Marius Marinescu Finds a Vision—and His Voice—at SLU

Marius Marinescu Finds a Vision—and His Voice—at SLU

Marius Marinescu is living the American dream. “Whatever that is,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Marius was born in Brasov, Romania, in the historic region of Transylvania. There, he said, “I grew up in a totalitarian regime where I was inducted into the Youth Communist party at a young age, without my consent. The Communist party was trying to brainwash us, telling us we were living in a perfect society where everyone was equal. In actuality, we were powerless.”

He went on, “I grew up with minimal TV in Romania, and all it showed was Communist propaganda. So I became an avid reader. I liked history best, especially the fantastic books printed before the second World War. We had to hide them so the government wouldn’t confiscate them. They were beautiful, prized, secret cultural gems, the only way we could secure factual knowledge of the past.”

“After the Romanian revolution in 1989, I and my whole generation devoured Hollywood movies and novels—I especially remember Ayn Rand’s portrayal of blissful American life. All of us wanted to go to the West, to the ‘Promised Land,’ convinced that millions of dollars were waiting for us. All it would take was self-confidence and a touch of luck.”

Marius added, “So that’s what I did. I graduated from law school and was supposed to take my bar exam, but then I got an interview with Carnival Cruise Lines. So instead of taking the job in a state attorney’s office that my mom had arranged for me, I took a job as a busboy on a cruise ship.” Was his mom upset? “Of course,” Marius said. “But all I could think of was that my dream had just come true—I was going to America.”

Marius’s dream was soon dashed. “When I got to Miami, we were accommodated near the airport in a bleak, impoverished neighborhood. The shock was ineffable. It ruined forever the idyllic image of America that I had held in my imagination.”

Worse was to come. “When I got to the ship, I had a baptism by fire—thrown right into work with no training, I didn’t even know where to find the kitchen or wine cellar. And the working day was 20 hours long! The coup de grace was the monthly salary:  two dollars. I realized that the only way I could make any money was to become the best busboy I could—improve my vocabulary, use my sense of humor—so that I could make decent tips.” Marius grinned. “It turned out to be a good financial decision after all. The law clerk’s job only paid about $250 a month. My first month on the ship, I made $2,000 in tips.”

Marius admits that he didn’t save much of that money, but “I got to see things that others would pay thousands of dollars for.”

After he left the cruise line, Marius met his wife and they decided to stay in America. They moved to New York where, Marius admitted, “Undeniably, capitalism improved my standard of living tenfold. However, I saw New York State as an oppressor trying to take away my tips, that I had worked so hard for. We moved to Florida, but that was a disappointment as well. The taxes were low, but the wages were meager compared to New York. And I saw so much racism—from all sides, all races—and so much corruption, at the highest levels. So we went back to New York, to raise our children in this beautiful melting pot that gathers people with backgrounds from all over the world.”

Marius quickly found work at a hotel, but was soon disillusioned by the corporate culture there. “I loved it at first, but then greed showed its teeth. Everything was geared to profits, at all costs. When upper management failed to make their budget, they decided to protect their bonuses by cutting seven managerial jobs, which the rest of us had to cover. We worked 12-14 hours a day but only got paid for 8. If we complained, they told us, “If you won’t, there are others who can’t wait to take your place.”

Still, Marius decided to stay and eventually worked his way up in the hospitality industry. In 2014 he was hired by the Rainbow Room, and that’s when he joined Hotel Trades Council Local 6. “Luck led me to the Rainbow Room,” Marius said. “And becoming a union member was a blessing.”

When the pandemic hit, Marius was completely out of work. “After two months, I was stir-crazy. My wife was studying psychology at SPS, and she told me I should go back to school. I applied to a lot of different colleges. SLU saw my background in law and accepted me into the M.A. program in labor studies.  At first I was torn between political science and labor studies—but given my life experience, I chose labor studies.” He shook his head. “And I jumped in head-first. I took three classes my first semester, which was a disaster after being out of school for so long. But SLU always pulls me through—especially Professor Luce. She told me I’m a great storyteller—but my papers are too long!”

At SLU Marius overcame another obstacle. “One of the fears I never got over, being an immigrant, was that people would laugh at me and not take me seriously because of my accent. SLU took that fear away—the professors and my classmates always appreciate what I have to say. They tell me that my background gives me a different perspective that makes my stories fascinating.”

Despite his fear of speaking in public, Marius told his union that he would like to volunteer. Before long he found himself at a union rally in support of funding for CUNY and SUNY, speaking to hundreds of people about the importance of education. “My palms were sweating. I was terrified that I would stutter and lose my way in the speech. But I made it through. I guess the first time is the hardest.” He added, “It helped to have friends like my classmate, Jimmy Bosco, who organizes for HTC, cheering me on. Penny Lewis and Stephanie Luce were there too, and Samir [Sonti] and James [Rodriguez]. The union gave me a script, but I rewrote it in my words. I told them my own story and how important it is to get an education because it’s the best way to the middle class. I’ve been on both sides of the barricade, and I have seen a lot of injustice and misinformation which only benefits corporations, not workers. That’s why education is paramount. It’s imperative that we all unite for our prosperity, but also for our children, for future generations. That’s my current reason for speaking out—to create a chance for my children, for everyone’s children, to grow socially, economically, and professionally without being subjected to the whims and abuses of the owners. So I’m going to keep on speaking about that—and about how education should be a right and be free for everyone—at any rally that will have me.”

What does Marius plan to do with his degree from SLU? “At first I didn’t really have any plans—I just love learning. But then I realized that I can use what I’ve learned at SLU to make a difference in my workplace, in my union and my community. Why do some people make $15 an hour and others $50? That’s not fair or equitable. You should be able to take a vacation. You should have sick leave and be able to take care of your family. Your children should have a free education all the way through college. Strength is in numbers—the more we are, the more power we have. Now, because of the speeches I’ve made, I’ve realized that I’m drawn to the political side of the union. Because that’s how I can start a revolution.”

Marius paused, then said quietly, “If you have the right words, you can start an avalanche.”