It’s been pretty fun this week getting to know the rest of the BayUp staff and students in Oakland, CA. We’ve already had lots of good laughs and memorable moments I’m sure we will remember even after this summer.
This past orientation week everyone has been housed at Re:Generation Church in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland. Some of us have been sleeping on the floors of the nurseries, while those lucky enough have found couches in the sanctuary. I believe we will be moving out to our respective sites, however, tomorrow afternoon.
We got a chance to hear from locals today what Oakland meant to them. I got to go to the Fruitvale district on International Blvd. along with four other students, which reminded me of the flea markets I used to go to as a little kid. There were fruit carts lining each block, and each store had some Hispanic influence to it. Most of the people there couldn’t really speak English, but here are some of their responses:
*Oakland is home
*People here are crazy!
*Oakland is sad
*A lot of bad things happen here, but you’ve got to fight for the good stuff. You can’t just run away.
*Oakland is open to all kinds of people from different backgrounds
*Oakland’s an armpit
*I stay here for my family
*It ain’t the best place, but it’s home
6/20-Work Day Simulation
In order to step into the shoes of the working poor several groups of students were hired out as day laborers, housekeepers, janitors, and nannies. My team did janitorial work at two oakland schools, Encompass in International Blvd. and Sankofa in North Oakland/Berkeley area. There sure was a difference in the schools, but it was great seeing how teachers/administrators are trying to take back these elementary schools from the streets.
Since it is the time of year that teachers are moving out of their classrooms, we were asked to clean up and move a lot of stuff around. At Encompass we were able to talk to a teacher, which, in retrospect, seems like a privilege that most janitors would probably not be doing. Her name was Ms. Marvin, a black woman born and raised in Oakland, but went to school in many places around the Bay Area. You could tell she’s really fighting to care for her first-graders, as she told me that she is already starting to teach them about college. I didn’t even know what college was until I was finishing up high school! Right on, Ms. Marvin!
I think one thing that stuck out to me through the conversation, though, was the fact that Ms. Marvin taught her students the value of working. She told our team that most students who come through here classroom do want to be somebody, from teachers to engineers, doctors and lawyers. The reality, however, is that most of them will not be. They live in neighborhoods that people get sucked into drugs and gangs, and, if they’re lucky, they’ll have a family of their own after they turn 18. The language barrier is pretty evident on this side of town, so that just puts people more behind. Most kids come from poor families and/or single-parent homes whose parents have not gone to college at all. Ms. Marvin said that you’ve got to be proud of these workers and families, too, though, just as proud as if you were some kind of lawyer or engineer or doctor.
You need people to clean up the streets, to do the day laborers jobs, to clean the homes, flip the burgers. Without them, life wouldn’t be the same. And so as menial as these jobs may seem, they are people’s careers, and should be respected. I only got a chance to clean out a teacher’s classroom at Encompass, but how long would that last before it gets trashed again? It makes me think about janitors cleaning bathrooms. How long can you take pride in that before you become jaded to the monotony of the daily routine? Just to know that tomorrow your hard work again will be disregarded, and you will have to start over from square one?
We went to Street Level Health Project today, a grassroots organization on International Blvd. dedicated to helping undocumented workers find resources as they start their new life in America. Although it mostly serves Latino immigrants, there are people from all kinds of countries and nationalities that are serviced here. They offer food, legal services, free medical services, and even work. One of their main projects now is starting a day laborers coalition that will help protect them on the streets from employer mistreatment.
We got to hear the story of Maira, the director of the organization. She came to this country undocumented, but in due time was able to get her papers. She told us stories of being severely underpaid as a live-in nanny in Miami, and her struggles with the language barrier. She came here when she was 18, knowing no one and with only $20 in her pocket and a backpack with one change of clothes. Unable to finish school, she worked here way up knowing that she wanted to help other migrant workers navigate the immigration system and also fend for themselves. Now, she speaks to legislators in the state capitol vouching for her people and other undocumented workers.
It struck me the lack of fear she had telling her story, and that even, at one point, she said that she had to put her fear behind of La Migra and go for what she really wanted to do. Even now in her broken English as she vouches for people in Sacramento, she knows she cannot sway the masses with eloquent words, but she knows that she can do it with her heart and passion for her people. It gives me hope and courage to hear her story, and to know that immigration or an undocumented status isn’t a barrier any longer for some people to live out their dreams. What excuse do I have for not pursuing the things I want to do?