Santiago Salazar, Auto Body Worker

by Megan Caldwell

Santiago Salazar was on the subway around 11:30 p.m. one recent night on a mostly empty, quiet car. He had clearly just left work, covered in what appeared to be soot, carrying with him a large stuffed backpack. Tentatively, he agreed to tell me about himself, though we used body language to get over a few Spanish-English bumps.

An immigrant from Puerto Rico, Santiago was friendly and seemed to enjoy talking to someone, as he said “nobody usually talks to me this late at night, I mostly listen to my iPod and think about what my wife cooked me for dinner.” He works at a local auto body shop for about 7 hours a day and then commutes home to his wife, who works for a cleaning services. Santiago wears a t-shirt and jeans because working on cars can get quite messy.

He came to the United States two years ago, and found the transition difficult because it has been hard to learn English; the language issue is the only thing he felt was keeping him from making more money When Santiago came to the United States, he interviewed for a job at a real estate agency, but they told him to come back when his English was better, which is exactly what he intends to do.

In Puerto Rico, Santiago was college educated and worked for a well-known construction company, managing work sites. “It’s confusing how my college education means nothing now that I am in the U.S., but in Puerto Rico I was considered very, very smart”, he told me. Santiago seemed disappointed that his credentials and degrees did not transfer over when he moved here. He hoped that he would be able to get a good job and make lots of money. Santiago joked that his wife was trying to collect one million pennies so that they would have $10,000.

Santiago couldn’t wait to get home to his wife, who he loves “sobre la luna” which means “over the moon”. She cooks dinner and puts it in the fridge for him since he works until very late. He was going to warm up his dinner and watch and episode of modern family, his favorite TV show that one of his co-workers gave to him for Christmas

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