“Well, this is America. I didn’t think I’d have to come to little Mexico today.” I froze. My blood pressure spiked. I turned to the man who had dropped such a racially charged comment. I then looked at the Hispanic man next to me. On the first day of my new job, three complete strangers made fully formed profiles of each other in less than a minute.
In the summer of 2021, I managed to score my dream part-time job. I was a sailing instructor at a watersport rental shop. This shop rented out paddleboards, kayaks, and small sailboats. My job entailed me giving lessons on both days of the weekend, and assisting with the summer camp Eastern ran during the week.
A job requires a re-evaluation of priorities.Embed from Getty Images
I arrived on my first day with little information. My work situation was already somewhat irregular; I had not met my boss yet, and I was not officially on my employer’s payroll. That day I had two individuals scheduled for the morning lesson. I prepared a whiteboard, drawing a diagram of the points of sail on it. The first showed up almost thirty minutes early. The second arrived ten minutes late, his reasoning being that he “couldn’t find anyone who spoke English to get directions.” I ignored this and continued my lesson on how to tack.
“Is that a problem?” The second individual said.
“Well I mean, this is America, they should speak English.”
“They’re Hispanic. They speak Spanish.”
“Well, this is America. I didn’t think I’d have to come to little Mexico today.” Suddenly, on my first day, I was faced with a situation I could not have imagined the morning prior. I was at a loss for words. I stared at the man who had made the comment in utter disbelief. I stared until the other man, a man of Hispanic heritage, spoke.
“I’m leaving.” In my mind, at that moment, the situation became much easier for me. Although he had been wronged, the Hispanic man was content with leaving and rescheduling for another day. Despite my situation becoming much simpler, something was eating at me: Why should the one offended have to leave? Why should his day be ruined? Why shouldn’t we ask the other man to leave? I ran to my manager.
An expletive was my manager’s only response.
“So what do I do?”
“We’ll get the guy who’s leaving rescheduled. Give the racist the lesson.”
I ran to catch the Hispanic man. He had almost made it back to his car. I briefly apologized for the other customer’s behavior and told him who to call to reschedule. He was very understanding. Before we parted ways that day, he made one request:
“Give the other guy a good lesson, don’t let this color how you treat him. You still have a job to do.” This stuck with me. At the end of the day, I was an employee. I had a job to do. While I may not always like the customer or even my job, I still have a commitment to fulfill.
The day continued, with me and the racist individual in a boat for three hours together. I sat toward the front of the porous catamaran’s trampoline surface, being blasted with waves, waves that chilled me but not as much as the individual’s theories on the earth’s circumference being equal to zero and the “over sensitivity” of the modern generation, something exhibited by the man who he offended- a man who I would later find out has watched patients die. I sat, and listened, and did my job, and despite my discomfort, I believe I am better for it. I heard the other side, I satisfied my duties, and I got paid.