My heart breaks for [restaurant workers, especially undocumented workers] because they pay taxes but they don’t benefit. They’re the ones who will be most significantly impacted.
I have a friend who owns a taqueria, and I think he’s the only person left working there. He has started a GoFundMe page for his undocumented workers. He’s the kind of guy who paid thousands of dollars to have a coyote [an underground guide] escort an employee’s daughter across the border so they could be reunited. He’s a real mensch, he’s that kind of guy. That’s money paid to his coyote that he’s never going to get back. He knew that going in, that this money was never going to be paid back and that was OK, because it was more important that his employees be happy, to be safe and to be with their families. He continues to operate as such, but he’s in danger of closing, so that sucks. But his undocumented workers will have some money.
I think that all the workers will be impacted. And because this is an industry that works with very small margins, and lacks a lot of employee services, the cultural impact is going to be significant. Because the impact at the micro level, at the individual level will be so harsh.
When I moved to Texas with my family I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have health insurance. I had an eight-month-old baby. We were lucky enough to have my mother-in-law, who could help us. And we had unemployment insurance. We were really fucking lucky. Not everyone has that. But I think everyone should have the opportunity for a safety net of unemployment benefits, that there should be PTO [paid time off] for these people. And it shouldn’t be up to the individual restaurants, who already operate barely in the black, if at all. Because these are American workers. These are people who put money back into the economy, and we need to take care of them.
And if that means saying goodbye to capitalism, I'm OK with that. [He laughs] Because again, I really hope this causes a paradigm shift where we value people over the product. Even though my job relies heavily on the product it also relies heavily on the person. My job isn’t so much to talk about what’s on the plate, but what led up to what’s on the plate, OK? So I'm talking about the people who don’t just serve the food, but who have spent their entire lives developing these recipes, who give these restaurants their own family recipes at no profit for their own, right? So they need to be protected, they need to be valued. That’s always been part of my job, is showing that these people matter, that they are human, that you should care about them. Knowing their stories makes the food taste better.
It breaks my heart to see empty places and to hear about furloughed workers. It makes me think back to all the times that I've been pissed off because a place was supposed to be open, that wasn’t. You know what, that doesn’t really matter. So what? That’s an occupational hazard. You know what shouldn’t be an occupational hazard? Not being able to feed your family. And I think this is all part of tacos.
Tacos really are a force for good. If we can change things through tacos, there’s hope for us all. And I hope that we can all laugh over tacos when this is done.