Published October 27, 2011
The life of an immigrant is often fraught with heartache. Whether seeking out opportunity, fleeing hardship, or both – living far from one's family, culture and patria can take an emotional toll.
To relieve the weight of sorrow, immigrants must find ways to stay connected to their identity while adjusting to life in the United States – ways they do that range from elaborate yearly festivals to small daily reminders like the one I encountered this past weekend.
Getting out of the car the first day at a blogging conference held at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Maryland, I glanced at the name tag of one of the men working curbside, greeting and assisting guests as they arrived.
The name tag read, "Jorge" and underneath that, "El Salvador."
Maybe I was a little tired, not used to waking and commuting so early, because I thought to myself, "I've never met anyone with the surname 'El Salvador.' I'll have to ask him about that later."
After meeting more employees that day with "surnames" such as "Perú" and "Trinidad" – I realized these weren't the staff's surnames at all.
At the Gaylord Hotel, as well as at some other hotels in the United States, staff include their country or U.S. city and state of origin, (or where they live now, if they prefer), on their name tag. While the staff was very diverse, I had a lot of fun seeking out those from Latin America and chatting with them.
Many of the employees allowed me to photograph their name tag and told me a little bit about the reasoning behind why the country is included on it.
"Even though we're working so far from our homeland," an employee by the name of Ricela from Bolivia told me in Spanish, "this," she said, touching the name tag pinned to her uniform above her heart, "reminds us of where we came from."
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.