Juan Malave stands near 35th and Auer, by a parking lot, paintbrush in hand. He’s working on a garage nearby. This is his life.
“Yeah, every day, 365 days, you know; I’m working Monday, Saturday, every day. At 6 o’clock, till 8, 9 o’clock, you know,” he says. “I’m working for every guy, every man, you know, every people.”
Malave was born and grew up in Puerto Rico. He says a lot of African-Americans, German, Chinese, Korean and Russian people live there, but they all consider themselves Puerto Rican.
“My parents is Christian; I’m Christian. My family’s Christian,” Malave says. “You know, in Puerto Rico, a hundred percent [of] the people is Christian.”
There’s a lot of farming, there — plantains, other fruit, coffee. A lot of fishing, too. He says the people in Puerto Rico are happy, but he can’t put his finger on why. “I don’t know. The people [are just] like that.”
He adds, “Here the people is good too, you know, sometimes.”
Juan does contracting work. “People call me, I do it,” he says through a thick accent. He gestures toward the back of his van, which holds some large buckets filled with tools, a tool box, rope, a couple tires and more. “Everything in here, you know. Painting, contractor, concrete, roofing, anything.”
Juan, who has three sons and five grandchildren, says working has saved his life. “I no work and I no have money. The money is expensive, you know.”
But he doesn’t complain — he’s looking for any work he can find. “He tells me, ‘Hey, cut the grass,’ well, I cut the grass, too,” Malave says referring to the house’s owner. He says he works across Milwaukee and in Chicago, too.
Malave says he got some education in Puerto Rico but, once he got here, studied for nine years at Esperanza Unida, where he got a diploma and a contractor’s certification. He talks about how even doctors who come into the United States have to earn another degree, because the education is better.
Juan’s hope is that his children and grandchildren will be taught well. “Education is good life for the people,” he says. “Education is important for the people.”
“Patient and good heart is better.”
Did you find value in Juan’s story? If so, please subscribe to our newsletter; we publish the story of a different Milwaukeean every week.
Milwaukee Stories is a nonprofit organization that works to bring you the real stories of regular people all across our city. This work is solely supported by individual contributions from people like you. Please consider becoming a sustaining member, or make a one-time donation, today.
Patron | $3 monthly (or $50 one-time) donation
Member | $7 monthly (or $100 one-time) donation
Partner | $25 monthly (or $500+ one-time) donation