Front vs Back of House Work and “Whiteness”

An interesting common thread between the two articles was “this idea of labor without citizenship, as well as an uncanny recurrence of imperial formations that legitimated the management of “humans as things” as put in the first article, “On Frequent Flyers and Boat People: Notes on Europe, Crisis, and Human Mobility.” This was similarly picked up in the second article, “Racial “Triangulation” Revisited” with the Latino- American migrant workers typically in the restaurant industry. In the second article Alexander talks about how it is only through acting “whiter,” or performing what she terms “American-ness,” that these Latino workers can move up within the restaurant labor industry from the back of the house jobs, without the possibility of tips or higher wages, to the front of the house jobs. While she interviewed both managers and workers within this power dichotomy, and both parties were very much aware of the racism present, the managers touched on an interesting point when they argued that they were trying to run a successful business. I thought that spoke volumes to the systemic racism present in our society that even though these racism managers might be an issue, the fact that putting someone out to have face-to-face interactions with customers had to be more “white” or as Marcus put it in his interview, “good-looking,” “funny,” “dependable,” and “well-educated,” (which as Alexander said, led her to to question which of these traits he and his managers consider reflective of whiteness) in order to get more business, really shows what people value these days in our American society desire (13).

Additionally, this idea of “performing whiteness” brings to mind the issue of denationalization, which was made a war crime in the United States after WWI, but is very much at play here especially with the ties to language, which were mentioned directly in relation to WWI when it was first declare a war crime. One specific example Alexander references is Shelly Fireman, a successful restaurant entrepreneur who had refused promotion to Latino workers on the grounds that their accents were “too heavy” for front-of-the house work. Similarly, in an interview with Alexander Christina said that she saw changing her act as her only opportunity for positive promotion and explicitly said “You can’t be heard talking Spanish” (14).

Another larger aspect of the Alexander article besides this triangulation of race and racism, was also a divide between the sexes. In regards to back-of-the house work, the jobs are largely filled by men with one of the exceptions being Marlina who “was the first to acknowledge the uncommonness of women in her position” (11). One of the managers even commented on the divide saying that “There’s a lot of stress and a lot of sexism that weed the women out” which reminded me of a film I remember watching years and years ago which was, as I recall it now, my very first real exposure to the issue of immigration. The movie was called “Under the Same Moon” or “La Misma Luna” and had the central female character who immigrated to the United States working as a maid in different houses whereas her younger son was able to work as a bus boy along his road trip in the States.