February 24th, 2009

I sat down recently with Anita, our most senior staff member, and Jonathan, recently promoted bell-manager. I wanted to hear from her about the ways that the world and her life had changed in the time that she had been working at these hotels. Jonathan was clearly bored by the subject. He slumped in his chair and looked sorry about how difficult it would be to just get up and walk away.

“Jonathan,” I said, “she’s been working here for as long as you’ve been alive.”

I got him with that one. He leaned in, eager now to hear about the 22 years that spanned his entire existence.

But Anita tells her story as if it were simple and commonplace. She came here from Mexico 23 years ago, worked briefly at another hotel, then found the Cupertino Inn just as it was opening. Since she started as a housekeeper all those years ago, she has had four children and bought a house. Clear, concise and, out of her mouth, relatively unremarkable. And yet, of 85 employees, she’s the only one who’s been here from the very beginning. She created stability for herself in an unfamiliar country and she’s raising children in comfort and security.

Earlier this week I saw a Chinese circus. The big, celebrated moment of the show came when a beautiful, lithe woman balanced en pointe on her partner’s head. She was exquisite, graceful and completely still, but, beneath, her partner was working like mad. He took one step in one direction, two in the opposite, shifted his head, then a step forward to compensate. All this work to fight for the image of stillness. I think of this when I think of Anita’s 22 years.

Jonathan, I think, went back to feeling unfazed. Fine. Perhaps it’s better if her story is heard as normal. If it could actually become normal, the world would be better off.

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