SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Isabel

Retaliation at Work

            It was only the beginning of a new era in my life, after two years of search for a job in a law firm someone finally gave me the opportunity as a secretary and I could not happier. This job was the step I needed to reach my goal to become a paralegal.  This job was not just any other job it was now the beginning of my career, and I was ready to learn anything and everything I could.  I had experience this but field, but I only had one more year to graduate from a community college with a Legal Assistant degree.  However, this job turned out to be not only a new stage in my life but also a new challenge.

              Everyone at the office seemed nice, in particular the receptionist even though she seem to repeat everything she said to me once or twice and jumped subjects so quickly that and before I knew it I was lost as to what exactly I had done wrong or right.  Answering the phone when the receptionist was on another call was another responsibility of my job.  The environment, this place, the norms of a law firm and everything else related to my job was new to me.  The office is small, with a total of twelve employees. Its walls are white: to me everything seemed pale.  Our office smells daily like coffee; some side offices like cigarettes, and here and there sometimes like scotch.  Today like most days everyone seems to be busy with important duties, trying to meet deadlines on the last minute.  The clock is ticking for everyone.  As it gets closer to 5:30 p.m., employees begin to close any programs open on their  computers, and to organize their desks before leaving home. 

            Soon I became familiarized to the constant stress to meet deadlines and the ticking off the clock.  However, little did I know that four months later my first challenge of many would come  to my life.  The office administrator called me into his office to tell me he did not wanted me to answer the phones anymore because I could not speak English clearly and some clients had complained about this issue.  I had grown up in Mexico and English is my second language, while I am still perfecting, it was unpleasant and really frustrating for me to hear that clients did not understand me when  I speak English, I calmly, walked back to my desk and continued to work with a broken heart, wishing I could get rid of my accent.  Other people in the office had mocked my accent in the past.  As a result I was feeling more frustrated with the situation which felt more like I was being harassed.

             Months later, the receptionist told me I had a green light to answer the phones once again, which I did until once again I was told to stop.  This situation continued to happen for at least two years.   As if the situation of phones was not bad enough, after meetings and office gatherings, the main partner of the firm and a couple paralegals started to make fun of words I could not pronounce correctly and would make jokes about it, I become an easy target.   I did not realize how inappropriate their behavior was in a work setting and I allowed them to continue their behavior.   

            Similar events were occurring in Phoenix, Arizona, Alabama, and Michigan during the same period I was facing feeling of frustration, pain and embarrassment for not only having an accent but because my English was not good enough for my boss.  Arizona has a reputation of being a place of controversy and anti-immigrant laws and a history of being a racist state.   Other states like Alabama and Michigan were also controversial due to anti-immigrant laws and Michigan for the ending of Affirmative Action a measured promoted by African Americans anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly and successfully passed in November 2006.

            In May 2010 Arizona banned Ethnic Studies programs and Mexican American Studies classes in Tucson high schools.  Opponents of Ethnic Studies program alleged these classes were promoting resentment toward a race or class of people and suggested these programs promoted racial hatred segregation.  Unfortunately, Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2281 into law on May 11, 2010, the bill to prohibit Ethnic studies alleging these classes "promoted the overthrow of the United States Government."  At the same time the legislature passed SB1070 that authorized police and law enforcement to legally apply racial profiling, mainly to stop Latinos/Hispanics for traffic violations and mostly with the goal of immigration deterrence. 

            In another instance, a paralegal asked me to not answer my phone at my desk if I was going to speak Spanish because no one could understand what I was saying and that was disrespectful.  In addition she told me "it was not appropriate to speak Spanish because of my position".  Often my presence would be ignored, for example coworkers did not reply to my salutation to them in the morning.  Their ongoing comments about my accent kept making me feel less smart than them and I soon became afraid to speak  when we gathered in a group because someone would always interrupt or make a joke about something I said.  All this larger context set the scene for my incident, surrounded by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment in Arizona. 

