In this continuation of Construction Dive's series examining racism in construction, we share the stories of people of color who have built prosperous careers in the industry despite hurdles put in their way.
Kadence Jimenez's construction success story means being able to take care of her three children as a single mom. After her first husband was deported and her second husband died, the 33-year-old journeywoman carpenter in Portland who is Mexican American became the sole breadwinner for her kids, and the trades gave her that opportunity.
“I needed a living wage job without a college education to support my family,” Jimenez said. “Construction was the easiest way to get it.”
She enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship program at the Oregon Tradeswomen Center, where she had an affinity for carpentry. Now, she works as exterior-interior specialist on commercial construction jobs.
“That’s basically a fancy way of saying I work with metal, framing and drywall,” Jimenez said.
While she says the shape of her face and eyes visually mark her as Latinx, she was a teenager before she understood the distinction herself.
"Until I was like 14, I didn't really identify as anything, but then people started pointing out that I am Mexican,” she said. “I identify as Mexican, but I'm also White. So I kind of fall into that funny in-between category where you are not really accepted anywhere.”
She’s seen plenty of racism and hate on jobsites, including a swastika that was scrawled on a piece of drywall she was tasked with throwing out as as an apprentice, racist and sexist graffiti in the porta-potty and her male Latino co-workers being referred to as “amigo” instead of their given names.
Like others, she said working in the overwhelmingly White, male world of construction, makes her conscious of the color of her skin, which gives her another issue to deal with aside from the tasks she needs to complete on the jobsite each day.
“Everyone deals with struggles and problems, but as people of color, we have more to deal with, because we can’t hide the way we look,” Jimenez said. “It’s kind of a weird comparison, but if you’re gay in the trades and you’re White, you could hide that. But I can't hide the fact that my lips are full and my nose is round and my cheekbones are sharp. My skin has a brown tint to it. That's not something I can cover up.”
The reason it’s even an issue, she says, is she wants to be identified with her skills and abilities on the jobsite, and not her physical appearance, sex or cultural background.
“If I'm showing up every day on time, and I'm getting my task done, then that should speak for itself,” Jimenez said. “In the union, we call each other brother and sister. And that’s what I want be. Just see me as your sibling. It's not my fault that this is who I am, but this is the card I was dealt. Just don't make it harder for me. Please.”
Meanwhile, she said she’s very thankful for the opportunities she’s had.
“I am very grateful for have the career I have,” Jimenez said. “Without it, my kids and I would struggle so much.”