What I Did on May Day
I cried again.
I helped a child. One who had made a childish mistake, trying to be responsible. A childish mistake which her undocumented mother would otherwise pay for dearly. A child, the age of my child.
I was not on strike. For reasons well known, to anyone who has read me on the subject of illegal immigration at this point.
But, to help the child required a trip to the office, on the day of the Great Strike. To the little community legal services office that, on Friday, I will be leaving behind except as perhaps a member of the Board of Directors, to fight the good fight for access to justice for the poor with more resources (people and money) than I ever dreamed would be at my disposal. A dream that I dreamed – we will see if it is really true.
Waiting there was my hermana. My administrative manager. My Stanford sister, even though she is young enough to be my daughter. Her father only a few years ahead of me, MEChA through and through, now The Judge. His daughter a beauty queen in their little central valley hometown, just under magna cum laude. It was her idea, keeping this previously-set up appointment on a day the office had closed in solidarity with the Latino immigrants who make up 40% of our city’s population but 80% of our clients, since with a practice of “Immigration”, “Housing” (but only for tenants) and “Other” (Me), nobody else really fits in the categories of What We Do. It was the only day the child could get off from her after-school job, to meet with a lawyer. It was not my idea since, technically, my last day of “General” was last week.
It was my hermana’s idea, to work on this day of Strike. And therefore mine. Because we needed to help. We including the student who had first interviewed the mother. Because the child needed help.
When I arrived, my admin was writing. On our main conference table. A small, non-descript sign, in simple black ink. On double-thickness legal paper. It read:
Mis abuelos eran Braceros.
Mi padre es Juicio.
Soy graduado de Stanford University
Si! Se Puede!
The way we are set up, the student interviewed while we waited. And she patiently, carefully, wrote her sign. She clucked. She fretted: “I need to figure out where Mountain View Civic Center is”.
At first, I said nothing. I watched. But then, I told her. Here is where you go. Here is how to go.
She whispered “I wasn’t planning to go. I am not really the protest type.”
I looked at her sign. So Black. So white. So Plain.
I said, this sign dishonors your abuelos. It has no color. It is too simple. They deserve to be honored. To be seen.
So I clucked. I fussed. I searched. We found blue. Found Orange. Found Green. Found Yellow.
So while we helped the child, she gave life to her black and white words:
Braceros. Judicio. Chicana.
The green of the fields.
The orange of the powerful sun.
The blue of hope.
In rainbows of highlighter, all we had.
Then the student emerged, and I helped him help the child some more. He went back in. I went back out, to my hermana.
But then I saw the sign again. I fretted. I clucked. "Hmmph." “You young people”. “You have no idea how to protest.” “How do you expect to be heard if you cannot be SEEN?”
“I’m not really sure – it probably will get in the news, huh?”
"Of course" I said. So this is not good enough, I said. "Your sign cannot be seen", I said. "You will be on television, maybe." Your grandparents will be on television, or in the paper. You can’t hold that sign up long without your shoulders hurting. You are tiny. Your grandparents deserve to be seen even above those who stand next to you who are "thisssss big". Your grandparents deserves to be held high.
So I fretted. I clucked. I searched.
And made a stick out of a lengthwise-folded legal sized manila folder.
"Is it OK that this isn't white?"
"That's OK, I'm not really white either." she said, my hermana.
So while she helped the student help the child, I clucked. I fretted, and I folded. Si, se puede.
Here is the stick, I said. So together. We put the sign on, stapled it secure, practiced holding it high. English on the one side. Spanish on the other. "Can you turn it?" I said "Both sides must be seen", I fretted. I clucked.
“I have not gone. I cannot go. You know why I can’t.” I said at some point.
She said “I know. I understand. I am still not sure, what I am doing."
And that was all.
So we helped the child, and helped her mother, who clucked and fretted about the childish mistake of her jovena (a 15 year old baby, a baby like my baby). We said goodbye, to the client. To the jovena. I said goodbye in Spanish. Their eyes were suspicious, even though I spoke Her language. She looked at my hermana, instead, for reassurance. As so many do, each and every week. Those who see, cannot accept, cannot trust, that one who looks like me is there to help one who looks like them. Those who believe, until they discover, that I cannot understand their spoken or visual distrust, their suspicion, their sense that I would not, could not help them. My hermana nodded. That quiet, subtle nod, that said "She's OK."
So on this May Day, the day after a Beltaine that I missed yet again, I helped a child. A good child, who made a childish mistake. So that her mother would not have to pay. I was not on strike, because to be on strike would have meant the child could not be helped on the only day she had when she could come for help.
And I embraced my admin goodbye, as we always do these days, knowing that on Monday I shall be in a high glass tower, giving away the resources of our profession as freely as I can get away with. While she remains, on the other side of the freeway, in the modest non-profit building we have shared as colleagues and friends, she my right hand, I her left hand, as we struggle.
“Go now, and fight,” I said. Go honor to your grandparents. Does your father know?”
“No, I didn’t tell my parents”, she said.
“You go make them proud, too. You go.".
So she, my companion, my friend, my daughter the same age as my eldest daughter, who breathlessly confessed to me last week that she now wants to go to Law school, after all, drove away. She drove to Mountain View. with her sign. Our sign.
And she understood when I went home.
To laugh, and argue, and rage. And to cry, yet again.
But she never ever JUDGED.
My grandparents were Bracero. (My grandparents were Sharecropper)
My father is a Judge. (My father painted homes.)
I am a proud Stanford graduate. (I am a proud Stanford graduate.)
I am Latina. (I am a Sister.)
Yes, we can! You damned right we can!
(And if someone cannot understand and get behind THAT, fuck them and the simplistic left OR right-wing horse they rode in on.)