I’ve always been aware of the fact that in any newsroom I’ve worked in, the people who look the most like me are the cleaning staff and the security guards. And it’s the same interaction anytime I start a new job – they are surprised to see me, and then they take care of me. Most of them are the same age as my parents, if not older, and they become my work parents.
Sometimes they bring me dinner on days when I’ve been here longer than I should. One older Bangledeshi man, who works as a security guard, nods his head at me every morning and tells me I need to work hard. I mumble “yes uncle,” before disappearing behind elevators. This morning, an older Somali security guard jokingly told another journalist that they had to be nice to me, because I was “his people.”
In the evenings, an older Eritrean woman comes around the newsroom to take out the garbage and It always puts me a little on edge – an elder taking out garbage will never sit well with me. I take out my own garbage, and she notices. It’s a weird thing to have someone older than your parents try and clean up after you, when you’ve been taught to respect elders your entire life.
On days when I need to leave me desk, I sit and have coffee with them. They give me story ideas, and tell me how they think I should wear my makeup or hijab for TV. Sometimes they tell me little bits and pieces of their stories. And I think the best part is they always refer to me as “their” journalist. Our conversations always end the same way – “work hard,” “be good,” “let me know if you need anything.”
The elders – their stories will always be the ones I care most about.