The Maria Ramirez Story

Maria…I’ve just met a girl named Maria
and suddenly I’ve found
how beautiful a sound can be…

You’ve maybe seen the 30-second McDonald’s commercial. (Find “Maria’s Graduation” on youtube.)

It begins with this young woman—Maria Ramirez is her name, as it happens—sitting in a McDonald’s getting interviewed for the job, shows her clocking in, winning an Employee of the Month award, getting a letter from the company offering her a scholarship (delivered to her high school locker), and ends with her sitting in a college lecture hall getting an exam handed back by a smiling prof.

The ad says nothing about hamburgers and childhood obesity. Nothing about diabetes and cardiovascular disease related to its high-calorie, high-fat menu. Nothing about salt and oil. It doesn’t dwell on what McDonald’s does for a living at all, since everybody knows it anyway.

It just tells us that McDonald’s whatever else it does spends $ 150 million every year on employee college scholarships. (Wow! You could buy eight yachts for that!) It recounts sentimentally the age-old American success story of the immigrant working hard, getting educated, advancing in a land of opportunity. It adds to the Norman Rockwell narrative the nurturing hand of the corporation.

(There are currently between 1.5 and 1.9 U.S. employees of McDonald’s. So there’s around $70-100 per employee in the college fund.)

The subliminal message of the “Maria’s Graduation” ad campaign is: by spending $ 4.79 stuffing your face with your next double quarter-pounder with cheese you help Maria and all those endearing waif-like Marias out there—Latina Marias, Italian Marias, all the haunting Marys in all those Springsteen songs, named after the Holy Virgin Mother of God Herself—to realize their dreams under capitalism.

How much does McDonald’s spend every year advertising its philanthropy, to advertise (and shield) itself? It’s total advertising budget for 2017 was $ 1.5 billion. By my math the employee scholarship fund equals .01% of the advertising expenditures.

A double filet o’ fish meal will cost you $6.79 (and help Maria through Bio 101). Buy one every month and you’ll pay for her subsidy. As you chew, and wipe dripped tartar sauce from your shirt, think about young female Latina empowerment.

Say it loud and there’s music playing
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying

Slurping your diet Coke to alleviate the tongue-burn from the deliciously toxic fries, think about Maria’s college life. Her problems getting campus housing. Roommate problems. Her first dorm party and fuzzily remembered rape. Her mounting student debt. Her graduation with a degree in a field she loves, but offering no jobs.

Maria goes back to McDonald’s, as a manager and national spokesperson for the company’s efforts to support college education.

I’ll never stop saying Maria!
The most beautiful sound I ever heard…Maria

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: