Hard Work and Compassion: My Grandfather Frederico Torres Saras
Kayley Whalen, Digital Strategies and Social Media Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
I remember my grandfather as both a brilliant intellectual and a humble, caring man. He grew up in Puerto Rico, and served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war he moved to New York City where he found work as an electroplater at a factory making Goody hair products. He handled toxic chemicals with little to no safety protections. Because of these working conditions, he started attending labor organizing meetings in secret. He was afraid of being branded as a socialist and facing even more discrimination. However, he did find a way to publicly advocate for his fellow workers when he became the head of the local electroplating society.
My grandfather lived at a time when a hard day’s work was rewarded with a fair wage, and he was able to rent a house in Queens, provide for my Grandmother and put my mother through college. He also helped my grandmother, who emigrated from Guatemala, through the arduous process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Over the years my grandfather’s health deteriorated due to industrial toxins in his liver and complications from the malaria that he contracted while serving in the Philippines during WWII. However, he stayed with Goody for 35 years, eventually becoming a respected supervisor. At his retirement he was given an engraved company watch, which was later passed down to me.
After retirement, he used his savings to buy a small plot of land in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He taught himself everything he needed to design a house, from architecture to plumbing, then worked alongside local Mayan builders to construct it. My grandfather had always demonstrated a compassion for others no matter their differences and wasn’t afraid to cross racial lines, such as his involvement in improving sanitary systems in nearby communities. When my family visited we were always welcomed into houses in nearby villages with open arms. My grandparents’ house was open to all, including LGBTQ individuals, and was a gathering place for local artists and intellectuals. My grandfather inspired me to seek wisdom and justice, and that knowledge must also be accompanied by hard work and tempered with compassion.
*This blog post was written as part of the Jobs With Justice #TheWayTheyWorked story-telling campaign in honor of Labor Day and Grandparents Day. You can read more stories about how our grandparents worked at thewaytheyworked.org