            Exhausted by being the butt of their jokes and from the main boss yelling at me in front of everyone for a mistake not once, not twice and not three times but four times through a five-hour meeting, I finally typed the big boss a memo.  I asked him to stop pointing out my mistakes because it was not necessary to repeat them over and over and to stop making jokes related to my accent.  I also said that I was working hard to improve my accent and my work performance.  When the boss read my memo He got furious, came out of his office and started yelling as loud as possible in the hallway, so that everyone else could hear him saying to me that I had no place to tell him how to behave and that I was not improving my accent or my performance at my job that in fact I was getting worse.  His words and behavior instantly broke me into tears.  I felt like a tiny insignificant pebble rock.  I instantaneously believed what he had said to me was true.  I felt very incompetent.  A nice lady at the office pulled me into her office and oriented me as to what my next choices were and whether I should quit my job or let him fire me.  I chose to resign the next day, but the office administrator asked me to go home take a couple days off to think about it. 

            The boss: I opened my own firm in the late 1980's, and ever since I practiced law, over the years my business has progressed and my staff has expanded from one employee to twelve.  Over the years I have earned excellent credentials, prestige and recognition by different magazines, newspapers and institutions.  As a business owner I deal with stress twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, issues with clients' status on their cases, administration, benefits, and financial issues that are sometimes unexpected and on some occasions, overwhelming.

            In 2008, I hired Isabel, she is a responsible, honest and a hard worker, but I am beginning to get frustrated with her English.  Since her primary language is Spanish and English is her second language, is hard to understand when she speaks and her grammar in English is terrible.   I have a major in English, and cannot tolerate any type of grammar errors especially when it comes  to my business and my reputation. 

            For instance when Isabel speaks  I do not understand half of what she says.  Perhaps I lack people skills,  but I cannot avoid making fun of her errors and it comes naturally for me to make a joke about her Mexican accent.  She is young and lacks self confidence, another factor that makes the situation much easier for me to entertain at her expense. Surprisingly, in 2010,  I received an email from Isabel, asking me to stop making jokes related to her accent and background. She also called me a bully and worst of all she stated she was working hard on improving her grammatical skills and getting better.  Yeah right, the email itself had terrible grammatical errors.  I am the founder of this firm, a brilliant and very successful lawyer if I don't say so myself. A mere secretary, a simply employee of mine, does not have the right to tell me how to act or behave in my own firm.  So, I came out my office and flatly told her that her email was inappropriate and that she was not getting any better at her grammar skills but instead she was getting worse.  This response got the message to her loud and clear  and stopped her from similar reproaches regarding my behavior in my own business. 

            In 2013, when federal courts ruled that Arizona's racial profiling violated Latino constitutional rights.  First Judge G. Murray of the United States District Court of Arizona ruled that Maricopa County Sheriff's (MCSO) office led by Joe Arpaio violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendment to the constitution and then the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the majority of SB1070 as unconstitutional.  Further evidence incriminating Joe Arpaio was found through his staff, such as statistical studies which demonstrated that four out of nine Latinos were more likely to be pull over in Maricopa county than any other race, evidence of racial disparities due to by anti-Latino bias by Joe Arpaio.  Although (MCSO) had been prohibited to enforce federal immigration law since 2009, four years later they were still enforcing it through raids and traffic stops.  A testimony by a law enforcement expert was not a surprise but eye-opening for the community as he expressed that Joe Arpaio's actions were the "worst example of racial profiling that he had encountered." In addition MCSO had written policies to encourage the use of race as a factor to determine a traffic stop and emails expressing anti-Latino sentiment, racist images and jokes.  Like many other Latinos in Arizona I felt personally infuriated by these rulings, and they too worked their way onto my office relations.

            For better or for worse, I did stay and I am still working at the same law firm.  However, after all the struggles and difficulties my boss offered to pay for me to go to college.  I accepted and now he is the reason I am able to write this paper and learning more about different cultures.  Over the years the environment in our office has changed.  Itís a puzzle for my boss's change of heart because he not only continues to pay for my education but also constantly gives me compliments related to my growth in his firm and my improvement on verbal and written skills.  Obviously, I am sure to let him know frequently my appreciation for giving me the opportunity to attend college and thank him for everything else as well.  I can only hope that my boss' change of heart will be mirrored in the wider society beyond our office. 

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