Singinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; the Blues: Esa Que Te Sirve by Brenda Montano Nunez Illustrated by Breena
This is for every woman who has practiced the sacred ritual of sacrifice in order to provide and in order to survive.
Singin’ the Blues: Esa Que Te Sirve
Story by Brenda Montaño Illustrations by Breena Nuñez
On Saturdays I shove around barely eaten cheeseburgers and stick my fingers into old ketchup. The men there are constantly hasslin’, harassin’, actin’ a hot mess, makin’ me feel like there’s something wrong with me. I work on the rich side of San Francisco, Califas*. That’s pronounced KAH-LEEF-AS. I say that because this mujer** butchered it once, pronouncing it something like Kay-Leave-Us. Most of San Francisco is what I’d call rich. It’s basically suffocating itself in its wealth. And because it’s suffocating, it feels okay with cutting off the circulation of wealth to some parts of the city, like cutting off just certain parts of the body. It cuts off the body parts that are seen as insignificant, like, maybe the ring finger or something.
* Califas: Chicana/o slang for “California” ** mujer: woman
So anyway, these doctors come in at the beginning of my shift every single Saturday after playing golf up the hill. And they have these heavy, political conversations that I equate to think tanks in America, the ones all the folks up at the top have in order to decide what will come next for the American people. Man, I think they make the decisions for the whole world, if you ask me. I see them, the doctors, plotting my fate right before me, sittin’ there with cheeseburger juice drippin’ down their double chins. One of ‘em compliments me on the one day I choose to wear eye makeup and braid my hair. He likes my brown eyes and brown hair, he says. He likes my warrior mask, I think. That’s what my friend called it once: warrior mask. It’s the stuff we put on our face. And it’s crazy, but you know, the more you put on of that stuff, the higher your tips are. Masks and money really go together.
The Warrior Mask
To hide the glares that are sometimes, necessarily, thrown at ungrateful customers
Foundation/ cover up:
To hide the imperfections that we all have
To brighten up your tired eyes after staying up late with your girlfriends
To make your smile appear bigger then it really is
Because remember, you’re only a waitress and those tips, they pay for it all. Your skin shines with the imprint of canola oil from the deep fryer and your lungs look weird from all the smoke of the grill. All day you’re diggin’ your fingernails—the one’s you stopped painting cause what’s the point? — in old ketchup and melted milkshake juice mixed with French fry chunks. I look at my fingers. Women fingers are used to assemble a big portion of all the unnecessary things in life, the things we never get to see or touch outside the factory. My Tia, she was a seamstress. My mom, she types all day. We, women, we work and create all these ridiculous things for other people. Ridiculous things like fake Coach purses from the back of the ban parked at Wal-Mart. We don’t need em.
I come from a legacy of waitresses. We began at Sizzler, you know, the fanciest place in suburban towns with that All You Can Eat Shrimp plato*. Tia Chio was there first and her waitress homegirls became frequents at our family parties. They’d come in their uniforms for some birria and chelas** and they’d dance to “Spin It” and “Ring My Bell” and La Sonora Dinamita. Then my older sister worked there illegally at 14 years old. But she developed chi-chis as a very young girl, 9 years old in fact, and you know, I think the male manager really liked that. Especially at that time. You walked into Sizzler and I swear, nothin’ but all these beautiful Chicanas! I think everyone liked that.
* plato: dish ** birria: a Mexican meat dish in a red sauce; chelas: beer 9
I remember my Tia and my sister back then, so beautiful with their big, black hair held up in clips and pens and those big scrunchies, not ligas*; thick, black and white scrunchies from the swapmeet. Their fingers would glisten with perfect hygienic fingernails. * ligas: hair ties
They’d sneak all the kids in sometimes when it was busy, that way no one would notice. Any one of us who looked below 10 years old would run past the line and straight to the back room. We’d wait until my Tia or my sister or one of their homegirls would come back there with a ton of plates so that we kids could tear up that salad bar. Clam chowder, dinosaur chicken nuggets, those little stuffed corn things. Let me tell you though, this was just as illegal as my sister working at 14. Trust me, I know. I worked there too. I worked with my best friend and it was always the best thing workin’ alongside that mujer loca*. She’d crack me up and we’d always be on that chisme** tip, talkin’ bout who got pregnant, who’s next to be pregnant, and about Gustavo, the 30-year-old cook who would sleep with all the mujeres. * loca: crazy ** chisme: gossip
One time, he went on break with one of the other hostesses and when they came back she had a hicky the size of Jupiter on her neck! He never slept with me or my friend, though. Hell no! We’d be talkin’ about all that juicy, crazy stuff, not even thinking at all about that cook, ese viejo* nasty. We’d always be laughing.
