The D.C. area’s ever-growing Hispanic population knows the value of work — even in the so-called “modest jobs” in the service sector.
The recent arrivals do not come with self-restricting notions of entitlement. They do not express contempt for the entry-level positions of the fast-food industry. They do not object to being laborers on a construction site.
Some pick up towels. Some cut hair. Others are the checkout clerks at the grocery store. Some are janitors and bar-backs.
They have not yet learned what it means to be an American. They have not learned that Americans define their self-worth by the name of the company on a business card. They do not even have a business card. They just work each day. They just provide their families with a better life.
They let others whine about the economy. They let others talk about how hard it is. They do not pretend to be experts on every topic imaginable: politics, sports, the law, the economy, the weather, or whatever is the lead item of the cable news shows on a particular day.
The classic immigrant tale is being played out again, as it has been played throughout American history, only this time, in this region, the huddled masses are coming from Latin America in impressive fashion, demonstrating anew the power of opportunity and personal initiative.
The region’s Hispanic population has exploded in the last decade, rising from 223,067 in the 1990 census to 432,003 in 2000.
The Hispanics are going to where the jobs are, to the suburbs — to Wheaton, to Seven Corners, to Herndon and Sterling.
They are taking the jobs that all too many Americans find beneath them.
You know how it is. What would your peers think if you were working at McDonald’s? What would it do to your self-esteem? You could not think of yourself as cool then. You could not think of yourself as the most special person on the planet of 6.5 billion.
The Hispanic community refuses to carry all this upside-down baggage. Some could tell you what bad really is. Their bad is not defined by whether they can afford to buy a flat-screen television or a second SUV. Some are the dirt-poor refugees of the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia.
So here they are, with an instructive lesson that often goes unnoticed around the disenfranchised element of the local population and their enablers in the media.
The Hispanic man has none of the advantages of being born in this country. He does not know the language in many cases. He does not know the culture. He does not know the simplest facts of living in this region.
But somehow, he learns the peculiar ways of this new land and he adapts. And he works. He is always working, sometimes two jobs, if necessary. He works, he saves his money, he pools his resources with members of his extended family, and then one day he opens his own business or he buys a home in the community in which he has been working.
It is amazing how this process works.
It is amazing what two arms, two legs and a strong back can do for a person if the person resists the urge to wallow in self-pity.
If a Hispanic man is seen to be guilty of loitering in some suburban communities, it is only because he is waiting to be picked up by a contractor who needs a day laborer.
You are seeing the Hispanic influx wherever you go, in the city or the suburbs.
They are everywhere, their numbers too large to overlook. If they all packed up and returned to their native lands today, parts of Washington probably would come to a stop.
So many are embracing the best of America and making it work for them and their families.
Theirs is a fundamentally American story, hardly sexy, yet relevant amid the collective whine of the media marketplace. Theirs is a celebration of long work hours, self-discipline and a stick-to-it attitude.
The Hispanic community has its problems, concerns and a criminal element, not unlike any other group of people, but it is mostly a resourceful community in the D.C. region.
They work in the stores, play soccer at the parks and buy homes in the previously homogenized neighborhoods of the suburbs.
Their emergence cuts through so much of the woe-is-me noise.