack in the Box with a minimum wage for nine years before working in restaurants. The schedule was flexible and it would allow me to see my daughter more. I learned how to cook traditional Oaxacan food when I was 12 years old, so it was easy for me to learn American-style food here. I started working in the foodservice industry because it is the first work opportunity that one finds when they arrive.
And because the priority upon coming is to send money back home to your family, and there are few openings in other lines of work, you will most likely take it right away. I've worked strictly as a cook since then. I was sad and disappointed on the day that Donald Trump was elected. My ten-year-old daughter was even destroyed because she was born here. She was also scared that I would be deported to Mexico, but I assured her that everything will be OK. Though, I am still a little uneasy myself. Let's see what happens.
I miss my family in Oaxaca every day but I'm here in the US to give my daughter a better life. If Donald Trump is reading this, I kindly ask you to think about the words that you choose to use when describing whole groups of people. If you do deport everyone you say you are going to deport, the US will undoubtedly go under, because immigrants like Mexicans are among the hardest workers around.
Ruben, 24, Dishwasher, Oaxaca
I've been a dishwasher in a few restaurants since I arrived to the US in 2009. There was no other work available so I took whatever I can get. I've never minded doing dishes, at all, and I plan to keep on doing it for as long as I can. I am lucky that I work with a lot of other Oaxacan immigrants from my same hometown, so we communicate in Zapoteco while we're working. It was my first language and Spanish was my second.
When Donald Trump won, I felt sad and was scared because he said he was going to deport everyone. If he deports immigrants, he will be getting rid of restaurant workers, gardeners, construction workers, and a lot of hard-working people in other physically demanding fields of work. I don't think many Americans would want to do these jobs because they are very hard.
I plan to keep on working hard when he becomes president and I won't let his comments affect me. If he does follow through with his promise of deporting immigrants, I will fight back and work even harder to show how valuable I am.
Angelina, 23, Garde Manger, Oaxaca
I arrived in the US two years ago. I learned how to cook when I was a kid but I had no idea how to make a salad until I got to LA. Now, I really enjoy eating them. Everyone kept telling how hard it is to work in a kitchen but I think it is actually really easy. I work full-time here on the cold station and then I work part-time as a line cook at another restaurant after my shifts.
I had a very dreadful, bad, sad feeling when Donald Trump was elected because I thought, I just got to the US, I don't want to leave yet! The truth is that I love it here in the US. I don't know how this country will be under his leadership but I'm not scared. I'm going to put my head down and keep on doing my thing.
These interviews were conducted in Spanish and were translated by the author into English, who would like to thank the restaurant owner for allowing MUNCHIES to interview his hardworking staff.