Mónica, Tan Cerca de la Frontera!

INITIAL IMPACT: (10 Oct 2011 email from my Tío Juan Guzmán & my response to him)

Good morning …

It was interesting reading about this latest venture of yours…that is great….I believe everyone ought to be involved in one issue at least once in their lifetime…there is much to learn, not only about others but also about oneself, the dangerous part… who am I as a person and where do I stand? Why? Do I have responsibility because of my position?
enjoy yourself…you are young only once, but it doesn’t have to end with any particular birthday….thank you for sharing the data….here is an opportunity to work on your español.
tio juan

Sí, it was an opportunity to work on mi español.. I was hesitant at first, but I started to come out of my shell. What helped was hearing how well I was doing from our (main) facilitator/translator, as well as a few of the obreros.

Saturday night, while a few of us were just relaxing at hotel, two of the CFO reps and two reps from Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoría Sindical (CILAS) dropped in. It was innocuous conversation at first, I had to translate for two members of my group, at some point conversation turned to questions about me/my family, next thing I know estuvo puro “waterworks” – even now I’m still not really sure what got me choked up, why I started crying – only know that I did.

Knowing I am a survivor of victimization/victimization-attempts at the hands of management (harassment, manipulative behavior, etc), came back to me. I knew/know exactly what these people were going through because I have been there … even harassment about using the restroom. What made it all the more incredulous is I DON’T live in a 2nd World country, no vivo en una de las colonias … I live the *#!@#! United States! I live in a 1st World country … yet I still know what it is to have my rights as a worker violated … more than once.

I had no one, no organization to assist me en mi lucha … I had to figure it out on my own. Because I did my ability to take issue with upper management made a difference for my coworkers (I refused to stick around), I knew how to stand up to the bullying manager at another job, and most recently after a job-loss while I did not ever receive my unemployment I still took on a state agency to defend myself/my reputation against their blatant lies about me.

Because of those experiences I know where to look for information, I know people/places to contact and I make it a point to share that information with others either on Facebook, my personal blog, or by sharing with random people I meet (and find are) in search of their own personal justice against social injustices. Especially when those injustices are regarding: labor, education, housing, and domestic violence.

I also expressed un triste grande because while the obreros we saw/met are in the here and now, they are representative of my/our family of generations gone by. Grandpa (Saldívar) being an obrero migrante y carpintero, his ability to earn wages were often subject to the whim of the weather. Big Grandpa (Guzmán) may have had a steady job with the county, but was he/his family truly better off? I know the stories about how he was subjected to tar/other fumes working on the road, eventually causing his behavior to change for the worse. Did the county do anything for him? Other workers to protect them? I don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to bet little if anything was done.

Los Obreros en Acuña are on the verge of creating un syndicato donde no pueden tener syndicatos! It’s history in the making … to witness it can be/is mindboggling; knowing, as a union-member here in Texas/in the US, I am in a position to solicit a campaign of assistance – be it letter writing, providing contacts, etc. I am no longer a witness; I am a participant … that is emotionally –?? (no se qual palabra usar).

I feel there is so much more I could write … perhaps I will later. Have much to do today with mundane chores and errands.

Monica

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” -Mary Anne Radmacher

FLASHBACK:

When I first heard about availability with seats with the Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (ATCF) delegation trip to México, I was anxious, nervous, and excited.

The idea of possibly being member to an ATCF delegation was exciting! Especially since it would be an “up close & personal” experience – you know, one of those “get-in-there-and-get-your-hands-dirty” types of experience. I was anxious and nervous because of the ongoing violence and safety issues, although I know ATCF takes precautions to best ensure safety of the delegation.

There were 9 of us in the delegation, Carl being the only one I knew; it meant an opportunity to meet others, forge new friendships.

Lucian, a young Latino UT student/vigilant activist. Ed Gibson, Londoner! Carl, community activist, Elvia, a law professor, feminist, and our translator/interpreter. Margo w/Casa Marianella. Meredith, board member with 10K Villages of Austin. Sthea, our facilitator/translator, works w/Goodwill. Yoly, daughter of immigrants and El Paso native.

As we drove to México, various conversations are heard: politics, work, ATCF, and general chit chat.

Our first stop – Fuerza Unida – in San Antonio. Very intriguing, interesting, and upsetting to hear what these two women, and others, had endured. To hear Levi’s went “sweat shop” in Mexico made me think – when was the last time I bought/owned a pair of Levi’s or any other of its products? My family? Friends? We also had the opportunity to purchase Fair Trade items they made.

