Chris Levister, Inland Empire, April 30, 2008
“We were shocked. We applied at places like McDonalds, Burger King and Jack in the Box. We went to shoe stores, pizza parlors and convenience stores. The workers were overwhelmingly Spanish speaking. Pretty much they always ask us, ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ They said we prefer bilingual,” says Jazanique [a high-schooler looking for a summer job]. And, as an American who only speaks English, her answer leaves her without the job.
“It’s hard when you can’t even get an interview because you don’t speak Spanish,” said Jazanique.
For Jazanique, Ashanae and Kimyen the job hunting experience is both frustrating and sobering. The unemployment rate among African-American teens is shockingly six times the national rate. This according to the U.S. Department of Labor translates into approximately 296,000 African-American teenagers actively seeking employment who are finding it difficult to secure a job.
Cashier-customer exchanges at four national fast food restaurants located at the busy intersection of Mt. Vernon and Washington Streets in Colton bore out many of the teen’s frustrations.
And it brings up the question: is it legal, in America, to require an American citizen to speak a foreign language to get certain jobs?
McDonald’s for example employs 465,000 workers worldwide serving more than 26 million customers daily. More than 80 percent of its 13,700 U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by local franchisees. The food service powerhouse’s hiring culture is nothing less than emphatic about its commitment to equal opportunity employment.
The chain has been recognized for it’s commitment to diversity by Fortune Magazine, Hispanic Magazine and lauded by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the 30 Best Companies for Diversity.
“I don’t think its discrimination. It’s more about catering to the customers who come through the door,” says Elva Gomez a former manager for Del Taco national food chain.
“You better believe Black teens looking for summer jobs are feeling the impact of immigration,” said Gomez. It’s worrisome because Blacks are suffering more from the invasion than whites because they (generally) have fewer resources with which to run away from immigration.”
“It’s a very stressful and difficult dilemma. Sometimes you feel like you’re straddling two nations, on one hand you strive for diversity, on the other you are forced to hire people who are best equipped to serve your core customer base. Sometimes that boils down to bilingual preferred,” says fast food manager Kevin Ellis who is biracial (Latino/Black) speaks some Spanish and does everything from hire workers to taking customer’s orders, cooking food, assembling sandwiches and handing orders to customers.
For Jazanique, Ashanae and Kimyen that reality comes as more teens prepare to seek summer jobs. Citing rising gasoline and food prices among other things, Junior Achievement released the results of an annual survey showing a 22% increase in the number of teens who want to work this summer, says a spokesperson for the nonprofit.
“The job chill is not limited to the fast food industry,” insists Miki Nelson who had to apply at 19 different businesses before he got a summer job stocking books at a national retailer.
“In most cases I was asked. ‘Do you speak Spanish’? We are being pushed out of minimum wage jobs on every front. Employers are under intense pressure to capture every dollar that comes in the door. Customers want cheap, fast, hassle free everything. What happens to Black inner city kids—whether they get summer jobs or not—is not on their radar,” said Nelson.