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Every afternoon after class, I see a Latina woman at my apartment complex cleaning up broken beer bottles, litter, and the occasional puddle of barf that is routine in a building full of college students. She seems to be in her late 30s or 40s. She works quietly, but for the occasional phone call she makes to a friend. I assume it's a friend because of the Spanish cuss words peppered here and there throughout her conversation. 

I don't know her name, but I see her everyday. She cleans the dirty elevator after students' irresponsible nights, and mops our hallways free of the unusual substances on the floors. The first few times I saw her, I smiled and nodded at her. I noticed how none of the other residents so much as looked at her.

I live in West Campus, an area directly beside UT that is full of luxury student apartments. I would never be able to afford living in that area if I didn't have great financial aid and a roommate that cuts my rent in half. I could live in Riverside for a couple hundred bucks less a month, but I like the nearness to campus and downtown. I have a job that helps me keep up with my rent payments as well. Anyway, all of this means that I am surrounded by people who are much more privileged than me. (I'm sure there are others who are in similar situations as me, but the majority of people are wealthy.)

Maybe that type of life makes it easy to dismiss people in a less privileged situation than them. Or maybe they don't care about the person that cleans up after their mess. Maybe they don't know what to say, and feel awkward making any type of contact with her. Either way, I started noticing that everyone who passed by her completely ignored her. I haven't been around to witness anyone interacting with her.

When I moved to my dorm at UT my freshman year, I noticed that everyone who cooked and cleaned was of color. They were mostly Latino or African-American. I naturally became friends with a couple of the cafeteria ladies, because they noticed I spoke Spanish and we had something in common. They reminded me of my tias. This cleaning lady at my apartment is no different.

I was shy at first, only nodding and smiling. Then one day I thanked her. Now, I at least say "buenos dias" or "buenas tardes" to her as I make my way to my door. Since I'm usually on my way to class or starving when I get to my building, and since I know she has a lot of work, I still haven't had a conversation with her. I still don't know her name. Hopefully that changes before I graduate and move out from West Campus.

I think it's important to remember those who clean up after you and do all the dirty work for extremely low wages (and minimum wage is low). At least thank them if you have the chance. This woman at my building reminds me of my relatives, because many of them have been in her position at one time or another. And I hope that when they were working, people were kind to them and remembered to show them respect.   

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Comment by Desiree Rios on March 27, 2013 at 7:28pm

My freshman year at Jester, there was a cleaning lady who started talking to me. I don't speak Spanish very well, and she didn't speak English very well, but she'd say things to me when I'd pass by. Whether it was inquiring about the weather or just a smile or nod, it was much more than many of my fellow students showed me. I have a deep respect for them all, you know how mean some UT students can be. 

Comment by Linda Maria Vasquez on March 26, 2013 at 9:17pm

I feel the same way. When I worked at Kinsolving, I got to know the women that worked there. They provided good advice and great words of encouragement. I've also realized that the smile of a UT worker is always warmer than that of a random student who passes you by. Like you said, sometimes other people really don't notice you. My mom cleans houses for a living, so I've learned to understand the hard work. It's definitely not an easy job and very much under appreciated. I can't speak for other students, but I always hope the employees interpret my friendliness, respect, and thanks as appreciation for their work. 

Comment by April C. Davila on March 25, 2013 at 12:20pm

I think these cleaning ladies are those people that work the hardest. No lie, they bust their butt, perhaps for their own daughters. I thank you for thanking them, in all sincerity.


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