Maribel Quezada Smith: I remember as a kid, you would leave me at school very late. I would be the last one to be picked up. You wouldn’t come to my assemblies a lot when I was growing up. Do you regret working so hard that you couldn’t come to the assemblies and you couldn’t pick me up on time?
Lulu Muñoz: Now that I know how you feel I deeply deeply regret that, but I needed to do what I needed to do in order for you to be able to go to school, to navigating life, to get what you needed, because there was no other way of doing it.
Maribel Quezada Smith: This is my mom, she’s probably the hardest working woman I know. She’s also the person I get my own views around work from, many of them positive and aspirational, but some of them have been damaging and anxiety-inducing. Like-mother like-daughter, in many ways I’ve been trying to change some of the damaging ways I was raised to look at work. In the United States, Latinos are associated with all kinds of stereotypes. We like big fiestas, are great dancers and have a drawer dedicated to all the ketchup packets we’ve accumulated over the years – don’t say you don’t. Most of these are harmless, and even a source of pride for me, but there’s this one stereotype I’m not sure how to feel about. “Latinos work hard.” It’s something I’ve always been kind of proud of, I will wear the stereotype as a badge of honor. But lately I’ve been wondering if the value we place on working hard is actually causing more harm than good in our communities. Is our work-hard attitude too closely connected to our sense of self-worth? And how do we get better at balancing our hard work with living. We’re dedicating this episode to help us answer these questions. And for that you will hear from a few different voices of different generations and with different experiences of Latino work culture. Starting with two of the most hard working people I know, who I might consider experts in this matter… mis padres.
Lulu Muñoz: My name is Lulu Muñoz. I am Maribel’s mother and I was born in Mexico.
Marco Quezada: My name is Marco Quezada. I’m Maribel’s father.
Maribel Quezada Smith: So growing up, in Mexico, do you remember having examples of
people who worked hard and your family that you learned your work ethic from?
Lulu Muñoz: Both my grandfathers were a good example for that. They both just make their way through life, by working very hard and coming from the very bottom.
Maribel Quezada Smith: ¿Quien fue un ejemplo bueno para ti de cómo se trabaja o de cómo ser un buen trabajador?
Marco Quezada: Fue mi padre. Él trabajó desde muy chico. Nació en una situación muy pobre y tuvo que trabajar desde los siete años.
Maribel Quezada Smith: I asked my dad who he might have learned the meaning of hard work from, and he talks about my grandfather. How he worked since he was seven years old, out of severe need, and never stopped until he retired in his sixties.
Would you say that you are a hard worker?
Marco Quezada: Yo de diez años empecé a tratar de ganar dinero, acarreando cubetas de agua.
Maribel Quezada Smith: My dad just shared how he started working around age 10, doing odd jobs for people around the neighborhood that didn’t pay great but helped him make some extra money. Here’s what my mom had to say about her work ethic:
Lulu Muñoz: I had, in the past, the need to focus very much on working every day, regardless of Saturdays and Sundays. That’s what I had to be.
Maribel Quezada Smith: As you probably guessed already, my parents are boomers, and they view hard work as a given trait that is part of life. I’m also not sure if you noticed, but neither of them gave me a straight answer when I asked if they considered themselves hard workers, they just talked about why they had to work hard. Both of them grew up with families who worked their way out of poverty. Some who even became wealthy, so it’s no surprise that my mom and dad would follow in their footsteps. My theory is that many of us Latinos, living in the united States, have been raised to follow this generational pattern of hard work, along with the belief that it’s the only way to bring honor to our ancestors, the ones who had to work hard just to survive.
Do you think that working hard is a cultural thing for Latinos or it’s just a coincidence that we happen to be Latinos, immigrants who work?
Lulu Muñoz: In Spanish, we have a saying that says, “La carga hace andar al burro.” and I think that is very, very true that if you recognize the need and you want to survive through those needs, then you just work as hard as you need. We have to work hard in order to survive.
Marco Quezada: También hay cierto sentido de demostrar que que podemos hacerlo los trabajos y los podemos hacer más rápido y a veces hasta de mejor calidad que como lo hacen aquí.
