—By Lei Lei Wu—
Carmen Castellano is a familiar face to everyone at High School North. She brightens up the hallways and classrooms each day, literally and figuratively. As one of our dedicated custodians, Castellano not only tackles each mess diligently, with spray bottle in hand, but also wears a cheerful smile and an easygoing attitude.
Like many of the other custodians, Castellano, 59, is an immigrant to the United States. She and her husband, Antonio Dejesus, who is also a custodian at North, moved here more than 30 years ago, from Puerto Rico, so her daughter could pursue a better education. She said she loves Puerto Rico, that “it is beautiful, and you should visit for vacation. And learn Spanish.” Castellano is proud of her heritage and is an ardent advocate of the Spanish language. “Everyone needs to learn Spanish,” she added. “It’s easy.”
Castellano does not speak fluent English, but that does not stop her from conversing with the students and teachers in Spanish. Through Hector Hernandez, fellow custodian who translated her responses into English, Castellano exclaimed, “My friends here, they are students, and they speak perfect Spanish,” while giving a thumbs up.
Castellano has been working at North for the past five years. She works eight hours a day, starting at 8:30 am and finishing at 4:30 pm. Summing up her typical work day, she said, “You guys see me all eight hours. I clean the two lunch rooms, clean the tables, put away the tables, clean the kitchen, throw away the garbage, and later clean the three computer rooms.”
Although, she recalled, there was a massive food fight two years ago—“There was food all down the whole hallway, on the floor, on the walls; it took one and a half hours to clean up”—she still praises the students here, calling them “polite and very sweet.” Thanks to her efforts, North is sparkly clean every day she walks out the door.
Outside of school, she does more cleaning. “I have two jobs. Here, and at home,” she said. “My talent is taking care of my granddaughter.” But aside from performing copious amounts of cleaning, Castellano likes to dance. Dejesus, to whom she’s been married to for 35 years, said, “She is good at Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata”—three types of Latin American dances.
Castellano, and the custodians in general, are an under-appreciated group at our school. Without them, our school would be a rotten garbage dump. So next time there’s some trash left at the table, pick it up, even if it’s not yours. And also, learn Spanish.