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Ana Salazar

UWRT 1102

April 21, 2017

Latino Employee Discrimination in Restaurants

Discrimination is an umbrella term for many different, yet similar, actions that is caused

by prejudice. Discrimination may be based on many things, such as gender, age, race, or income.

Its also the backbone of many issues such as, disrespect or low wages. A group in particular that

has endured a lot of discrimination would be Latino wait staff.

Although many people dont see discrimination, or racism as an issue anymore, its not

an issue that ever went away. Racism continues in the modern world, but it has evolved. It has

hidden itself in plain sight; It has become subtle and its been embedded into society, it has been

institutionalized. For a concept to be institutionalized, it has to occur in institutions such as,

schools, the court of law, or by governments (Massey, 2012). It must also provide an unfair

advantage to a certain group of people.

Institutionalized racism is a form of passive aggressive discrimination that has been

overlooked in society. It occurs when stereotypes have been embedded into society so much that

these stereotypes are believed to be true. It has become social phenomenon in which people are

no longer treated equally, and are treated differently solely due to their racial appearance

(Massey, 2012). Its a system that doesnt acknowledge the injustice that people face everyday.

The institutionalization of this behavior has created a racial hierarchy.

In restaurants the hierarchy becomes more dynamic, it becomes more about the

employees versus the customers. The customers hold power, since the customer is always right.

In high end mexican restaurant where most of the customers are white and most of the workers
are Latino, discrimination peaks. In this case the hierarchy is defined by wealth, race, and power.

This hierarchy leaves the latino employees at the bottom.

If a worker were to experience this sort of discrimination by either their co-workers or by

customers, theres little to no protection for the workers in this situation. Even worker unions

cant protect workers in these situations (Williams, 2006). It leaves workers vulnerable and

leaving them to believe that its okay or normal to be treated this way. The waiters also dont

want to cause any trouble, make a scene, or possibly get blamed for the situation, so they will

continue to work as if nothing happened. By ignoring the problem, it continues and takes

advantage of more and more people. Its a vicious cycle, and the more it continues, the more that

people believe its okay to act this way towards others.

This association causes people of different races to be treated in different ways. For

example, The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at NC State observed this social

phenomenon, in which non-black wait staff gave black customers less attention and a poor

quality of service because they have been stereotyped as poor tippers. In this example the

customers tipped poorly because of the poor quality of the service that they were provided with.

Many of the employees believed it was due to the black customers are poor tippers stereotypes,

not the fact that they had provided a poor quality of service (Rusche, 2008). This is the kind of

situation that feeds into the never ending cycle of racism.

In high end mexican restaurants, where the employees are mostly latino and the

customers are predominantly white and wealthy, this form of tableside racism strives. This

forms a hierarchy, which is reinforced not only by race but also by wealth. This great amount of

power that comes from being white, wealthy, and the customer intimidates the latino employees.

More specifically it intimidates the wait staff, whom are viewed as the face of the restaurant. The
wait staff doesnt want to upset the customer, because they might give the restaurant a bad

review, or tell their other wealthy friends not to come into the restaurant.

When a customer says something along the line of Wow you speak really good English,

the waiter must brush it off or laugh it off in a polite way. Many dont see why this is

problematic, this situation reinforces the stereotype that Latinos speak either very little English

or very broken/improper English. Yet when an employee speaks Spanish, they are struck with

This is America, speak English rather than being praised for their good Spanish.

Although the Unites States of America doesnt have an official language, theres a stigma

against speaking any language other than English. Leading to a lot of discrimination towards

speaking a foreign language. English is seen as a superior language, its the language spoken by

most people in the US. Its also the language used in almost every US-based television channel.

Language and culture intertwine so much that many who identify with one language

often identify with the same culture. Language is an important factor of the Latino identity, its

how the Latino community communicates. It has become easy to target someone by using

language; Many people can tell when a persons first language isnt english or where they are

from based on their accent. Language a factor that helps reinforce the us group.

Theres a constant backlash between native Spanish speakers and native English

speakers. The arguments vary from speak American to Youre not a true American because

youre not a native English speaker. This argument still occurs in society to people of a higher

social standing, whom are also native Spanish speakers (Feagin, 2013). This constant argument

often causes Latinos to feel not as American as their white counterparts.

