The value of loyalty

Some years ago through a newspaper ad, I found a roofing contractor to put a tar roof on an addition to my home. It was a sweltering July day. When I arrived from work, I found the roofing crew, all Mexicans, spreading the hot tar on the flat roof.

Seeing them toil in the blazing sun, I climbed the ladder to offer them some cold drinks, and we struck up a conversation. I asked the crew leader how long he had been doing this kind of work. For ten years, he said.

“Ten years? Why don’t you start your own roofing company?”

He replied without hesitation, “Oh no, then I would have to compete with the owner. He gave me this job.”

That’s true loyalty, and an example of the values of a different culture. In previous eras of life in the United States, such loyalty was a value widely upheld.

Newcomers help us renew some values we let slip away. In earlier times, we cherished loyalty in relationships, work, neighborhoods — even brand loyalty. No matter where the big market was located, folks shopped at the neighborhood store. In those days, a handshake was all that was needed.

We had neighbors who came from different cultures. We managed not only to accommodate them, but to allow their traditions to enrich our lives.

Successful societies such as ours are able to incorporate customs, artifacts and foods from other cultures that please and benefit us while rejecting those we find less enjoyable or detrimental to our way of life. Now IKEA is promoting Swedish meatballs. Many of us will garnish them with salsa instead of ketchup.

Besides loyalty, the value so many Mexicans treasure is family. In the United States, oftentimes when we meet people, the first thing we ask is, “What do you do?”

Cultures define what is valued. In the USA, knowing what a person does for a living somehow is important. It seems to be so not only to define who we are, but for our own sense of personal worth.

In the Mexican culture that I know, you aren’t defined by what you do. Rather, the moral person is defined by his or her family and community relationships. Being somebody is not valued; belonging to something greater than yourself is.

While working with the U.S. Department of Labor, I once visited an orange-packing plant in Florida. When I saw all the white men working on permanent jobs running machines and Mexican migrant men and women hand-packing orange crates, I asked the owner why the Mexicans were not on the steady jobs.

His reply said it all, “We offer the Mexican workers those jobs. It would mean staying here all year, and that would break up the family that has to move on to pick the crops in other states.”

Being part of family can be more important than being somebody.

The United States has prospered because it has been able to take what fits into our way of life and reject what does not. To those who fret about losing our way of life because other cultures dilute ours, fear not. History has shown we grow stronger and better.

(John Florez, the founder of several Hispanic civil rights organizations, writes a weekly column for The Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. E-mail him at jdflorez(at)


  1. SEAL

    I agree that our society has changed but it has nothing to do with any ethnic groups. It is the result of affluence. Poor families and neighbors stick together and support each other out of necessity. As they become more affluent they don’t have to do that.

    And to those who obviously have no real experience with the real effects of immigration upon a community I can tell them from the personal experience of being in Miama/Dade when the cubans invaded that they have no idea what they are talking about.

    Miami was a paradise of mixed ethnic groups that had “legally” settled there over the years. A safe, low crime community where anyone could find a decent job and raise a family. In only two years of the cuban “political refugee” influx this community was transformed into the highest crime rate in the nation and a very dangerous place to live. It is the same today. Now, before you say this is not a fair example, look at the other areas such as southern California which I also witnessed transform from a nice peaceful and safe area in the 50’s to the gang violent high crime condition it is today. There are other examples and they can all be directly related to illegal or refugee immigration. Political refugee is another label that is crap. If people do not like the way things are in their own country they should set about to change it.

    The obvious fact is that the crime of illegal imigration begats more crime. Just like the crime of making drugs illegal begats many other crimes like burglary and murder. Crime begats more crime. Crime is the problem, not race. Eliminate the illegal immigration. It is a crime.

  2. Bill Robinson

    These are the same people that some fools and bigots want to throw out of the USA. If those fools had 1/10,000 of the class and nobility that these Mexicans have they would still not be able to hold a candle to the immigrants.
    Viva los Mexicanos. Better yet, Viva Cuba.
    This country was made stronger by immigrants. Now the fools who forgot where they came from want to end immigration. They claim there is no room, and that the immigrants use public benefits and erode the tax base.
    China has 1.4 billion people in a land only marginally bigger than the USA. They have room for all of them. They feed all of them. They are the fastest growing economy in the world. Maybe we need to take some lessons from the Chinese and make some room for those people who want to live in the USA.
    If there’s no room, well, let’s throw out the Bush/Cheney cabal. That is what I would call a good start…
    Bill Robinson

  3. fritzer

    I must agree with your sentiments. Too often it is lost in all of the emotional discussion that follows an article or comment.
    I for one like Mexico and Cuba as do you.

  4. adamrussell

    Make them legal or send them home. No middle ground. The illegal labor pool hurts our economy more than it helps it. So if you feel like letting them stay, why wont you make them legal???

  5. JerZGirl

    We could learn a lot from the integrity, work ethic and/or loyalty of many of these workers, regardless of status. How many of us would risk our lives to make enough money to send some home to our impoverished families?

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  6. adamrussell

    How many americans risk their lives in coal mines? Just as one example. Implying that somehow mexicans have a more noble spirit is wrong, and a little racist imo.