Que Tenga Buen Dia
A Short Story by Kate Dillon
Written using the suggestion "Success"
Originally featured on 05-15-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

I came to the United States from Mexico with my family when I was still in my mother’s belly. We came so that my parents, Catalina and Rafael, could give a better life to me and my two brothers and three sisters, better than the one that they had, a life full of poverty and often sadness because of the immense lack of something that they felt. They lacked everything, everything that you and I have come to know as basics, los basicos, as my parents always said. No teniamos los fundamentos, los basicos. They didn’t have clean water unless they walked very far to get it. No heat, no air conditioning. No television, of course, only a small, old radio my grandfather, mi abuelo, gave to my father when he was fourteen. They needed more food than they could produce or buy; they didn’t even have a lock on their front door to give them a little peace of mind that their children and humble amount of possessions were protected. Their trip here was very dangerous, but after weeks of hiding and sneaking around more than they ever had in either of their lives, they made it. Both of my parents always dreamed of a life of success, éxito; it’s what they wanted for both themselves and their family. I now dream of a life of success, and I feel that I can give that as a gift to my family.

I grew up speaking only Spanish; it is all my parents knew, and they still only know a handful of English phrases like Thank you and I’m sorry, I don’t understand.. I learned English in elementary school, as did all of my brothers and sisters. We spoke English at school and with some of our white friends, but at home and with our fellow Latinos we spoke Spanish. My parents worked manual labor jobs. My mother cleaned houses and my father worked in landscaping, both mostly with Latinos. They never really had a reason to learn English, so they didn’t. Porque tengo que aprender otra lengua, my mother always said. Soy demasiado viejo. I would tell her she wasn’t too old to learn another language, that it was always possible. Some of my older coworkers had learned English at night classes when they were at least forty years old, so why couldn’t they? I asked my parents, but they only shook their heads.

First Local Credit Union hired me when I was eighteen years old to be a teller at their primarily Spanish-speaking branch. I needed to make more money for my family so that they could be provided for. Before that, I washed dishes in a kitchen with old men. I liked the credit union job a lot better. I worked with other Latinos and spoke Spanish most of the day, or sometimes Spanglish, if our white coworkers were around. To our Spanish-speaking members, us Latinos were a comfort. Most of them were illegal immigrants, like my parents, and were skeptical of banks and other financial institutions. We made it easy for them to become members and trust us with their money. We offered free savings and checking accounts to all of our members, even the illegal ones, as long as they had a Tax ID in place of a Social Security number. We made them feel comfortable with our small, cozy branch and friendly faces. I loved working with people, and the people loved me; they even asked for me by name sometimes. I always helped everyone with a smile and wished them a good day as they left, Que tenga buen dia. Replies were usually a smile and a quick igualmente, which meant you, too, more or less.

My job not only provided for my family but it also made me feel needed and useful. I felt like I was truly making a difference in other people’s lives, and I loved it. I felt like I had finally achieved success.

When I was eighteen, I also began going to school at a nearby community college. Because I had so recently been hired and was enjoying my new job so much that I decided to major in business, something that would help me in my work at the credit union. I took math classes and economics classes, communications and leadership classes. I often struggled with my written English, something I had always struggled with growing up, and my English speaking skills were not perfect, but I was able to come through it with good grades, which meant success to my parents. It had come to mean success to me, too. I began to see myself as the one, la unica persona, that could really make something of themselves in my family and reward my parents for all their sacrifice. They were so proud of me. They took me aside to tell me that I was their favorite, which made me a little sad because my brothers and sisters are good people too. They just were not as motivated as me; my younger brothers Juan and Oscar didn’t do well in school and they often misbehaved, sending themselves straight to detention. We were still waiting to see what would happen with my younger sister, Elena, because she was only six, but my two older sisters Maria and Mercedes had already become pregnant at very young ages and were struggling to provide for their own families, let alone ours. I wish that they had done better in helping me to provide for our family, but I also wish that my parents had more patience, paciencia, with their imperfections.

I am now twenty-five, and have worked my way to becoming a teller manager. I have my degree in business, and I am hoping to someday become branch manager. It was hard going to school and working at the same time, and I often worked until one or two in the morning just to finish my homework, but it had all paid off. éxito, I tell myself. I wake up, help with my brothers and sisters while my parents and I get ready for work, and eat a quick breakfast. Then I drive twenty minutes to work, where I count the vault and balance other employees’ cash drawers and report to my manager. I smile and wish people a good day, Que tenga buen dia, and smile even bigger when they wish one back to me, knowing that it will be true. Every day is a good day when you have achieved what I have achieved in life, which is, at last, success.

Read More By Kate Dillon

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