When and early meeting requires me to ride into downtown Minneapolis on an earlier-than-usual 4F bus, Maria is almost always riding. As I pass by her on the way to my seat—she invariably sits on the left side near the front—I'm always struck by both the similarities to my own daughter, as well as some perceived differences.
My daughter is in her mid 20s, roughly the same age that Maria appears to be. Like my daughter, Maria chooses to commute by bus, and I rather imagine that the reason is the same as for my daughter—she is young and and may not be able to own a car yet. And like my daughter, Maria is decidedly NOT a morning person. More often than not, she is semi-snoozing in her seat, with her head resting against the window glass and her eyes closed.
I'm also struck by differences between my daughter and Maria—some of which are obvious, some perceived. My daughter's blonde paleness makes it rather easy to guess that she's of Scandinavian descent. Maria is of Hispanic heritage; my guess is that her parents are from southern central America or northern South America. Though I don't know for sure, something about her coloring and facial features makes me think she might be from Columbia or Peru.
The other perceived differences are admittedly the product of my imagination. My daughter, second child from a solidly middle class family, commutes to work in the mornings via bus in order to afford tuition in an MA program she attends at night. Her need for low-cost commuting is, I believe, quite temporary, and it will not be long before there will be enough affluence to allow her to own her own car and to enjoy a more comfortable life. Maria invariably wears a blue uniform dress under her coat, and wears sturdy shoes with thick resilient soles. I take this to identify her as a service worker in one of the downtown establishments, possibly a housekeeper at one of the hotels. I automatically assume her options are a little more limited than they are for my daughter.
And then, despite myself, I jump to further conclusions. I imagine Maria's family to be very recent immigrants from central or South America. They could be recently naturalized citizens, or documented non-citizens, or non-documented immigrants. The economy of Minnesota, like most states, depends on all classes of this labor force. In Minneapolis, a heavy proportion of the manual service labor force is recent Hispanic immigrants, and in the rural areas, they dominate the food canneries of the big food giants Del Monte and Green Giant, or the meat packing industries.
In my liberal, pro-labor stereotyping, I am naturally sympathetic to these workers. I see almost all of them as incredibly industrious, hard-working souls, who courageously have left their homes to seek work and a better future as strangers in a strange land. Progress toward the American dream will take generational time. Only three generations ago, my daughter's great-grandfather was a Norwegian immigrant farming a dirt-poor little dairy and pig farm in far northern Minnesota, and upward mobility for the clan was a step-by-step thing. The large influx of Vietnamese immigrants that came to Minnesota in the 1970s are only now making themselves felt in government and business. It will be much the same for Maria, I imagine, though perhaps it will take even longer, given the current xenophobia of American culture. Will she be forced to follow the same labor pattern as her parents? In my mind I wonder if this will be her life—endlessly cleaning hotel rooms after pro athletes and visiting business people leave town.
But even while thinking this, I'm aware this is lazy liberal stereotyping on my part. I have utterly no way of knowing what Maria's life really is. She could be working a menial downtown job to pay for college. Or she might be changing buses in downtown to continue on to the University, where her uniform is the garb of her part-time food service job. At a gathering of family friends recently, the teenage daughter of some close friend introduced us to a girlfriend of native American heritage. Having grown up near the big tribal reservations in southern Minnesota, I had an instant image of who this girl might be...and then learned that her father was an extremely successful businessman and that she was interviewing for admittance to Princeton and Columbia on the basis of SAT scores that bordered on perfection.
I can be quite guilty of liberal stereotyping, and although my hunch about Maria probably has a better chance of accuracy than Donald Trump's assumption that her family consists of rapists and thieves, my view is still a stereotype, and as such has no guarantee of being accurate in one particular case.
Today, things looked different on the early 4F bus. Maria was wide awake, and dressed much differently, with hair slightly curled, wearing makeup, dressed in smart business-like attire. And she was not in the least bit sleepy, but instead seemed a little nervous and jumpy. Perhaps headed for a job interview this morning.
I was tempted to talk to her, but I imagine that intrusion by a stranger would rather alarm her. I do hope, though, that she soon gets to abandon the housekeeper's uniform and starts commuting in business attire every day.