Maribel Quezada Smith: What my dad tells me that he believes Latinos have the rep of being hard workers because so many Latinos have to do jobs that require manual labor, since in our native countries often times we don’t have the same access to the equipment and technologies available to American workers. And he’s statistically right. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2021 “The sector with the highest concentration of Hispanic workers was farming, followed by construction, food prep and several other physically-demanding jobs. While Hispanics remain overrepresented in service occupations, we still only make up 10.7% of workers in management jobs – so those are like the office jobs. So these stats clearly show the stereotype is based on facts. Latinos work hard if you define hard work by physical and manual labor. But what about those of us who work less physically demanding jobs? My mom would spend 12-16 hours a day in the office. I suspect that because she didn’t have to clean or lay bricks for a living, she didn’t understand the detrimental effects that office overtime had on her mental health, or on her family life. According to a 2012 Pew Research article, 75% of Latinos in the U.S. believe that hard work can get you ahead. But this belief might be waning in 2022, as some of us begin to realize that there are more intangible forces that can play a role in our success. There’s also luck, timing and being in the right networking circles. Maybe we feel the pressure to work harder than others because some of us still think we have something to prove.
Do you think we tie our self worth to being productive?
Marco Quezada: Siento que si no estoy desarrollando, no soy una persona útil para la sociedad. Y si no estoy activo, si me siento deprimido, me siento frustrado.
Maribel Quezada Smith: My dad says he feels frustrated and depressed when he is not being useful. He and I share a very similar and in my opinion, toxic thought, that we cannot be useful unless we are being productive. We also share this same desire to not only survive, but to build something better. And the result from that is this sense of pride! Some people think this will to persevere through hard times and work hard gets watered down as the new generations are born without the similar struggles.
Do you think that the kids of Latino immigrants are losing sight of the hard work mentality that maybe their parents had?
Lulu Muñoz: Kids that are born here. They are already legal citizens. They don’t have to worry about that part. So in that sense, they don’t have to worry much as we did. Is it, is it still worth to push them to understand that hard work is going to help them in life? I think it is.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Do you think that they just have better life work balance capabilities?
Lulu Muñoz: I think they probably will have that privilege.
Maribel Quezada Smith: The key word that my mom used is privilege. How do we as Latinos start to view having a life outside of work, as not so much a privilege but a non-negotiable? I decided that I needed to get a different perspective to answer this and other questions. Honestly, the younger generations seem to be doing better than us millennials sometimes at setting boundaries and creating a more balanced life. This often criticized generation for being entitled, wanting things to come easily and not knowing the meaning of hard work, I think comes from the fact that Gen Z people are more vocal about their needs, and not afraid to ask for what they want. Maybe what we view as entitled they look at as confidence. And what we think is lazy, they call “work/life balance.” Could this entire mentality hang on a simple misunderstanding? My arduous research on the gen Z perspective about work/life balance took me on a journey to the most popular hangout spot… TikTok.
This is Kimberly Muñoz. A Mexican-American recent college grad who makes TikTok content around the topics of work and career progression in the American corporate world.
Kimberly Muñoz: I was born and raised here in Atlanta, Georgia. Um, I went to school at Georgia state university. I am first gen. My parents are working class.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Like so many gen Z people, Kimberly is not worried about her colleagues coming across her content on social media.
When I was coming out of college it was two years after Facebook had been created. And anyone that was on social media, the last thing we wanted was for our future employers to see our social media profiles. And now it seems Gen Z is like, it’s okay to be who I am and if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.
Kimberly Muñoz: I think we, we are confident in terms of, you know, I know the skills that I have and I know the potential that I can bring. And if the company that I’m working for right now, doesn’t respect that, then there’s other options. It’s your nine to five, the five is the cutoff.
Maribel Quezada Smith: That’s such an interesting perspective. And I think it’s so important because it really leads us to talk about work life balance, and I wanted to get your perspective on what is work life balance.
