I grew up in the swaddled cacophony of morning chatter between tourists, professors, and videographers.
I grew up conditioned in excessive politeness, fitted for making small talk with strangers.
At 9, I remember how I used to lounge on the couch and watch Disney cartoons on the sideways refrigerator of a TV implanted in a small cave in the wall.
At 12, I remember family photographs of the Spanish countryside hanging in every room. The carpet I vacuumed I only saw once a week, and the pastel shirts I folded I never wore. My mother was only the cleaning lady, and I helped.
She put an ad in the paper advertising house cleaning, and a couple, both professors, answered.
They became her first client, and their house became the bedrock of our sustenance.The squeal of her vacuum reminds me why I have the opportunity to drive my squealing car to school.I am where I am today because my mom put an enormous amount of labor into the formula of the American Dream.When it comes to service workers, as a society we completely disregard the manners instilled in us as toddlers.For seventeen years, I have awoken to those workers, to clinking silverware rolled in cloth and porcelain plates removed from the oven in preparation for breakfast service.All the mirrors she’s cleaned could probably stack up to be a minor Philip Johnson skyscraper. The vacuums and the gloves might be, but the work isn’t. She spent countless hours kneeling in the dirt, growing her vegetables with the care that professors advise their protégés, with kindness and proactivity.Today, the fruits of her labor have been replaced with the suction of her vacuum.There exists between service workers and their customers an inherent imbalance of power: We meet sneers with apologies.At the end of their meal, or stay, or drink, we let patrons determine how much effort their server put into their job.The professors left me the elements to their own success, and all my life I’ve been trying to make my own reaction.Ultimately, the suction of the vacuum is what sustains my family.