When The Goodness Comes

Jane Magaletta

Jane Magaletta

When I was 11 years old, my mother and father took my two younger brothers and I on board a massive ship and left behind the Netherlands, the country of my birth.

We sailed for three weeks across the Atlantic, arriving at last in our new home, the United States, a country where we did not speak the language and did not know a soul.

Arriving in the U.S. was difficult because of the language barrier and the fact that our physical appearance was markedly different from the accepted norm. As Indische children growing up in an Italian-American community, we were often the targets of a variety of racist remarks and jokes. People around us, confused by our “otherness,” called us names. Although my brothers and I were always taught to be proud of who we are and where we come from, I still tried very hard to fit in. In 6th grade, against her better judgment, my mother gave me a home perm because I wanted to be like everyone else. My straight Asian hair felt out of place next to the lush Italian curls that surrounded me.

My brothers were always expected to go to college, but for me, as a young woman, it was not considered to be as important. After a brief time at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I became a flight attendant. Having traveled the world as a child, I was now taken by a desire to see every corner of the globe. Working for the airlines was the perfect way to fulfill my wanderlust. I loved my job. I loved not having a regular daily routine. I loved my co-workers. I loved meeting new people every time I went to work. I even loved the uniform.

That was the heydey of overt sexism on the airlines. As a flight attendant, dealing with misogyny was considered to be a natural part of the job. It almost prevented me from joining altogether, but I was well aware of what I was getting into and did not want to let my dreams get crushed because of patriarchal nonsense. My independence was worth the price of having to deal with overly schmoozy patrons, and in the end, the benefits of my position far outweighed the negatives.

As I child, I crossed a vast ocean by ship. Now, as a young woman, I had wings. With these wings, I was able to truly find a life outside of the house. I now had the ability to move around the globe, seeing and experiencing new places, each with beautiful customs, gorgeous landscapes, and unique architecture.

“Otherness,” I discovered, is something to be celebrated.

When approached openly, the brilliant tapestry of languages and cultures that span the globe will unveil themselves to you. I cherish the fact that I was able to share all this with my daughters, sometimes bringing them with me and buckling them into the jump seats. Then, the airline went under.

When Eastern went bankrupt, I found myself inconsolably sobbing at my bedside. I had picketed and rallied for the union, fighting so hard for something I loved, but it wasn’t enough. My mother gently reminded me that the world wasn’t over. Having grown up in Indonesia during World War II and having served in a Japanese internment camp for years, she had a perspective that I couldn’t fathom, and though it felt impossible, I knew she was right.

Life was not over. My professional career took various twists and turns. My daughters grew up and began to travel the world on their own, making their own adventures and discoveries. Eventually, my husband and I left New Jersey and set out west. For the past 10 years, I have worked as a concierge at a hotel in downtown Santa Fe. Although my job now takes place in a single location, being a concierge allows me to enjoy many of the aspects I loved about travel. I still interact with people in the midst of their journeys, but instead of taking them to where they want to go, now I help them to discover where they are. Once again, I have a job where every day I get to meet new people from all over the world. I never imagined that all these years later I would find something that I enjoy almost as much as flying. Then a remarkable thing happened.

One day, a few years ago, these two worlds of mine unexpectedly collided. I was sitting at my desk in the hotel lobby when one of the guests approached me and asked if I used to fly for Eastern Airlines in New Jersey. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback and even a little creeped out by the question. Reluctantly, I answered that yes, I had. As it turned out, this man had been a “redcoat” at my home airport. Then he saw me at the hotel, some 30 years later and some 2,000 miles away and recognized me. I was not sure whether to be flattered or horrified. As I was in the process of weighing this out, he asked what I missed most about working for the airlines. “That’s easy,” I told him, ”the flight benefits.”

“But, you know, you’re still eligible for flight benefits,” he responded.

“What? Really?” I couldn’t believe it.

“Yeah, you don’t get the newsletter?” he asked.

He then told me who to contact. My heart was soaring. I got my wings back.

Honestly, my life has been hard at times — really hard, harder than I would normally like to admit. But I have always focused on the positive and have tried to do what makes me happy. It works. It can sound simple and boring, but it’s true. To this day my husband mocks my easy joy, but I think it brings goodness, I really do. 

Be proud of who you are.

Do what makes you happy and when the goodness comes, take it.

Jane was born in Amsterdam, Holland. After 11 years, she moved to New Jersey where she spent the next 40 years. She is now a concierge at a hotel in downtown Santa Fe and is still very passionate about traveling the world.

Words: Jane Magaletta