Friday, March 23, 2012

Taxes and Talking

 I missed hearing myself on the radio...not having taken the time to look at e-mail before heading out to Lawrence to begin interviewing again for a project that's due at the end of May.

 Esther, a woman I met at the Cafe Verde, who is one of those marvelous creatures, a connector, has connected me to a number of fascinating and diverse people who will talk to my video camera. On Wednesday, she took me to Lawrence Works, where she's a board member. A remarkable organization that has a wide range of workshops, classes, activities and projects including building housing. The staff is bi-lingual and seem to have created a pleasant atmosphere for those who need their resources and within their work environment. (I have a great envy for people who work in supportive, welcoming, socially based organizations.)

The first person I interviewed referred to himself as a 'white guy,' who immigrated from Andover (a wealthy community) to Lawrence (poor city), a now bi-lingual man who lives, with his wife and baby, in the neighborhood. He was particularly interesting because I'm always curious about how 'white' people like me, who grew up in suburban neighborhoods, make commitments, connections and become integrated into less affluent, urban communities especially when it involves learning another language, (which I've never done.)

And then Esther introduced me to another Esther who came here from Peru ten years ago, with her two children.
At first she worked in a factory as a temporary worker, meaning she had to stand, waiting, every morning at 4am, hoping she'd be chosen for day labor...
when that factory wasn't hiring any more, she was out of work for 2 months
before finding work in a 24-hour gas station. Fortunately, the owner spoke Spanish because when he asked her to read the employee regulations, written in English, she was able to understand enough, comparing words similar to Spanish, that she convinced him she could read English. Actually she knew only about 30 words. And she was very good with numbers, so she could make change and was hired to work from 11pm to 7am,
then had to take an English class, 8-10am, (a requirement for the night job)
and then wasn't making enough money to support her family, so she had to get another job, from 10:30 until sometime in the afternoon,
after which she went home, cooked for her children,
slept 4 hours
and went to work again,
 7 days a week,
90 hours a week,
to send her two children to college.
The American Dream.
I'm not being sarcastic about the American Dream, even though I get very angry about the illegal immigrant policy and the anger this country of immigrants has toward illegal Mexicans.
Imagine not letting people who were brought here as young children and have graduated from high school not attend college and get on with their lives, working and building families.
Pass the Dream Act, please,
and then move further, allowing parents who own houses, who have paid taxes, blah and blah, to have amnesty. And on and on...........
Esther had graduated from college and was a teacher in Peru, but she knew that she could not have made enough to send her children to college
and to buy a house, one that was built by Lawrence Works, in a cluster of ten new buildings so that there is a community.

So, I interviewed 4, count them, people....and then went to the library to try to hunt for the text of Carmella Teoli (spelling) speaking in Washington about child labor in 1912. Her hair got caught in a loom and part of her scalp was ripped off. She spent quite a lot of time in the hospital and was one of the children sent from Lawrence to testify.

 Of course I assumed that I could easily locate the book (having photographed some of her testimony -- large type, big, white pages...) without knowing what book it is. The librarian said, "You don't how many people come up to me asking for the red book," after quietly remarking that it's useful to make citations. After my no-success, I got in the car, stopped for a pure poison, extra chocolate sauce, please, sundae at McDonalds and got home before the elephants finished walking over my body.

At any rate, I missed hearing the interview with Adam Ragussea.

He wanted to meet out at Suffolk Downs, so we went to the 8th Pole, and talked with Jim Greene and Shirley Edwards, who started this organization that supplies some clothing, some food and health care for the backside workers.

I was extremely glad that they were included because their work is so important and their knowledge of what backside workers need, as well as their appreciation of the endless hard work that goes on back there, is so wide ranging.  At any rate, doing the interview with them along for the ride was what I'd actually call perfect....and much more significant than talking about the book...I was actually pleased...something that my dour self doesn't experience often...

 and had no idea that I'd feel as if elephants had walked over me afterwards.

Adam has an easy way of keeping the conversation moving and editing all of it into something I approve of -- given my political, social biases.     I heard it the next day.  (And if you want to hear it, just go to that WBUR site...and look for Radio Boston...and then for "My  Suffolk Downs.")

And then Mim called...which was extremely nice. And she said i sounded intelligent. I thought I sounded hesitant and that my voice is sort of nabi-ish.

Someone had built a stick house, a frame with sticks bent in half for the root, in the park near Target. But I didn't have my camera with me any time I walked the dogs by it...until it had been destroyed by a wind storm.

I finally finished my income taxes today.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to make my blog following list show on the front of this so no one can see what I would be following if I had time and energy...

but there a fantastic blog, not that I imagine that he cares if he gets more readers. James at For You and Me..

you can find his comment in my blog just below this one..and trace him that way. I hope he won't be annoyed that I'm advertising for his words, but they give so much to me.


  1. you should never fear radio. you have a lovely voice,
    and it sings with your love for others.

  2. You asked one of those questions of which I, funny enough, am afraid: what's a white guy doing here in this neighbourhood when he clearly comes from a well-to-do background and doesn't NEED (that's the key word) to chip in? Well, I guess the answer is that WE all need to chip in, sooner or later. That's not an answer, by the way, but the beginning of one. Then, again, I've often berated myself for thinking up such questions as if poor or deprived neighbourhoods didn't deserve the attention of those who are in a better financial position, regardless of skin colour.

    This is a very a good post that made think of some of those issues we often brush under the carpet. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Many thanks for your thorough answer. It's given me a powerful insight into US culture in the 60s and 70s, especially from soneone who lived it up close like you. I feel ambivalent about projects like the one you described. Whilst having a social conscience is in my "must-have" list, the other end of the spectrum is povrty tourism and that can be equally or more degrading than the actual ordeal.

    Ultimately it shouldn't matter whether the person is black or white but their contribution (if any) to a particular area.

    You've lived a very rich life, that's why I enjoy coming here and reading your posts. Have a good week.

    Greetings from London.

  4. Thank you, Cuban. I wish that the color of one's skin wasn't so important here, but that's the history of this country. More on this later...