Free to Wait Tables and Dig Holes

This weekend I introduced my daughter to the phenomenal music of West Side Story. I loved the movie as a teenager, not knowing of course that I would one day come to live out my own cross-cultural relationship.

Sadly, I have never seen Billy pirouette at all. However, I did dance to the West Side Story music when my high school marching band performed it. I was in color guard. Yes…. flags, palazzo pants, and all…

My favorite song is America. Listening to it again, the jaded perspective of immigration espoused by the men in this call and response song gave me some language to tell the next part of Billy’s story.

Anita describes life in America as “Free to be anything you choose.” In resounding unison, the men respond, “Free to wait tables and shine shoes!”

After arriving to the States as an international music sensation (well… maybe I’m exaggerating a bit), Billy entered the reality of working without papers. Two months commuting six hours daily for minimum wage, and he took a new job with an underground drilling company. He began work as a laborer, digging trenches along the streets of Los Angeles.

This season was a turning point for Billy. He went from being a middle-class, bilingual Guatemalan musician to “just another Mexican” on the side of the road wearing a hard hat. It’s difficult for me to explain how shocking this experience was for Billy, so he’s helped me co-write this post.

I never thought I would end up working in construction. That was never my life plan. I had once dreamed of being an architect, but never a laborer.

It was a cultural shock even to work with many of the guys I was working with in the field because of social class differences. Growing up, my family was middle class, but I suddenly realized I didn’t have any privileges in the States. It meant nothing that I had a last name with a good reputation in Guatemala or even that I spoke English. Those things weren’t opening doors anymore.

And I sucked at manual labor. I didn’t have the physical strength to do the job, and I had to develop it. I didn’t know exactly how to do the work, uncovering underground utilities. I had to learn to use jack hammers, bobcats, and other machines where I had no experience and there was no training.

Ultimately, I had to humble myself and ask for help from guys that, had we met back at home, we would probably have never even spoken. Here in the States, they became my best friends. I learned a lot about humility.   

This experience caused me to question my own identity and to question God’s purpose for my life. I had always seen myself as a ministry teacher, and in Guatemala I had been working as a pastor in a very large church. I also had hopes that the ministry of the band would grow and be successful.

Now, here I was, working in construction. That was not part of my plan.

This post was challenging for me to write, partly because I am very aware that we are so familiar with the stereotype of Latinos working construction. It makes me wonder if I or other Americans can truly recognize how many men may “end up” in this field because it is open for undocumented workers, but it does not mean they are trained for it, interested in it, or even good at it. 

P.S. I've been writing a series of posts about how my husband and I met and began dating, If you want to start from the beginning, click here. It's also included some stories about my husband's immigration experience, which you can start here or you go to the next post when he moves into Coyote Inn.

P.S.S. My husband shares about faith, ministry, and music over at his blog, Firetongue Music.  You can also follow him on Twitter at @FiretongueMusic.


  1. very enlightening post, Sarah. Thanks so much to your hubby for sharing his perspective!

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! Yes, I was very glad to have him share his point of view on this one. :)


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