This constant backlash leads to disrespect between races. This disrespect can be seen

when customers continue to disregard the correct way to pronounce Spanish words. For example,
a customer walks into a Mexican restaurant and orders queso (cheese dip) and tortilla chips. This

customer pronounces queso as qwee-so rather than the correct pronunciation kay-so and

pronounces tortilla as tor-till-leah rather than the correct way tor-tee-yeah. The waiter

jokingly but politely corrects the customer. Throughout the customers stay, they continue to

purposefully mispronounce these words, disrespecting not only the waiter but their language.

This signifies and continues to establish that its imperative to learn the English language, while

the Spanish language isnt as significant.

Many restaurants have a rule that the employees can only speak English in the workplace.

Many workers are restricted from speaking their native language while working, unless its

necessary to speak their native language in order to complete their work task. This causes a lot of

frustration and resentment from the worker, many have sued their employers saying that its

unconstitutional since the US doesnt have an official language. The employees said that it was

discriminatory to force them to speak English in the workplace. Although, many cases that

argued that not being allowed to speak their native language at work is unconstitutional, those

cases have lost in US courts (Feagin, 2013).

Demographics furthermore establish this racial hierarchy. Low income communities are

made up of minorities, it continues to feed into the belief that low income correlates with a

certain race while high income correlates with a different race (Hodson, 2002). Leading people

to believe that certain races are superior to other races (Feagin, 2013).

Waitressing is a job not a career, so many people view it as an easy job that anyone can

get. It seen as a job that an uneducated person would have. This stems from the problem,

institutionalized racism, a person that goes to a school that underfunded often doesnt go to

college and ends up working low end jobs like waitressing. This reinforces a negative
connotation of having a service job, and stereotyping every waitress as low income and possibly

even an immigrant that didnt go to school (Chvez, 2011). This can lead people to believing that

Latinos dont deserve a higher level of education, or higher paying jobs.

Why would someone that can afford to live in an expensive area of town work a job as a

waitress? Typically they dont, typically the waiters that works in a high-end restaurant dont live

in near the high-end restaurant because they cant afford it. This deepens the idea of them

versus us, it creates a barrier that states that they live over there and we live here.

This issue is deep-rooted into society, so theres no easy fix for it. In order to resolve it,

the whole nation would have to be re-educated. Racism is taught, its not a behavior that

someone is born with knowing (William, 2006). This creates a social hierarchy between races;

Due to institutionalized racism it creates an economic hierarchy, since its been embedded that

those that have a higher social standing are also richer. This leads to not only associating money

with social standing but associating money with race.

People would have to be re-educated and institutions would have to be dismantled in

order to fully get rid of discrimination. Its a task that will take decades to complete, since all

generations have to be re-educated. It would require a lot of time and money to dismantle

institutions, and to simply change peoples minds. The task at hand is to disprove every

stereotype, and prove to people that some people are oppressed and are treated unjustly in

society. In order for this to occur, children would have to be educated properly to prevent

prejudice not only in school but everywhere that child goes (Massey, 2012).
Work Cited:

1. Bendick, Marc, Rekha Eanni Rodriguez, and Sarumathi Jayaraman. "Employment

discrimination in upscale restaurants: Evidence from matched pair testing." The Social

Science Journal 47.4 (2010): 802-18. Web.


2. Chvez, Maria. Everyday injustice Latino professionals and racism. Lanham,

MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. Print.


3. Feagin, Joe R., and Jose A. Cobas. Latinos Facing Racism Discrimination,

Resistance, and Endurance. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2015. Print.


4. Hodson, Randy. "Demography or respect?: work group demography versus

organizational dynamics as determinants of meaning and satisfaction at work." British

Journal of Sociology 53.2 (2002): 291-317. Web.


5. Massey, Garth. Readings for sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,

2015. Print.
6. Rusche, Sarah E., and Zachary W. Brewster. "Because they tip for shit!: The

Social Psychology of Everyday Racism in Restaurants." Sociology Compass 2.6 (2008):

2008-029. Web.
7. Williams, Christine L. Inside toyland: working, shopping, and social inequality.

Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 2006. Print.