* ese viejo: “that old man”
But there were many days we didn’t laugh. Days when the manager would say we better not have black boyfriends. He was some French asshole who ended up in Moreno Valley, Califas, telling me and my homegirl to not have black boyfriends. The Bossman Who the hell was he? vertically challenged: Has to exercise his dominance by asserting authority to everyone who looks down upon him
Saves on shampoo, but doesn’t like how he’s appearing to look more like a short Homer Simpson everyday
He was some 50-something balding man suffering from that Napolean complex. Short. Angry. 13
Trying to conquer the people beneath him: the waitresses of Sizzler in Moreno Valley, the one off Sunnymead Blvd, esa calle* that’d lead to barren fields and boulders the size of small houses. I was 17. Who the hell was he? Tryin’ to not only invade my personal love life— love seeking life— but also deny me of my roots. Those African roots. Those Chicana-Afro roots. Ese ritmo** and the skin, skin the color of dark, warm honey drippin’ from the honeycomb. Tryin’ to segregate me, to fight violently against my black sisters and brothers.
* esa calle: “that street” ** ese ritmo: “that rhythm”
Psssh, naww. “No controles mi sentidos, pendejo.”* I kind of told him this once. I thought it all the time, though.
* “You don’t control my feelings, stupid.” 15
Point is, I’m 29 now and back on that waitress thing but in San Francisco. This city is supposed to be all great but for real, it ain’t that different. The owner at the place I work at now is some guy with a mushroom cheeseburger named after him. He walks in the place with cowboy boots on, hair down to his shoulders, sunglasses on, or I suppose they’re tinted prescription glasses. Whatever. He doesn’t pay the employees what they should be getting paid. He doesn’t pay to fix the machines that are forever breaking down, leaving us to deal with the mess. One time, we couldn’t even deep-fry anything because the machine broke and in walks Benjamin Bratt! That’s right. Benjamin Bratt. You ever heard of him?
He is one fine lookin’ brown man! Maybe he’s Filipino or Navajo or Mexican, I don’t know. He came out in Blood In, Blood Out and also in La Mission. La Mission was set in the Mission district. One time a mom told me her 17 year old son was facing a life sentence for being in a gang and that the police follow her home and that they park in front of her house. They even park in front of her mom’s house. Man, who the hell was this judge to take away this mama’s youngest son? Like they ain’t human? Like, she doesn’t love him or something?
Anyway, the other movie is set in Eas Los. My Tia’s house comes out in it. I’m serious! The alley you gotta go down to get there comes out in one of the chase scenes. Benjamin Bratt in my Tia’s hood. Benjamin Bratt in the diner I work at! Can you imagine that?
I was his waitress, too. I swear. I got a picture proving it.
But work isn’t always like this. These are fun stories I can tell. But sometimes, I want to get the dishes and throw ‘em at the walls. Sometimes, I want to get one of the quarters I get in the tips given to me from the viejos and go outside and scratch up that red, 1960-something model car the owner has the nerve to drive up in every time he decides to show up; all proud. Man, that’s when I wanna get the ketchup bottles and throw ‘em all around the garden, straight into that damn pond with only one fish. I dream of the days that my fingers aren’t soaked in mushy food scraps and bleach. The days where little white boys, 8 or 9 years old, won’t bark demands at me, not even saying thank you when I do what they say.
They see me like the señoras that clean up after them at home, that feed them, bathe them, man, they even love them. They teach them our language, feed them frijoles, sing them canciones en la mañana* when they wake up. But they can’t see that. They just see me and bark demands. And I also dream of not working for some jerk that tells me who I can be and who I can’t be and what to do with my body. He even told me one time he was “going to spank me” for being disobedient. He told me that once, can you believe it? I dogged him, though. You know he never said it again.
*songs in the morning
Who the hell did he think he was? He’s some dude from the mountains of Colorado, or somewhere, born in the 1940’s. I was born in 1983 but he ain’t my elder. My waitress blues ain’t my blues either. Tia Chio, my sister, my best friend and all the homegirls, it’s their blues too. Except my Tia met Selena’s widower, not Benjamin like me. I swear! He signed her ticket book. These are the my-feet-hurt-my-back-hurt-my-ass-just-got pinched-I’m-breaking-out-all-over-my-face-cause-all-thisdamn-oil blues. This is that racist-greed-hypersexualization-of-me blues. This is the I’m-sick-of-this-same-story blues. Somos las mujeres que sirven. We are the women that serve.
Serve your food, refill your drink, take your orders, give you popotes and tortillas, clean up your mess, give you a smile when you ask. But one day, we won’t have to serve no one, not like this. Not Benjamin, not Selena’s man, not the doctors who play golf. You know, we’ll be like the mujeres from Watsonville. No one knows that story. You ever heard of it?
1,600 mujeres said “Ya Basta!” and went on strike for 18 months, shutting down two of the biggest frozen food canneries in Watsonville.
They were madres, hermanas, hijas, señoras and señoritas, organizing, loving themselves, loving their families. They did their thing because they were tired of getting pushed around by the owners while they pushed around spinach and aluminum. And you know they won. Yeah, man, one day, I ain’t gonna have to deal with any of this. Imma be like Jessy Bulbo, punkera de Mexico. The kind of mujer that says everything and anything and jumps around not being afraid. Mhmm, watch, you’ll see. But for now, this waitress thing, it’s my hustle y hay que seguir luchando*just for a little bit longer.
* “Continue the struggle” 23
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