Mariana Velazquez (name changed at administration’s request) was just 15 years old when her parents’ tranquil farm in El Salvador was sacked and burned by guerrilla forces.
Her parents and younger brothers dead, Velazquez sat weeping in the charred ruins.
“I prayed for salvation,” she remembers. “And when I looked up, there he was. I have never forgotten the happy gleam in his eyes.”
Velazquez’s savior in pinstripes was none other than Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
Trachtenberg had ventured to Central America in search of cheap labor. The idea struck him, he said, after watching a 60 Minutes report on deplorable working conditions of migrant farm workers.
“I thought to myself, `If Californians can do it, so can we,’ ” Trachtenberg chuckled. “We at George Washington try to think progressively.”
Although he usually avoids venturing beyond the grounds of his palatial residence in Northwest Washington, Trachtenberg said he did not trust any of his underlings to select destitute workers.
“Besides, everyone around here talks too damn much,” he explained. “The last thing this joint needs is any more bad press. So I made a little exception to my rule against those hot Third World countries.”
Because Velazquez did not speak a word of English, Trachtenberg says he was forced to explain the terms of her contract in sign language.
“I did not really understand what he meant,” Velazquez says. “I thought he told me that if I came to the North I would live in a house made of gold and have people come to wash my hair.”
Not quite. But Velazquez has done well for herself since Trachtenberg smuggled her into the States in the belly of his private jet.
Trachtenberg put her right to work in the J Street kitchens. Velazquez gets hot after 14-hour shifts among the ovens and dishwashers, she says.
“But next year, when I look a little older, they said I can work in the front, where the students can see me,” she exclaims. “That will be good.”
Trachtenberg, listening to his prot?g?, laughs. “That’s right, Mariana,” he pats her hand. “No need to raise any alarm among those politically correct labor folks.”
Velazquez looks puzzled. “What?”
“Nothing,” Trachtenberg replies.
When Velazquez is promoted next year, her salary will go up 25 cents an hour.
“I will be making $1.75 then for every hour of work,” Velazquez announces proudly.
“Oh,” Trachtenberg interjects. “I thought you only made $1.00 now.”
“No,” Velazquez tells him. “That man – what’s his name – Chairnack. He raised it last year.”
“We’ll see about that,” Trachtenberg mutters. “You see what I deal with? How am I supposed to run a corporation with all these big spenders throwing money around like it grows on trees? What will I do when Marion Barry gets here?”
Velazquez, meanwhile, is pulling a sweater over her shoulders. She has to get back to the parking garage basement. The four cement rooms she shares with the other 200 illegal immigrants will soon be locked down for the night.
Those who miss curfew must sleep on the streets, she explains. If the police question them, they are to deny any knowledge of George Washington University.