Knowing Your Past Can Guide Your Struggle
All great conversations seem to happen during happy hour after a long workday, and May 1st was one of those nights for me. My friends had just seen a play called “Piketlan Cantada” that was themed around worker’s rights in the Philippines and the US. They were very moved by it and, after a few beers, were charged with rage and inspiration to take action. My friend, Christian, had the most powerful epiphany I’ve ever watch someone have. He very casually said “the play made me want to just pick up my mom from LA and take her back to the Philippines so I can see where I was born. I can’t see the rest of my life clearly until I see where I come from."
I called him the very next day and said I wanted to interview him for Ella’s Voice. He explained his epiphany to go back home as a perfect next step in his personal and professional life.
Christian began by reflecting, "When I came to the Bay as a queer person of color, I chose to navigate my queer side first. After 3 years of hitting up the Castro and the like, I now feel grounded in my queer side and am ready to figure out the brown part." The rest of our conversation follows:
Can you tell me more about how the play brought back memories of where you came from?
Christian: The play, Piketlan Cantada, took a good look at the extreme poverty in the Philippines and made me think about how my life could have been, and how my grandparents’ lives were. It made me realize I hadn’t been home, ever, since I left. Maybe now is the time to see where grandparents are buried, see the church I was baptized in, and see the store across the street whose sign had the first words I ever read.”
Our conversation took a slightly different, but related direction, towards the history and path of worker’s rights.
Was the play focused only on Filipino workers?
Christian: The play beautifully brought together worker’s rights in the US and Philippines through the lens of a husband working in San Francisco and wife working in the Philippines. It was a nice contrast and portrayed an accurate message that worker’s struggles are a global issue.
Tara: I recently learned that while about 4,000 Filipinos leave the Phillipines daily to find employment abroad, the U.S. has programs like E-Verify to keep majorities such as undocumented workers unemployed and below the poverty line. There was a recent episode in Minnesota where Chipotle fired 450 workers, more than 1/3 of its workforce, after a probe by immigration authorities and the use of E-verify.
Unfortunately, the stories of these and many other workers are not always told but you can stay updated on worker’s struggles here.
What’s your take on the progress of the teachers union’s struggle?
Christian: There has been a negative perception of teachers unions asking for raises during a time when people are unemployed and losing jobs, and that reputation is going to stand in their way of convincing people that unions are vital and worth the money we spend on them. The current dialogue around education reform is fairly anti-union, and during a time when teacher cuts are quickly increasing, we need some sort of, like in any movement, a charismatic leader that can sell the value of unions. In a way that can show some humility and understanding of where the rest of the country is coming from. They need to get a message that is clear, concise and relate-able. After all the teacher cuts that have taken place, I value all the work the unions do. In the past, their message seemed to switch between demanding raises and tenure and this has created a negative perception of teacher’s unions being greedy. Their current message is clear: stop firing teachers. This demand is easy to support because it is relatable and simple
Tara: I definitely agree with Christian on this point. We can see proof of the value in messaging with the past election trends. The Republicans had a long winning streak with Bush’s re-election, while the Democratic party was struggling and slowly gaining a bad reputation for being confused about their goals. George Laikoff wrote a book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” in which he theorized that the only way Democrats could get their seat back is by framing a solid message that runs their campaign, because thus far, the Republicans were successfully known to promise “patriotism” and Democrats, well, it wasn’t really clear what they stood for. And this is something Obama did really well with “Hope.” He stuck to that message through his campaign, speeches and promises. I believe that such a powerful yet simple message can be possible in any movement if we learn and know where we come from.
In the end, we came to an important conclusion that every struggle has a history, but with time that story gets lost and the movement slowly loses the strong cohesion needed to fight the good fight. Each of us already has a lot to think about, and sometimes when we want to move forward it doesn’t seem possible or important to look back. But if we can spend just a few minutes to do some research or take a coffee break to learn about our past by talking to grandparents and older generations, we will not only be more grounded in who we are but I believe we can be more successful and intentional in our work.