Latina Working for the Grey Lady Tells All

Awesome excerpts are available in Salon from Daisy Hernandez’s upcoming book about working at the New York Times. Spoiler alert: she did not have a great time. The hardest part was trying to negotiate a White Male workspace. “Black boys consistently do badly in school,” her editor told her at one point, when she pitched a story about racism. “It’s like it’s genetic!”

Still, for a long time, getting her dream job meant independence, career advancement, and the kind of financial security her parents desperately wanted for her.

At the Times, people spend their days writing and then get paid every two weeks. It happens even if you disagree with Mr. Flaco or if you write a bad piece that needs tons of editing. You still get paid. So, convinced that this life can’t be mine, I insist on taking my intern paycheck to the bank every two weeks and cashing it. Each time the black teller hands me the stack of hundred dollar bills, I feel that I am real and that this is really happening to me. It is a lesson I learned from my mother.

On Fridays, if she had been paid at the factory, Tía Chuchi would take my sister and me to meet my mother at the bank, where she would be waiting on line with a check, that precious slip of paper in her hand. She would take the money from the bank teller in one swift move, as if someone was going to steal it from her, and then she would move over to the side and count the bills, slipping them into a small envelope the way she would place a pillow in a pillowcase. Those dollars were freedom. We could afford an evening meal at McDonald’s and pasteles, too.

Even when things went wrong, she felt lucky. Knew she was lucky. Comparatively.

In the kitchen, my parents and Tía Chuchi are watching the noticias. It is evening and everyone is done with dinner. My father is drinking his beer. The window shades are drawn, but the voices of children playing in yards and on the streets below come up in bursts of firecrackers.

“I’m going to live in the city,” I announce.

Everyone turns their head toward me. No one speaks. Then my father looks back at the television, and my mother and auntie do the same. I wait for some questions but they don’t come. Not then. They arrive the next day and the day after: Is it a safe place? Are you sure? You’ll be closer to work, yes, but . . . They want to argue with me, but they can’t. I have married the best man I could possibly find — the New York Times — and we all know it.

My mother and Tía Chuchi go with me to buy spoons and forks, a Brita water filter, and curtains with a flower pattern. They help me set up the apartment, an illegal studio on the Upper East Side that’s about the size of the bedroom I shared with my sister. When they leave, I am left with myself in a way that feels new. I am on my own for the first time in my life. My veryown place. I have the sensation of having escaped a burning building. I have a job. A good job. And my own illegal sublet. I am paying my rent and groceries and not doing it by working at a factory or cleaning toilets.

Still, the acid drip of the environment corroded her, and at last she quit. The story is reminiscent in several ways of the recent depressing This American Life episode, “The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra,” where another bright, ambitious, hard-working minority woman is stymied by a White Male workspace. In Segarra’s case, she was sent to Goldman Sachs as a regulator for the newly improved Fed and discovered that her fellow in-house regulators were more interested in being poodles than Pinschers. And considering how many of the regulators went on to work for Goldman or other banks, that strategy makes perfect long-term sense — for them, if not, you know, the country.

Hernandez wrote a book. Segarra made secret recordings. I’m glad they were able to find outlets for their frustrations but upset that they had to. How is change going to come to these kinds of organizations — right-minded, crucial, even ostensibly progressive organizations! — if good people can’t stick it out long enough to do their part?

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