As we left SA I called “Mill,” my youngest sister, and Daddy. Gave Mill our status and just talked to Daddy about trip to Piedras.

Crossing into México, seeing the uniformed soldiers didn’t synch with memories of childhood visits. Very sad it has come to this.

Our initial stop was at the Comité Fronterízo de Obrer@s (CFO) and adjoining maquila Dignidad y Justicia (D&J). We also visited domiciliaries a la colonica Buenos Aires, visiting with women from Motores Fasco. Theirs was a story both sad and enraging of deplorable and oppressive work conditions resulting in a skin condition with no apparent cure. Stories of humiliation and unsafe working conditions.

After lunch at D&J we were each given gifts made by the women. We also had opportunity to make Fair Trade purchases – I bought a pretty denim tote.

We drove to Cd Acuña. After dinner, as a group, we walked to/through the nearby plaza to purchase nieve o helados. What we saw in la plaza-unattended children running, playing. For me it was not unusual to see that, I saw it every time I traveled to México, even as a child. What was saddening was to see a young child, not yet adolescent, in charge of (but not always paying attention to) even younger children (including a toddler).

Saturday – Ceci y Gladys met us at the hotel, from there we traveled a la colonia Teotihuacán to visit with Lázaro y Hilaria. Lázaro works at Arneses y Accesorios de México. They traveled all the way from Veracruz for work. He spoke of his father being a farmer, whose wages were at the whim of the weather and market alike. Memories de mi mamá y sus padres began to come forward. Grandma and Grandpa, Mama too, were migrant workers. Grandpa was also a carpintero – like Sr Coclane, their/his earnings potential was subject to the weather, availability of crops to harvest, and/or the boss (supervisor, property owner, etc.). We used to hear stories of traveling throughout Texas, and to Ohio and Michigan for work. Don’t know how Mama stayed in/completed school, but somehow managed. You see, for Mama, she was not only the first to make it to college; she was also the first to complete high school. My paternal grandfather (“Big Grandpa”) had a “good job,” for those times anyway. He worked for Cameron Co doing road work. His regular paycheck came at a hefty price – fumes from tar/whatever other chemicals he worked with eventually changed his behavior. I heard a couple of stories about his violent outbursts directed at my grandmother – requiring his sons, especially the youngest (Tío Tony) to intervene.

While I have no memory of Big Grandpa, I’ll never forget my maternal grandparents – they might as well have been our second parents. When Mama & Daddy worked/attended night school they were there to care for us, feed and bathe us, tuck us in at night.

(writing stopped due to crying)

Hearing the stories of humiliating women, wearing signs stating going to the restroom, or worse, the “#1” or “#2” – not so much where going but why-I was reminded of a bullying, manipulative manager I once had. If he thought I went to the restroom too often in a “short” period of time he’d give me grief! It got to the point I’d take different routes to the Ladies’ Room and often, if he asked where I’d been, I’d flat out LIE!!

Memories of a supervisor, a woman no less; she seemed to be on a personal mission to harass me. She loaded me down with unreasonable timelines on tasks; while I did no wrong she’d find reason to reprimand me-leaving no paper trail. One time I was needed in the office on a scheduled day off – she said, in front of the entire office – I could trade it for any day I wanted. So I tacked it on at the end of an upcoming vacation. She was FURIOUS!! She was so angry she left a stack of assignments on my desk that I was never be able to finish, much less start, on time. All were assigned my first day of vacation-upon returning from vacation I found them on my desk-ALL due the last day of my vacation!! They were automatically past due when she wrote them!

I thought about speaking with the manager, her supervisor, but I was too afraid of potential repercussions. So I bit the bullet, kept my head down, applying for jobs elsewhere. I had also picked up a PT job.

The final straw came one night while at second job; I checked my voice mail at FT job. There was a message but it was not regarding any interview-it was HER-in a very stilted and clearly pissed voice-she left a message making it clear I had undone her reorganization of my cubicle but she’d taken care of it. She put it back as she had done before. I burst into tears, going home early due to inability to finish my shift. Earlier in the day while I was out for lunch, she had the nerve to rearrange my workspace … including personal items!

I waited about a week, maybe two, and submitted my resignation-I said leaving for “personal” reasons. Two weeks later my exit interview was done by our manager – during that meeting I finally spilled the beans-I spent half the day in his office. He tried to get me to stay, I said “No.” Instead I advised him to make use of my information to make the office better for my coworkers. I left with no other job lined up. I received a decent amount when I cashed out my vacation and final paycheck. My son and I lived off that for 2 months while I searched for work.

