Family, Students the Motivation For Bueno’s Work Ethic
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 09:02
Carlos Bueno just finished his Sunday shift in Alumni Food Court. It's 6:01 p.m., and his seven hours are finally up. His hair's a little disheveled from the hat that he wears from behind the grill, and sweat lines his forehead. He's noticeably tired, and I tell him that I feel bad for making him stay. "No worries," he reassures me with a gentle smile that's framed by a thick, black beard. "I don't mind." He's decked out in his work uniform—a black button-down, black pants, and black shoes. His outfit doesn't look very breathable. I'm wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt, and I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for the fact that I didn't just spend the majority of my day standing between a grill and a deep fryer.
Today was one of the easier days for Carlos. He didn't have any homework to do over his 15-minute breaks and he seems thankful for that. "Usually I bring it," he tells me. "I'm a history, secondary education major, so we have a lot of reading to do." I ask if he ever skims over it or neglects it completely (a skill I've become all too good at), and my question seems to throw him off a little bit. He shrugs and murmurs "Not really," which clearly means no. I feel bad for asking him.
If you consider yourself a busy person, get a load of Carlos' week and re-evaluate. He's a full-time student at RIC, cranking through his last semester of junior year.He takes political science, geography, macroeconomics, and a couple of history courses. I ask what he enjoys most and he answers in a heartbeat, "I love World War II stuff—really anything modern America. It's what I'd love to teach eventually." On most days, when he's done with class, Carlos heads straight to PC for work—usually right in time for the Take-3 onslaught at dinner. He dons the black and gets behind the grill (He'll spend close to 30 hours a week here.), where he takes hundreds of orders before it's time to clean up at 11 p.m.
When I'm done with class, I nap.
When he's finally done, it's straight to homework—and Carlos dedicates about four hours a day towards it.
"I stay up late to do my reading, but I end up pulling a lot of all-nighters."
Okay, so maybe we're not that different. Between classes and work, Carlos somehow manages to spend a few hours a week with his girlfriend of three years (a full-time nursing student who works 36 hours a week at Dunkin' Donuts). They'll both be working on Valentine's Day. He tells me that his friends get annoyed at him for being so busy; "It's hard to please everybody. You can't please all of your friends, but you need to get your priorities straight. Sometimes you want to hang out with your friends, but you have to get your homework done." I remind myself that Carlos is younger than I am.
"I'm inspired by my parents," Carlos says when I ask him where his work ethic comes from. "I credit them for everything I have right now." It turns out that he's a first-generation American—both of his parents were born in Mexico and officially became U.S. citizens in 2007. They saw the opportunity in America and made sure Carlos didn't put it to waste. "We grew up in Brooklyn, but when I was 10, I started to notice a gang presence. All of my friends started getting involved. My dad was making decent money, but he knew the environment we were growing up in wasn't a good one."
Shortly after this realization, Carlos, his parents, and his two sisters moved to Rhode Island. "I was one of the few kids from my middle school who went to a decent high school," he tells me. I can't help but notice how humble he is. There's not a hint of accomplishment in his voice; it's more matter-of-fact, like he's following a plan and these are just the necessary steps. He strikes me as the type of person who won't pat himself on the back until he knows that he made it, until all of the hard work starts to pay off. If it were socially acceptable, I'd stand up and pat his back for him.
He wants to be the type of teacher who can help kids who aren't as fortunate as he was. "If I'm a teacher, I can bring back my past and tell my students that one day I was in your shoes at the crossroads of doing good and bad, and I chose the right path." I think it's funny that he says "if." I think it's a word he should stop using.
We've been talking for a while now, and I don't want to keep him any longer. I want him to change out of his grease-soaked uniform, and I want him to take a nap. But before we finish, I ask him how the hell he stays so positive at work. I tell him that I've known him for three years, that he's probably made me over 100 chicken parm sandwiches and burgers (I wish that were a lie), and that I've never seen him in a bad mood. "I just try to keep a smile," he responds, laughing a little. "You don't want to get food from a person who's grumpy. I know how to be a college kid, so I know what good food means to a college kid."