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An unlikely agitator

April 22, 2014

DENVER, CO — Monica Martinez-Vargas knows what it’s like to be invisible, working much of her career between two shifts in downtown Denver — one cleaning hotel rooms and the other cleaning office buildings, according to the Colorado Independent.

In the mornings, she'd report to work in her maid’s dress and apron, pushing her housekeeping cart up and down a hotel hallway where the goal was to be as quick and inconspicuous as possible; she was even more invisible in the office buildings where she worked at night, the article stated.

According to the article, invisibility had its soul-sucking loneliness, but since most janitors were undocumented immigrants who lived in fear of losing their jobs and being deported, it was a form of survival, and the safest way to work.

"It was dehumanizing, working alone, in shadows. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know my rights. I didn’t have any connections. That made us vulnerable to the things they did to us, the humiliations. You could see the injustice. But you felt like you couldn’t do anything to stop it," Martinez-Vargas said, interpreted from Spanish by Lauren Martens, state council executive director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in which Martinez-Vargas, 69, is still active six years after retiring.

In the mid-90s, Martinez-Vargas went to work at the Denver International Airport, where, with union protection, she went from working in fear and invisibility to doing her job with dignity, the article noted.

“At the airport, I wasn’t thinking about the toilets I was cleaning. I was thinking about the people around me,” she says. “I felt like I could talk to them, pay attention to them, greet them, make them comfortable, answer their questions about where they could buy this or that, or where they could go smoke. It felt a little less heavy, my work that way, because of the relationship with people,” Martinez-Vargas added.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.