by Glendon Francis and Lori Ro
Equality for HER believes in ethical labor practices and protecting immigrant rights. The preservation of human rights should know no borders. Equality for HER works to challenge and dismantle oppressive labor practices by sharing experiences and perspectives outside of the paradigms of white supremacy.
Our staff is predominantly comprised of immigrants and first generation Americans. May Day is both a time to honor the International Labor Movement and the stories and experiences of immigrants. Global Communications Director, Lori Ro, and Editorial Assistant, Glendon Francis took the time to share the significance of May Day to each of them.
I grew up with a single immigrant mom in a working class part of Los Angeles. The schools were crowded, so instead of getting summer vacations, we were put on ‘tracks’ (to ensure that the school was being used year round.) This meant that once every three months, we would get a month of vacation. I still think it’s a cool way to structure school time, but it meant that when I had that month of vacation, my mom would have to find a way to keep me occupied, since there was no summer school structure to fill in the gaps of tracks. What this often looked like was me going to work with her.
Though she had no college education and had gotten her high school education in El Salvador, my mom was always on her hustle, and worked as a housecleaner for a while. I remember going to her clients’ gigantic beachside houses and hearing her describe them to me, always according to their professions; “el abogado,” “el doctor,” “la escritora.”
We lived in a duplex and rented a room out to make ends meet - it wasn’t shabby by any means, but I shared a room with my sister, and the space we had was limited. I still remember how amazed I felt, driving up to these gigantic beachfront houses with my mom. Single people had entire three story houses (with beach views) all to themselves. I would help my mom by carrying buckets up and down the stairs, occasionally throwing in some cleaning help, but mostly, I would explore.
I would go into their gigantic libraries and read books, click through the hundreds of channels they had (this was the era of peak cable), look at kitchens brimming with utensils I had never seen before and fridges empty save for condiments and the occasional jar of olives. Once I opened a desk and found a thin layer of white powder. I closed it and did not tell my mom, guessing that some shady activities were up. I also didn’t want to loose my snooping privileges.
It was fun to get to go to these places, but I also remembered how confused I would feel when I came back to my house. Why didn’t I get to have any of those nice things? I watched my mom work her ass off everyday to make ends meet and to take care of me and my sister, and things just didn’t add up for me.
What did my family do wrong?
This country has historically consolidated resources for a white upper class by exploiting the labor of Black and Brown bodies. This used to look like slavery. Now it looks like “illegal” immigrants in the fields. Though both of my parents are immigrants, we were some of the lucky ones - my parents made it just in time to get citizenship under Reagan's amnesty policy, and while we still had a difficult time, it was nothing compared to the fear, anxiety, and utter dread that I saw the undocumented folks around me face.
I have undocumented friends who are scared. I have friends who work full time jobs doing hard labor, but put off root canals and let their teeth rot because they can’t afford the cost of treatment. I have friends who live precariously from freelance gig to freelance gig, scared to turn 26. I have friends who are retired and living in cities that are gentrifying out from under them, who watch the purchasing power of their social security checks get smaller and smaller every day.
This May Day, we have to center these voices. We have to remember everyone who actually works for this country, who does the labor, who has chipped into the social security pot, and we have to center those who are most exploited. When people like Trump spew hate about illegal immigrants stealing the jobs, they’re only doing that to distract you from the real problem - it’s those at the top, the ones whose families cost New York City more than 100k a day to keep safe, those who have made their fortunes off of exploiting everyone else.
Observing days like May Day allows traditionally censored topics centering unjust labour treatments and immigration to be amplified. Being a first generation college attendee and first generation U.S resident, I find myself having to work immensely harder just to receive ample respect in most spaces. Falling on the intersection of Blackness, immigration and Queerness leaves me in a sometimes uncomfortable position. Nevertheless, I embrace all aspects of my identity.
During this hazy political period, immigrants are even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination. The public propaganda is that we aren't deserving and our very existence is illegal— no human is illegal. Life was far more simpler prior to migrating to the states. Back in Antigua, there was and still is a sense of unity amongst us. We genuinely appreciate each other's presence and labour. In the states, employers tend to overwork documented and undocumented people.
Undocumented and documented folks oftentimes settle for undesirable jobs and the wages tend to be immensely low. Post migrating here, my mother babysat and took care of others around the clock just to provide for myself and my sister. She was weary, however she persisted. It is essential that employers compensate their employees equitably. I'm writing this brief note to all the overworked and weary immigrants.