Kimberly Muñoz: I think work-life balance it’s determined by you. I think that’s something important to understand about yourself before you even apply to a job because you need to understand, like, what is the max amount of hours that you want to work?
Maribel Quezada Smith: Have you ever had to illustrate what that means to your family?
Kimberly Muñoz: So my dad he’s a construction worker. And every time I had a conversation about, you know, I’m taking time off or if I have too much free time that he doesn’t see me actually working, he’s like, what are you doing? You need to go back to work. He wakes up five in the morning, goes to work. He doesn’t come back home till like eight o’clock at night and I saw that and I thought to myself, like, I don’t want that. I wanna make sure that I have a balance that I can be with my family in the future and everything like that. I am so grateful that he did that for me, but at the end of the day, we need to change that habit.
Maribel Quezada Smith: What are your earliest memories of seeing your parents work?
Kimberly Muñoz: Never seeing them sometimes my dad would work, outta town. So there’s like weeks that I didn’t see him. My mom would go off to work cuz she cleaned hotel rooms. So those were like my earliest memories of them working, like not, not having the ability to take time off, the ability to go on a vacation. And I also think that my dad is in love with work. I don’t, I don’t blame him because that’s, that’s the environment that he grew up and that’s the only thing he knows. And that’s the only way to bring food on the table when I was growing up.
Maribel Quezada Smith: If you’re nodding your head to this, you’re not alone. And according to the national Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families, Forty-five percent of U.S.-born and more than half of foreign-born working low-income Hispanic fathers report working non-standard schedules like nights and weekends. The same goes with over half of Hispanic mothers. But that doesn’t mean Latinos don’t want work-life balance. I think these conversations and statistics show that our generational outlook on what it means to work hard needs to shift. And maybe it would help to look at our younger peers for some inspiration.
Do you think that work life balance is more important to gen C people than any other generations?
Kimberly Muñoz: I think because we, as Gen Z are graduating in this era of post pandemic, we’re trying to see, like, what do we want out of life? What do we want out of our career? I think it’s giving light to millennials and people that are older, um, also a way and a possibility to step back and see what they want out of their career as well.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Do you think that Latinos or Latinas, Latine people have a healthy relationship with work culture?
Kimberly Muñoz: Absolutely not. We need to make sure that we are setting ourselves, ourselves up for success to show our future generations what work life balance is, what the potential is to have these other passions to have these other hobbies, to make sure that we take the time to go to therapy, to go to the gym, to make sure that we take care of ourselves. Because I think that’s something that the Latino culture lacks is the ability to take care of yourself, because I feel like we maybe feel guilty to even do that. Why am I spending that money on myself? And I think that’s like back to the toxicity of like Latino culture, we need to start breaking that and making sure that our kids see us do that, so they feel like they’re allowed to do that for themselves as well
Maribel Quezada Smith: What I hear a lot in your stories and what you’re sharing is that you kind of have to give yourself permission, uh, to have the balance, but then you also have to kind of ask for it and push for it and be your own advocate for it.
Kimberly Muñoz: It’s like taking the time to listen to yourself. Like what, what is your limit and how much you can push yourself? That’s, that’s a healthy amount when it comes to your career. Set those boundaries, and give yourself the permission to do that because nobody’s gonna raise their voice for you.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Maybe it’s my immigrant mentality or maybe it’s my American mentality, but I have this sense of pride that comes from the result of seeing my hard work pay off. I want to work hard, but I don’t want to be overworked, and I don’t want to be caught in the vicious hustle cycle. Having these conversations helped me understand where my patterns around work come from. I’m also realizing that contrary to what people of older generations might believe, younger folks are not scared to work hard, we’re scared of the effects that the lack of boundaries around our work time has on our lives. Personally, I keep going back to that time in my childhood where my parents were so often absent from my life, because they had to work. And I hurt for that little girl, but at the same time what my parents did for me then, helped put me where I am today. And if I play my cards right, I will figure out a way to have better balance in my work life and be more present in my son’s life. So that one day he can grow up and say that I was la mejor most present and balanced mamá¡ ever. HAHA, Well, a girl can dream right?