Taking the Road Less Traveled

By: Stephanie M. Fuentes Álvarez

      The phone rings a few times before it’s picked up, “Hello?” the familiar voice on the other end answered. Checking the time, the 10:30p.m. blinks back, a reminder of how late it’s gotten. “Is it too late to come over?,” I asked. She replied, “No. I’m on my way home right now.”

Half an hour later, we’re sitting in her living room. Her husband working at the dining room table just a few feet away. She’s just gotten back from a meeting for her daughter’s “quinceañero”. As we sat down I told her that we should start with some basic biographical information.

“Okay. Well, My name’s Rosa-Linda Fuentes Negrón, I am 42 years old and I was born on September 18th, 1971 in Manhattan, New York. When I was three years old we moved to Madrid, Spain and then when I was seven years old, we moved here to Puerto Rico.” As I’m dutifully taking notes, I can’t help but smile. I already know all this because Linda, as she’s known, is my aunt.

She graduated in 1989 from Colegio San Agustín in Cabo Rojo. “I was an athlete. An outstanding athlete. Write that down, ‘outstanding’,” she said with a laugh. After high school she received a sports scholarship to study at the University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla, something she did for a year.

“I got a summer job as a telemarketer. I sold water systems for homes and I loved it,” she recalled. The office where she worked closed down and Linda was offered a position in San Juan. She didn’t hesitate and chose her work over school. She was 19 years old.

“That job taught me how to treat people. It taught me that an action creates a reaction. If you don’t receive the desired reaction, then your action was wrong,” she explained as she leaned forward on the couch. Her husband, Raymond Pérez, came over in that moment and offered me his hand. “Every action creates a reaction. You don’t even need words,” he explained gesturing to our hand shake.

It’s easy to see why the lesson is memorable for them, because they met at that telemarketing job, more than 20 years ago. “The greatest prize she ever won!” he shouted as he went back to the table to continue working on his computer. Linda laughed.

“I was the best telemarketer there. Every call I made, I got the sellers in the door. One day, he went to three sales I had set up. The water systems cost almost $5,000 and he sold all three that day – in cash. It had never been done. He came back to the office and we met.”

Despite all her success, the company started having problems. At that time, Pérez suggested they take a test to become croupiers. They both passed it and headed to work at hotel casinos. That would become her life for the next 13 years.

When I asked her what she took away from that experience she joked about how the older folk are just as bad as the younger ones. “We don’t need to pity them,” she said laughingly. On a more serious note, Linda recalled learning that tactfulness is a valuable life skill. “When a person loses, they are not the same as when the win. They always look for someone to blame,” she said.

She dealt with a fair share of blaming. Once, an important guest at the casino came to play at her table. Sitting his wife, son, and daughter next to him, he was betting $4 million with each one. In the hour she was the dealer, he lost all of it. “You get this skinny chick out of my table!” he yelled.

“You have to be like a machine,” she recalled. It was the only way to deal with the insults hurled at her. Although, she said, it wasn’t always bad. At one of her baccarat tables once, she commented to one of the players that she felt that the next one would be a tie. The man looked at her and bet $4,000 on that outcome. “We’ll split it 50-50 if you’re right,” he said. Seconds later, a tie was called. A $2,000 tip in one night.

Her final words on those years were about how, despite it being a party environment, the job was very delicate. It was a tough, but she loved it. Eventually though, she started a new chapter in her life that changed it all: motherhood.

At a birthday party for a childhood friend, she was approached by her friend’s father – a local senator. She mentioned to him that she was looking for a day job. When elections came around, and the senator’s party lost, he went back to work at his personal office. Having had three receptionists quit due to the loss, he asked Linda to come in as one.

While working for him one day, he asked her to listen to a radio interview he would be doing and give him her opinion on it. To his surprise, she criticized him. “Your answer to one of the questions was to compare yourself to another candidate instead of explaining yourself. You reminded me of my son, when he uses the excuse ‘well so and so does it too’.” Impressed by her straightforward attitude, he asked her to become one of his assistants.

In this position she began working on cases that came to his office. One she remembers is the high school student whose last names were inverted in her college board exam and was told she was going to lose a year while the matter was solved. Linda made sure that didn’t happen. Other cases she remembers are the woman whose sister’s tomb had an unknown man in it or the mother who couldn’t pay her electricity bills and was close to losing her kids for it or a rehabilitation center employee who was being stalked. “You have to understand their problem and give it the importance they give it,” she said.

At times the job could feel more like a moral responsibility, because if she were to fail, people would lose their education, their children, and even their lives. She remembered one case, of a man who had the qualifications but could not get a job. They tried everything in the book, until she gave him a final suggestion. “Get recommendation letters from all the local representatives and keep them with you at all times. If you ever get the chance to meet the Governor, hand them to him personally.” Not long after, the man called her in tears. He had bumped into the Governor at a local festival and had handed him the letters. Three days later he got an interview and was offered a job.

By 2:00a.m., I told her we were almost done. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere,” my aunt answered with a smile.“You’ve gone back to studying now, to finally finish getting your degree. Why?” I asked. She replied that her job depends on whether a certain political party wins or not – and if they lose – she’s out of a job.

“I have the life experience, but I need the college degree in order to compete against everyone out there,” she explained. She also added that at this point in time, college finally feels like it’s right for her. Her future goals now revolve around education: obtaining her degree in human resources and inspiring her children to study as well.

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Linda Fuentes sitting in her couch during the interview.

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Raymond Pérez, from his place at the table a few feet away, listened in and added his comments to the interview.

 

 

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