I: Yesterday demonstrations held around the nation, including in nearby Madison, WI, protested House bill HR4437 and encouraged immigration reform. I had missed the Milwaukee rally in March because of work, and hadn’t been to Madison to see friends for a while, so I decided to make the most of my day off and spend it in my favorite city. As I drove into Madison, Lake Monona, the Capitol building and the skyline in view, I could see thousands of people gathering in Brittingham Park preparing to march to the Capitol. I heard an estimate last week from Christine Newman-Ortiz, organizer for the Milwaukee-based immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, who said she hoped to see 5,000 people at the Madison rally. The turn-out was reportedly 10,000 — amazing for a city of around 200,000.
I wandered around campus for an hour, grabbing some food from the Indonesian cart on Library Mall, then heading up pedestrian State Street toward the Capitol. As I approached I could see people, mostly Hispanic, of all ages, carrying hundreds of American and Mexican flags, gathering around Wisconsin’s beautiful Capitol building. As I drew closer to the undeniable energy of a Madison rally, I felt a symbolic moment as I walked away from the campus and city that defined who I would become as an early 20s person, toward the center of a political struggle between the definitions of legal and illegal in the U.S., a topic that had become central in my new life in Milwaukee. I stood at the highest point I could get to for about a half an hour watching as thousands marched from West Washington Avenue onto the Capitol Square, carrying banners that read things like “We are your economy,” “Please don’t take away my daddy” and “Stop HR4437.” I couldn’t hear very well, nor is my Spanish good enough to understand speeches over megaphones in big crowds, so I headed to a nearby coffee shop to read and enjoy the rest of my day. I think rallies are great and I loved standing in the midst of the demonstration watching people and observing, but perhaps because of my educational upbringing in journalism, I feel very awkward being considered a participant. I heartily support all the things this rally stood for, but I was much more comfortable wandering around, taking pictures of Mexican kids waving American flags, eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers than chanting and waving my own flag. I am glad I went, and I really hope the huge rallies across the nation will stick in the minds of Senators on Easter break these two weeks, forcing them to compromise on real immigration reform in the next few months.
II: After an hour at Michaelangelo’s coffee shop it was time to head into the sun for a while, so I trekked across the Capitol Square to Madison’s Monona Terrace, a great place to hang out with book, iPod and lakeview on a gorgeous day. The roof of the Monona Terrace is one of my favorite places in Madison. For most UW alums, “The Terrace” refers to the Memorial Union terrace, a great place to hang out on the other isthmus lake, but I’ve always preferred the quiet, serene atmosphere of Lake Monona for an afternoon of reading, and the Union Terrace for a jovial, beer-drinking afternoon with friends. I took a few cell calls from friends Mary and Erin to organize dinner at the only Afghan restaurant I know of in Wisconsin (Kabul) for that night as well as a call or two from my assitant manager back at Qdoba in Milwaukee. I was hoping for one more call, a job offer for a customer service position with a local vaccine distributor where I had interviewed over the past few weeks.
At about 3:00 pm, sun starting to burn my pale wintered skin and 50 pages into a new novel, I got the call, my ticket out of the restaurant industry, which I have been seeking the last few months. I have been trying to not get my hopes up about any of the jobs I have recently interviewed for, even trying to stay a lot more content at Qdoba in order to not mentally check out early. Needless to say, the call yesterday was extremely welcome, but also began the real transition in my mind to a different career. It’s a big change. Since college I have worked a job with varied hours, a lot of responsibility that transcends the actual work day, as well as stress in all areas. I am responsible for the restaurant itself physically, the employees in it, the customers who visit it, as well as all the product that passes through it — raw food, preparation, cooking, and the final product, delivered to the customers. Many people don’t realize how much work goes into running a restaurant, and how many demands there are on a daily basis. So I will leave with mixed feelings. My new job will perhaps be fast-paced, but not in the way of the restaurant. I will exist in an office for 8 hours per day, working with other young educated women like myself, helping customers with problems, dealing with ordering and shipping, providing a level of service that will convince them to order from us again and again, therefore increasing my personal income. I’ll be able to take classes at night in photography or cooking, spend weekends off with family and friends, work 40 hours per week, not expect calls at 2 am from the alarm company. I’m disappointing my boss, perhaps she was aware of the possibility of my leaving but refused to think it was really going to happen. My biggest regret is leaving the best supervisor I have ever had, but I feel its necessary for my survival. If I wait several more years and then try to leave the restaurant industry, I know I will need to go back to school or have some sort of career miracle happen to get a job outside restaurants or retail. So with that, I begin a month-long transition out of my job and eventually to my new position.
III: The conclusion to my great day was an opportunity to have coffee with two of my best girl frends and then dinner with them and a few other close college friends. We talked about immigration, urban housing, babies and careers over beef kabobs and fish curry. Having not seen a few of these friends in a while, it was great to sit and catch up with people I once saw on an almost daily basis. I drove out of Madison amazed at the caliber of people who I can call my friends.
We are all doing very different things in our lives – youth pastor, housing community coordinator, restaurant manager, international outreach assistant for a church/world traveler, medical translator/aspiring actor, private school alumni events director. Some have married, some are single, some float in between. Our conversations rival any I have had in my life. We can discuss world politics and the most intimate parts of our personal life. We share experiences that only happen once in a lifetime, and I have the distinct feeling that were I not to see these people for the next 25 years, we could all gather and restart conversation like no time had passed at all. I envision these people being my friends all my life. Leaving Madison after another coffee and another discussion of immigration reform with a friend who missed our dinner, I felt so thankful for a great day, full of comfort, hope, promise and change, in Madison, the location of many life-changing events in my life.