Florentino. That is his name. He is an immigrant from Mexico. His name is real, no doubt, and he said to print it here because he cannot hide anymore. Whatever happens, whoever comes to find him, he will be okay, he said. What he will not do is live another day in fear. What he will not do is pretend that he does not have a name. Florentino. Say it again. Florentino. Florentino’s name must be said because a land in which people cannot say their names is no longer a land worth living in. People who work their entire adult lives in one place should not be forced to remain silent in that place.
Florentino is a restaurant worker in Seattle, Washington. He has been a restaurant worker for 15 years. He has cleaned tables, run food, and taken orders for most of his adult life. He is an undocumented worker, but he works every day regardless of what label he is assigned. When he first came to the United States, his goal was to complete a master’s degree and then find a career. But school was expensive, out of reach for him, so he kept on working and kept on saving up his money. He is ready to go home to Mexico now, empty handed and, without a degree. His mom is 78 and his dad 83, and they are the most important people in his life, he said. The last time he saw them was eight years ago. When he gets back home, he plans on finally pursuing his degree in humanities, perhaps Mexican literature. Until then, he’ll continue to wait tables here and save as much money as possible.
Florentino, is currently an active member of the Latino and LGBT community in Seattle. He is able to find happiness in spending time with immigrant and LGBT people in his community. He volunteers with an LGBT organization, which allows him to help immigrants by, “talking about issues and what can be done to make our lives better.” Most of the immigrants and Latinos he knows in the restaurant industry are, “working back of the house,” which is an observation that is supported by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), who surveyed over 4,000 workers nationwide and found that women and people of color tend to be concentrated in lower-paying jobs (i.e., back-of-house) in the restaurant industry, equating to about a $3.71 wage gap.
“One day,” Tino said, “I went to this restaurant and I said, ‘Excuse me, are there any open positions in the front of the house?’ They say, ‘Oh, we don’t need bussers.’ My first thought was: Why are you labelling me as a busser?”
Other times, Tino said he goes to a restaurant, “And say, ‘Can I please have an application?’ they say, ‘We don’t need people in the kitchen.’ They don’t even say what position are you looking for? They just say immediately, we don’t have any openings in the kitchen right now. That doesn’t make me feel good and sometimes I just say thank you and goodbye.”
After fifteen years in the restaurant industry, he said that he had never been provided health insurance, mostly because he can’t get enough hours in a single restaurant to qualify. “It’s hard to get 40 hours in a week. The only way to do that is to work in two or three restaurants.”
But even through all of these injustices, through an existence as a half-recognized, unnameable human being, he continues to push on.
“I try to do my best. I have my ups and downs, but I’m here. Every morning I tell myself that I’m here and I need to work on my dreams. That is really what keeps me going.”
This piece was filmed in 2017.