I have also met Maria Serrano. If you are used to seeing her collecting cans on weekdays you might not recognize her standing in her Sunday clothes outside St. Ferdinand’s visiting with friends and family. I met one of her sons, a successful contractor, who told me that he and his brothers have told her she doesn’t need to work so hard, they are willing to help her, but he added, “She’s very independent. She likes to earn her own spending money for birthday gifts for her children and grandchildren and personal items rather than having to ask one of us. She enjoys doing her part to help the community. Contrary to what some people might say, we have learned that the best way to respect her is to allow her to exercise this independence.”
I really admire her for what she does. Having the cans picked up makes the streets look nicer and, on a larger scale, recycles materials for the benefit of the environment. It’s also just what the doctor ordered in the way of exercise—plenty of walking, bending, and lifting. This kind of exercise is just as healthy as buying expensive clothing and paying a personal trainer to urge you to the limits of your endurance in the gym—and you are the one getting reimbursed!
The only difference between her and other hardworking men and women is her visibility. Because my work takes me back on ranches far from the public view, I see people the general public does not. There are ranchers, both men and women, who may own over 1000 acres but whose money is in their land and livestock, so frugality is a way of life. They will not go inside out of the cold rain no matter how much their bones hurt until their animals are secure and fed and their fences mended. No one sees them muddy, cut, and bruised because by the time they get to town they are cleaned up! Their hard work and weariness is invisible.
I know several men from Mexico who came here and worked as laborers in fence-building, welding, carpentry, and other trades. They lived in cramped quarters in old mobile homes with leaky roofs, and some people made fun of them but, as Liberace used to say when asked if some people’s remarks hurt him (for those of us old enough to remember), “Yes, I cried...all the way to the bank.” They learned their trades and paid attention. Now they own their own companies and live in beautiful homes, which they built with their own hands and the help of family and friends. Their children are college graduates, teachers and other professionals, even though the parents may never have learned to read or write English. The same can be said of many of the German families who settled this area. They weren’t all princes and they didn’t start off where their descendants are now. They became who they are now and developed this area through hard, and sometimes menial, labor.
Mrs. Serrano may be embarrassed when people she doesn’t know make a fuss over her but she has every right to be proud of her contribution to this town. It is people like her individually who have made this country what it is today.