L O V E was TATTOOED on his RIGHT KNUCKLES

love_hateH A T E on his left.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he paused. “What’s this ‘no loose jewelry’?”

I shut the new employee production orientation guide.

The manufacturing company where I work as a Human Resources Manager is a packaging manufacturer. We make paper and plastic bags. On the plant floor, hairnets are mandatory. Another rule is no rings, loose jewelry, or loose clothing.

He added with dismay, “My dad made me take my nose piercings out and they have already closed.”

Large black circles were stretching his earlobes. He had post piercings under his lip.

“Usually, the Production Manager, decides what’s acceptable,” I said. When I saw the look on his face, I quickly added, “But, since that’s your dad, I’ll have the Quality Manager come down and look at you. She’ll tell us what’s okay.”

He sighed with relief.

“I’ve got long hair but I keep it under my stocking hat.”

“When you’re around the machines you need to keep it tucked in. Just like if you’re wearing a hoodie you can’t have the strings dangling. It’ll pull you into the machine,” I warned.

He shuddered. “I need to use my hands to do crafts.”

While we waited for the Quality Manager he told me that he would be turning 19 next month. This was his first manufacturing job. He wanted to make sure that he understood the rules because he wanted to do everything right.

“You need to be here on every scheduled work day,” I said. “No lates, no absences.” I repeated again for emphasis, “You have to be squeaky clean for your first 90 days. Is there anything you have scheduled?”

He thought for a moment, then said, “I’d like to have February 14th off. I’m old fashioned like that.”

I shrugged. “Fair enough. I’ll make sure they have it down that you are approved for that day off.”

The Quality Manager came in the room. She looked him over.

83589021“What other piercings do you have?” I asked. Then I shook my head quickly and put up my hands. “I don’t need to know about any of the piercing you have under your clothes, just what would be showing.”

“I have a piercing on my eyebrow that I’d like to keep on if I could,” he said. He pulled out an Altoids box and opened it. He reached for a straight pin.

The Quality Manager asked him to put it on. She studied him for a moment, then determined that it wouldn’t be in danger of falling into a machine and that his safety glasses covered the piercing.

She explained that it wasn’t just about the piercings falling into the machines but also the customers that came through the plant.

I spent 5 hours in orientation with this new employee. He changed me. If I would have passed him on the sidewalk – he adorned with his tattoos and piercings and dressed in all black – I would have been anxious.

But this young man was courteous, respectful, caring, and wanted to present his best self. Underneath all the ‘stuff’ he was gentle.

I told his dad the next day that sometimes it takes a few years for our outsides to match our insides. I know it did for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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A week when everyone looks like you

La Semana 2010 Crystel 8 years old

La Semana 2010 Crystel 8 years old

I know even before I get to the high school for the fiesta that I am going to cry at some point during the evening. Antonio and Crystel have been attending La Semana Cultural Camp for a week every summer since they were in first grade. Now fifth graders, they are going to join 450 other children born in over 20 different countries and perform the Latin American dance that they had learned during the week. There would be 25 dances, put on by everyone from first graders to Ayudantes (adoptees who recently graduated high school).  Except when we travel in Guatemala, Latin American Cultural Camp is the only place that I could lose Antonio and Crystel in a crowd. . .  because here everyone looks like them.

Antonio and amigo 2013

Antonio and amigo 2013

If this is my experience as an adult, imagine what it would be for a child to be surrounded by his or her own ethnic origin if only for one week a year. To top that off, all the children are adopted. For the first time, a child doesn’t have to explain him or herself to a new friend. There are no questions. Everyone is adopted.

Families travel from 14 different states and Canada to attend La Semana. The adoptees learn Latin American crafts and dances, try Latin American foods, hear Latin American music, and are exposed to written and spoken Spanish. The children also take a class that focuses on age-appropriate topics related to adoption. Most importantly, they just get to be kids with other kids like them.

Crystel and friends up to no good. 2013

Crystel and friends up to no good. 2013

Every year, La Semana, focuses on a country. This year it is Paraguay. Throughout the week, campers explore the culture of Paraguay. Through video and games they get an overview of Paraguay’s food, music, geography, sports teams and animals. At a Paraguayan market and fiesta, campers taste food and drink, create with beads and clay, and play traditional holiday games.

Jody has been at La Semana all week volunteering her time in the craft department. La Semana is successful due to the volunteer efforts of the families of children attending camp. All camp programs are planned and executed by the families involved. There are fewer than seven paid teachers for more than 450 campers. To encourage participation, La Semana requires a parent of kindergarten through tenth grade campers to volunteer in some capacity.

Chicas

Chicas

Jody is already inside Lakeville High School having saved our seat hours ago for the fiesta in the gymnasium. Tears start welling up in my eyes as I see parents streaming through the school entrance holding hands with their young children. The fiesta is a time for the campers to show off their ‘stuff.’ Inside the dressing room, they will be transformed as they put on traditional dress, and the girls adorn themselves with red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and blush.

Crafts are the best!

Crafts are the best!

Jody texts to see if I want to sit and wait for the dances to start. But I don’t. I want to stay in the gathering area and watch everybody. This unnerves Antonio and Crystel to no end because I often do this no matter where we are. “Mom, quit staring,” they will say. Unfortunately, it will be their cross to bear.

This afternoon, I have an opportunity to observe over a hundred Latin American teens and young adults. I witness what Antonio and Crystel will look like in a few years and start to cry. They’re beautiful.