In 1985, my parents began their journey from the rural mountains of Honduras to the United States of America—the land of opportunity. They endured six months of starvation, loneliness and fear of la migra in order to realize their own American dream of stability and prosperity.
My parents took their first job opportunities the moment they came their way — when they did not understand English, had only a Honduran elementary education and needed a source of income fast. My dad became a full-time auto mechanic and my mom a part-time waitress. Although both jobs paid relatively low, had no benefits and called for exhaustingly long hours, my parents continued to keep their heads high and managed to provide the basic necessities for my siblings and myself.
As a first-generation Honduran-American living in Northeast Los Angeles, I am constantly reminded of the struggles and injustices workers face daily. I see discrimination, inadequate pay, and harsh working conditions all around me. I can no longer bear to see the faces of workers who have their worries, stress, and concern about their working environment engraved into their tired eyes. I no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines of life and watch human beings sacrifice their bodies, time and energy just to receive a pitiful check that barely sustains themselves or their families.
A close friend gave me the opportunity to help bring justice for workers who suffer the abuse and exploitation of multimillion dollar corporate companies. I started volunteering with UNITE HERE Local 11, and I learned the basic concept of unionizing and protesting against corporations that exploit the labor of people like my parents. This semester I’m volunteering as a communications intern. I am learning how we use the media to tell workers’ stories.
On the same day the Hotel Bel-Air re-opened, UNITE HERE launched a boycott against the Bel-Air, one of the few five star hotels in Los Angeles. Prior to its renovation, the luxury inn laid off 250 workers. It has replaced them with non-union workers. On re-opening day, hundreds of union members and supporters protested. Along the main entry to the Hotel Bel-Air, we marched with picket signs to let the public know that the Bel-Air was opening without a union contract; and later marched down to Sunset Boulevard. The union campaign’s image of wounded swans portrayed the harsh realities of mistreated and unappreciated workers.
Before the protest, I conducted my first interview, with Martin Tabares, who is one of those 250 laid-off workers. For five years he worked as Assistant Manager of Banquets at the Bel-Air. He was responsible for catering, drinks, music, etc. He helped organize weddings and other important events that were held for celebrities and government officials. It sounds like he was really good at his job.
As a husband and a father of four, Martin was the backbone of his family’s income. “It hurt me to know that I was no longer able to provide for my family. I believe that a man is supposed to care and provide for his own family. All my life I worked hard to provide for my family, but now it hurts to know that I can no longer do that. I feel useless,” Martin told me.
Despite his setback, Martin keeps his head high. He has dedicated his time to family, which lives in Lancaster, miles away from Bel Air. Martin’s wife, Luz, is an aspiring ranchera singer who works part time – her paychecks barely sustain the Tabareses. His older two daughters are already independent with families, so he focuses on his younger daughters’ education. But he needs to work, and he refuses to keep his arms crossed.
Martin, and all the other discarded workers are not alone in this fight. It is a fact that UNITE HERE Local 11 will continue to take all actions necessary to win justice. And I will be a part of this movement, no longer on the sidelines.