The second night at the hotel a few of us kicked back down in the restaurant. Julia, Carmen, and Paul y Jaime from CILAS came in. I ended up translating for Carl & Lucian. We began with idle conversation, Julia asking if this was first visit to México. Telling her “No,” I explained when I was a child my family traveled to the Rio Grande Valley frequently during which trips were made to Matamoros & Reynosa, even once to Nuevo Progresso and a family vacation to Monterrey when I was about 10 years old. However this was my first visit to Piedras Negras & Acuña. Questions began as to why I made the trip.

I explained I made the trip to learn more about the workers, activities leaning toward organization. As I began to tell about the impact thus far I got choked up, the tears gushed as I struggled to speak while crying. While struggling to speak I told them how the visits and collective stories brought back memories of my own harassment and humiliation. Remembering my recent job loss-I was fired! I was accused of violating agency policy though I’d done nothing wrong. I’d spent months defending my personal integrity after the fact in the realm of unemployment, all to no avail, but at least my self-respect was still intact.

I was clearly upset by my job loss, but it’s nothing, NOTHING in comparison to what they must live with … must endure! But … but … they (obreros), they are representative of who I am, where I came from. At some point in the past my family, my people, was in present-day México! For all I know one of the obreros, current or past, could be a distant relative. My own family eventually came to the United States; my parents-originally from the Rio Grande Valley-came to Austin for an education. They provided for a life better than their own for their children.

During my emotional replies Julia, Jaime, and the others remarked on the passion with which I spoke. While it pains me I am not able to remember exactly what they said, deep within I still remember. If I remember and am able to correctly express their sentiments, the essence of their message to me was about a person’s ability to see within his/herself, recognizing oneself in the reality being experienced/viewed … I recognized myself in los obreros and them in me.

When it was time to leave, go to bed I received hugs from each knowing full well I’d experienced a bonding moment with my new friends. The next morning during Reflections my emotional state was still raw and tender. So much so I required Julia’s assistance in making my comments.

AFTERTHOUGHTS:

The weekend was one of tremendous emotional impact for me. As I told one of my brothers about the weekend: “It was a profoundly emotional, bonding, self-realizing, drama-filled weekend!! Hm … not sure ‘self-realizing’ best word – best can do for now.”

Now being 4+ weeks since our trip, with time to work on writing and thinking about trip, I’ve come to understand “self-realizing” was the PERFECT word! I have a better understanding of who I was, who I am, and who I want/need to be.

Odds are the average person is focused on self, family/friends, and where going (i.e., “the future”). However, I have been trying to (re)connect to my past … my roots, my ancestry. While I may not know/have names, I do know some of my ancestors were Indigenous peoples. The indigenous are proud, noble people. What happened to them? Sure, some conquered others; it may have been a matter of survival. Outright invasion and slaughter by the Europeans for reasons of amassing wealth-that is hardly a case of “survival” … that argument just doesn’t fly with me.

Why did I go back 500+ years? Because what we saw on the trip was, for all intents and purposes, no different. The people of México only want to have a good life, a profitable livelihood. What we saw is the result of foreign “forces” (aka “Corporate America”) ‘slaughtering’ the lives of the Méxicanos. Corporate greed drives “Corporate America.” “Corporate America” has deep pockets where “American” politics is concerned. “American” politics/US politicians are well-educated, moneyed, and (not surprising) predominantly of European ancestry.

Through no actions of my own I was born in a country driven by capitalism and capitalist-driven politics. I was raised to be a consumer, so I knew nothing else – until recently. In the past 2+ years I’ve received an education no university has provided me. I learned, and continue to learn, how my consumer habits (& which) can negatively impact the environment, myself/family, society, other countries, the world.

It was not by choice to be born in the USA … It is by choice to take action(s) to do my part to slow, if not stop, the negative impact.

FAST FORWARD:

I am a member of a union. As such I CANNOT sit idly by doing nothing while US companies commit daily injustices. Not as a union member, a Latina, a human being.

I conducted exploratory research on the companies mentioned in the trip itinerary. I found connections to their US counterparts (HQ!) as well as unions for the US workers.

I am now ready to write a letter to my union requesting assistance to reach out to the unions found as a course of my research as well as CFO/CILAS contacts in México. I also have an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) contact who, while admittedly radical, is willing to assist with a campaign for assistance.

About wpadmin

law prof emeritus, lawyer, writer.
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