Yadira's Final "Hi, Baby!" & Goodbye
Written by Bria McNeal
“Hi, my baby!”
I first heard the voice over the music playing through my headphones as I turned to see an old friend. Though we were standing in a White Castle, rather than Fordham’s cafeteria, her warm and raspy catchphrase sounded just the same. I almost forgot how much I missed it.
For those who aren’t familiar (if those people even exist), Yadira Hernandez was a member of Fordham Food Services. Yadira spent five years at our school, earning The Beacon Award for her impeccable work ethic before walking out of Fordham’s gates for the last time. Her decision to leave was not easy, though, and she has a few things she would like to clear up. First off, she quit on her own terms; she was not fired. Second, she wants to apologize for not saying goodbye to the students she left behind.
“I couldn’t leave without crying, so I just left,” she said, her brown eyes narrowed and voiced lowered to a hush as she explained her untimely exit. After working with Sodexo for 2 years, Fordham switched food providers and began a new contract with Aramark. Yadira said that the change resulted in the removal of her favorite programs (i.e., themed dress-up days and holiday events) and fewer work hours.
Kitchen rules changed as well, and she said she didn’t get along with the new heads of staff. Overall, she felt that her role in meal services had shifted too much and no longer reflected the same community values she felt years prior.
The years leading up to that day, however, were filled with joy. She recalls moving up the ladder quickly. Just two months into her first year, Yadira’s bosses recognized her infectious positive attitude and promoted her from the meal prep station to a greeter at the front of the cafeteria.
It was in this role that Yadira was able to leave her mark on the Fordham community. Being a greeter gave her the opportunity to speak with students as she swiped them into the cafeteria. Though most interactions were brief, she was able to connect with the people she met.
Shortly before she quit, Yadira was relocated from the caf to Salt and Sesame in FMH, but the change did not phase her.
“Doesn’t matter where you put me at, I’m always going to be Yadira,”she said. This sentiment seems to be a common theme in her life, as she learned to navigate hard circumstances with grace.
Yadira’s birth mother passed away before she turned two, and her father was unable to care for her on his own. Shortly after the family tragedy, Yadira’s aunt, Rafaela Hernandez, adopted her and raised her in the Bronx. Yadira beamed when speaking about her aunt, whom she lovingly refers to as her mother.
“My mom is the one who taught me what I got inside,” she said, “I learned how to love. Learned how to be a caring person.” All of the qualities Rafaela represents are what Yadira tried to embody while working at Fordham. Though her mother provided her with a strong support system, she knows everyone is not as lucky.
“Growing up in New York, you heard you’re not gonna be shit,” she told me, in reference to the other adults in her life. “People just don’t realize that we affect kids in every way,” she said. With an understanding of the effects of childhood neglect, Yadira knew she wanted to work with kids in the future.
Despite the stark class differences between the Bronx and the general Fordham community, Yadira said she decided to try to bridge the gap between the students and staff. No matter where we come from, or where we go when we leave Fordham, Yadira insists that we all have the same thing in common:
“You guys don’t have your mommies around!”
When asked about her favorite aspect of the job, her arms shot directly towards me.
“Genuinely,” she said, “I love you guys.”
Maybe this nurturing quality is what draws us in. She’s a natural caregiver, with a sharp sense of reality. Though she loves seeing “her babies” have fun, she values a quality education more than anything.
“You need to have book smarts to make it in the corporate world,” she said, “You have to have it, especially when you live in New York City.” Like a true parental figure, she wants all of her babies to finish college. These dreams special meaning to her own education, as Yadira had previously studied child psychology at Medgar E. Evans College before having to drop out due to financial troubles.
“No one is going to school for this,” she added, motioning towards herself. “There’s always going to be times to have fun. There’s always going to be downtime, partying, all of that… But, if you don’t get an education, this world will fuck you over.”
Right now, Yadira is working in childcare and mapping out the future. Her next plan is to finally pursue her dream of owning a daycare center.
“I’m working towards it,” she said, noting that she received the Foundations in Health and Safety e-Learning certificate from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services this year. She expects this venture to be a five-year process, but hopes to name her business “Nana’s Little People.”
Her final sentiment to Fordham students is that we keep chasing our own dreams. A sentiment she wishes she could have told us on her own before leaving.
“I want you babies to know that you babies are awesome,” she said. “Don’t let anyone steal your joy or your happiness. You babies are going to make it. You have a friend in me forever.”