The Tamale and Me

Every single person on Earth has had to gain different literacies throughout their life. Whether it be using the toilet, reading a book, writing the alphabet, driving, eating, or, in my case, working at a restaurant as a waitress and cashier. I’d been looking for a job the past few years during high school but it was difficult to find a workplace which would hire a person under the age of 18. This might be because they have less paperwork they’d need to do when hiring someone who is a minor and needs a work permit. I had gone on a few different interviews at various places that may have been likely to give me a job if I were an adult. By going on interviews and preparing beforehand, I gained the literacy of interviewing for a job. Unfortunately, almost every single time I went on an interview, once the interviewer learned I was too young, they’d decide not to hire me. I eventually found a job at the end of September in 2016, but then I had to learn how to do the job.

Getting this job was completely unexpected. The opportunity mostly arose because I decided to grab lunch with a friend at this new restaurant near my house, called The Tamale Guy. I’d bought food there a couple of times before and the owner, Fred, was working the front. After taking our order, Fred started talking to us because he remembered me. “Are you girls looking for jobs, by chance?” he asked.We told him we were and sat down to speak with him shortly. He asked each of us a few questions, such as our availability, our work history, and he wrote down our phone numbers so the manager would be able to call us once he talked to her about possibly hiring my friend and me. Later in the day, the manager of the restaurant, Marlyn, called to set up an interview. The next week I went to the interview and Marlyn decided to give me a two week training period to see how I did. If I didn’t do well in those first two weeks, I wouldn’t continue to work there. As a young college student who wasn’t born into a wealthy family, it was important to me to get a job so I could help support myself, and because of that, I really wanted to stay.

Before my first day, I had to learn how to dress for work in a restaurant. I also needed to have the literacy of driving in order to get to work, the literacy of simple math in order to give the correct change to the customer and to make sure that the amount of money that was in the register was the amount that was supposed to be in there. This was required even before I started to work at the restaurant.

On my first day, it was important for me to be friendly and to pay attention to how I was expected to work. I was like a sponge, eager to absorb everything. I learned how to greet the customers, how to use the register, and most importantly, how to sell the product. Fred taught me most of this as well as my coworker, Priscilla. That day, there was an unfortunate incident, however. I was attempting to restock the drink fridge with water, but while grabbing a bottle of water, I accidentally knocked over a can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. The can fell and exploded, leaving the register, counter, floor, and myself, covered in the sticky drink. Fred was nearby and saw the whole incident. Embarrassed, I proceeded to clean up the mess and finish my shift.

At the end of my shift, we discussed how I had done and Fred told me he was pleased with how I worked. He mentioned some things he wanted me to improve upon, specifically being louder and more enthusiastic. Overall, he seemed happy, but I was embarrassed and upset by the spill. After my first day of work, I talked to my grandma. “I don’t want to go back, I wasn’t good at it,” I said, embarrassed. She encouraged me to try again, and the days got easier. She helped me to learn to persevere and to commit to something, which has been helpful especially when I experience hard days at work due to rude customers.

As a result of going back, I learned how to do a lot more things that have helped me be successful at work. I started making a list of all of the things I needed to do when working the opening shift, and a list of what had to be done when I was working the closing shift. I baked the empanadas, cleaned dishes and floors, got customers to buy things, filled salsa containers, and even helped train a new employee. Marlyn showed me how she wanted me to move all of the chairs and the tables when I swept and mopped. One of the cooks, Blanca showed me how to fill the empanadas and how to know which tamale is which and how to know the differences between the empanadas. Marlyn taught me all of the ingredients in each kind of tamale and told me they’re all gluten free. Now, I do my job really well and don’t stress about the little things I must do at work.

My literacy sponsors for learning how to do my job as a waitress/cashier at The Tamale Guy include my grandma, the owner, Fred, my manager, Marlyn, my coworker, Priscilla, and one of the cooks, Blanca. Each of them have taught me different skills and knowledge that has helped me to become successful and helped me gain the literacy of working as a cashier and waitress at a restaurant, as well as the literacy of having and keeping a job so I can support myself better. The most important literacy I gained was to persevere in life throughout its ups and downs.