WASHINGTON, D.C. – Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his proposal to have low-income students work as janitors in their schools after he was questioned on Wednesday by a recent college graduate who had held the job in high school and said he found the experience "embarrassing."
“For me, it was embarrassing to be a janitor at my own high school because I was with other racial kids. I was poor. My mom was working super hard. I did not feel empowered by serving my classmates," said Hector Cendejas, a 2010 Georgetown University graduate, during a campaign event Gingrich held at Georgetown.
Cendejas said he found Gingrich’s janitor proposal "offensive." The thing that helped him the most, he told Gingrich, was getting financial aid to attend Georgetown after high school.
“I got a full ride, so thank God, you know,” Cendejas said. “I got everything through Georgetown, but if it wasn’t for this opportunity through Georgetown, I wouldn’t get anything. All my friends, they are pregnant and in gangs and jail, and we did the same job, you know, working as janitors. So for me, your remarks were offensive."
He questioned why Gingrich’s plan did not include jobs at law firms or hospitals to "develop better skills."
In his response, Gingrich said, "Well, I am sorry if you were offended. Both of my daughters worked as janitors at the local Baptist Church, and they earned the money and they didn’t think it was demeaning, and they actually liked the idea that they earned their own money as kids. And they kept their money because they thought work had inherent dignity," Gingrich said to applause from the crowd.
When Cendejas said that his experience was different because Gingrich’s daughters grew up in a wealthy family, Gingrich reminded the audience that he was a college professor at the time. "I wasn’t wealthy," he said. ".... I guess you and I just disagree, and I am sorry," he added.
Gingrich asked Cendejas whether he found the janitorial job "financially useful." Cendejas replied that he took the job to help his mother, who was raising him alone and was an undocumented immigrant. In November, Gingrich proposed a program for poor students to work as janitors in order to earn cash and develop school pride.