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Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Diversity Hire, My Ass


Juan Rodríguez considered himself an American, not Mexican-American. He was born in Texas and lived his entire life in the United States except for his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a soldier in the U.S. Army. He felt the fact that he was bilingual didn’t diminish, dilute, or enhance his status as a U.S. citizen. He’d voted in every election—local, statewide, and national—since he turned eighteen. He began working before he was legally allowed by law to work yet paid taxes and social security since he began his first formal job at fourteen. Anyone who tried to contend that he was somehow less of a citizen because his parents had come to America outside of legal channels was going to lose that argument, at least if Juan were party to the discussion.

He’d been a DEA special agent for five years, serving first in Seattle after his training, and then Miami. His features were more European than Mexican which was an advantage in undercover work where he was able to pose as Spanish, Moroccan, South American, or a dozen other nationalities. He was a gifted linguist and could mimic just about any Spanish accent from Castilian, to Cuban, to the porteño lilt of Buenos Aires. His French was just passable, but he could speak Spanish with a French accent and could pass for a Parisian or North African when dealing with Latin Americans who spoke no French, or at least not as well as Juan.

He also possessed in abundance the most important quality necessary for undercover work: he had nerve, balls, cojones. Perhaps he was born with this virtue or perhaps it was something he learned during six years in the infantry, much of it in combat in some of the most contested spots in America’s Middle East wars. His combat experience also guaranteed that he knew his way around dozens of different small arms, as well as light artillery and explosives.

His personal evaluation reports were the highest granted at DEA and no one who worked with Special Agent Juan Rodríguez had anything but glowing things to say about him.

On a personal level, he tended not to socialize much with his coworkers. He didn’t golf or play softball, the two big sports at the Miami DEA office. He wasn’t anti-social, by any means, he simply had friends who weren’t agents. Not being one of the boys, along with his success as a new agent tended to breed some resentment among the ranks. It also meant he often didn’t have someone to defend him when his name came up in conversations behind his back.

Miami had not too long ago been the most prestigious of the DEA offices, but trafficking had shifted. El Paso was now where every special agent wanted to be, at least those with ambition, or, in Juan’s case, those who needed to be near the action. He applied for a transfer when he was first eligible, and was immediately selected, leap-frogging over other candidates with twice as much time on the job. No one who worked with Special Agent Rodríguez or who supervised him had any doubt that he was qualified for the transfer to Fort El Paso, as the office was called among DEA agents.

Rodríguez worked several cases with another young agent in Miami and was as close to a friend as he had there among the DEA staff. They trained martial arts together in their off time and were drinking buddies. Not that Juan really needed it with his coworkers, but Jenkins had his back. So, when Jenkins overheard three agents mention Juan’s transfer to the coveted El Paso office, he eavesdropped at a discreet distance.

“He’s a fucking diversity hire. Christ, I wish I had two Mexican names,” one of them said.

“Why not change it? You can be Roberto…what is Miller in Spanish?” another asked.

“It would be molinero, numb nuts,” Jenkins said, interrupting the trio.

The three were embarrassed that they’d been caught in their bad-mouthing of a fellow special agent, something looked upon very unfavorably at the DEA.

“Was it a diversity move when he got his Distinguished Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and his Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal? Not that he needed a boost from those to make the cut here. He was second in his class at Quantico. Oh, and he received a Bronze Star for an operation in Afghanistan. Any of you boys have a Bronze-fucking-Star?”

Of course, none of them had.

“Me neither, but I’m not a diversity hire.”

The more Jenkins spoke, the angrier he became.

“I’ve heard the three of you speaking Spanish, and all three together wouldn’t amount to a decent junior high Spanish teacher, not even a fucking substitute. Or maybe you don’t think Spanish is important in this job?”

As the three agents made mealy-mouthed appeals about what they’d said before, attempting to back down from their insult, Jenkins continued his assault.

“Any of you blue-bloods think you could match Juan on the pistol range, or know as much as he does about small arms of every variety? And forget about hand-to-hand combat. I train with him regularly. He’s been doing jiu-jitsu since he was a teenager. I don’t consider myself a slouch on the mat, but I’ve never beat the guy, not one fucking time. I feel like a five-year-old fighting his father when I roll with him.”

It wasn’t that Jenkins had nothing but praise for his friend. Juan drank too much, but who among them didn’t? Jenkins was also ex-military, an organization practically built around functional alcoholism. He knew that Juan was never going to be the career man who works his way up through the ranks to eventually run the show, or at least a big piece of it. Those posts were reserved for family men, careerists at heart. As far as Jenkins could tell, Juan didn’t even like his job.

They had many conversations at the bar about their work. In Juan’s estimation, the entire drug interdiction idea was a lie. Everything they did at DEA was doing nothing to curb the influx of illegal drugs into the United States.

“Sooner or later, we’ll just legalize everything. I say, the sooner, the better,” Juan had said. “What does this say about all the people we’ve put in prison so far?”

Juan liked working under-cover, he got off on the danger. It was his way of dealing with his PTSD from too much time spent in war zones. He confessed all of this to Jenkins. Even though he knew that Juan didn’t believe in his work, he wasn’t about to let these three blue-blood douche bags tear into his friend.

“You guys really want to go to the El Paso office?” he asked. “Be careful what you wish for.”

The three “blue-bloods” had nothing to say.

“Special Agent Juan Rodríguez a diversity hire?”

Jenkins almost spat this out. Now he was fuming.

“Diversity hire, my ass.”


*Juan Rodríguez is one of the protagonists in John Scheck’s novel, La Frontera Saga.


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