Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

middle class
CNN money: what is middle class anyway?

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

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Bucky Badger

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.

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juarez
Juarez, Mexico’s Murder Valley

I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

love and money
Photo credit link – Boston Globe

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.

 

 

 

Being mexi minnesotana

The time draws near for that infamous anniversary, when we realized that all the pundits and many of the news networks were wrong, and that a seemingly impossible result could in fact happen. I remember being worried, very worried last year at this time, and checking the Five Thirty Eight blog rather obsessively. I remember wondering, as I door-knocked neighborhoods in St. Paul to remind voters to get out to the polls on election day, whether we were in for a long and troubled time.

vote

It seemed impossible to me that someone with no political experience, not even minor political office could end up running the country’s executive office. But my conversations with people, even lifelong democrats on my likely voter list, was not convincing me that Hillary could win. I had done some sporadic volunteering on her campaign during the summer and fall before the election, and I was not getting the kind of reception I had received in other campaigns. I was worried about all the millennials that told me they were not sure they would vote, that they thought Bernie Sanders had been dealt a raw deal by the Democrats.

Surely they did not believe that staying home and allowing the Republican nominee to win was preferable to having a seasoned and competent leader in the role? It baffled me, how little the sexism and racism that fell from The Donald’s mouth could be ignored. But I was also bothered by Hillary’s characterization of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Clearly not all of the people who were voting “against” her were sexist, racist bigots. It was not until after the election, when I read JD Vance’ book Hillbilly Elegy, when I began to understand what the Democrats (my own party) had missed.

There is a lot of pain in “middle America” and in vast swaths of our country. The recession and financial crisis of 2008-2009, precipitated by years of financial deregulation, dramatic breakdowns of corporate governance and excessive borrowing by households and Wall Street had devastating impacts on people and families. But even before that, several decades of decline in union membership and power, decreases in real wages for working families, and other changes in the stability and security of families has led to anxiety and apprehension about the future.

rural

While I was shocked on election night and the next day, I was also somewhat prepared for what might happen. The result felt particularly bitter to me because I am half Mexican. Trump kicked his campaign off by insulting Mexicans. I will not spend time repeating his words, which were clearly spoken to incite people and their emotions. What I do want to contribute is a perspective that is somewhat unique in that I was born here in this country, to a Mexican father and a mother from Minnesota. I grew up in southern Wisconsin, after my parents moved us when I was two years old from small town in northern Wisconsin that had an active KKK chapter.

My parents needed to find a place where they felt safe, and fortunately my Dad was able to find a job teaching bilingual students in a small town that had a number of migrant workers. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we were safe. Though my Dad and various members of my family endured some episodes of racism, as a respected teacher and upstanding member of the community, he demonstrated strength and courage to me. My Mom was a pillar of the community as well. While my sister and I were young, she stayed home with us, and she was a “mother” to our whole neighborhood in a way. Many of the children had both parents working outside the home, out of necessity. Mom sat out on the back porch to watch us play, and by extension she watched over the whole neighborhood.

Many families today do not have the stability and connection that we enjoyed while growing up. While my family had to make certain sacrifices to raise us with only one income, I was never hungry and I never went without basic necessities. My parents were kind to one another. Even though they argued sometimes, as normal adults do, in the course of their relationship, we did not witness violence in our family. I grew up feeling like I was meant to be here, that I had an important place in this world, whether or not I fit into various social groups or cliques at school. My parents instilled in me a sense of belonging.

There were a number of Mexican families in our school district, as well as Puerto Rican families and others who worked on local farms and in local factories. I never felt quite like one of “them” nor did I feel like one of the white kids, exactly. Since my skin color can be described as more like my Swedish grandmother than my Mexican Indian grandfather, to my chagrin, I am paler than I want to be. In those days, and even today, it means that I often “pass” as white. Usually, until people learn my last name, they have no particular suspicion that I am Mexicana. I have no accent, having been born here and learned English as my first language, though Spanish without accent as a close second language when I was young.

multicultural

This gives me a strange amount of privilege because, while I cannot claim to speak up for Mexicans, being a daughter of one means it is a part of my identity. But I am white, so when people talk about identifying as a “person of color” I feel somewhat like a fraud in that regard. Granted, I am who I am, and being multicultural is a source of pride rather than shame. In that vein, when I considered what to do as a result of the 2016 election, I realized I needed to reach deeply inward, and then begin to write and share my experiences. I feel an obligation to speak, to write, to use my voice to help others enter into important conversations about class, culture and race. Those of us with privilege must deeply support those who do not have their share of these same freedoms that allow me to do this.

I have deep empathy for those who cannot use their voice, for those who must live in the “shadows” of this great country. Some, through no fault of their own, were born here but are undocumented. Many came from other countries to build better lives for their families and to have hope for future generations to be educated and free to choose their paths and their identities. This is the great hope of what America means, in my view.

Granted, if I were a white person in rural America, facing joblessness, a broken family, a hopeless situation about the future, I would have a different perspective. Those brown people that do not speak my language are starting to move into “my” town in greater numbers! They don’t even speak English, for god’s sake! I can see how threatening this might seem, especially when the future is uncertain for everyone, and we are given messages of “fear” all around us in our media. I have deep empathy for this fear, for this state of feeling not valued.

Every human being on this planet is worthy of love and forgiveness. I believe this deep in my bones. In fact every living being belongs here. Being “mexi minnesotana” is an evolution for me. Understanding myself, my true identity and fully claiming ownership of that has not always been easy. It can sometimes be exhausting, in fact. I am a minority within a minority. But now, even more than ever, we need voices to come forward in our community that could not be heard before. We need to establish Tribes based on commonly held values rather than just ethnicity or gender, or even political affiliation.

So this brings me to the original reason I started this blog. I often write about my personal journey to health and wellness, though I originally intended to focus on politics and privilege. But a focus on wellness is one I believe everyone needs, to focus on their own wellness and wholeness, before serving others (or simultaneously if possible). This helps us gather strength for the long road ahead, for the “battles” we have to fight but also the conversations that will help knit back together the fractured communities in which many of us live. We must do this, the world depends on us to speak our truths, to be our authentic selves. It is vulnerable and sometimes scary, and it is what is demanded of these times.

I thank you for reading, and appreciate all of the wonderful bloggers out there who I read more and more. You are moving the world and human consciousness in a brave new way. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this conversation.

 

 

She moves (in mysterious ways)

My sweetie and I went to the U2 concert this past Friday night. It was an awesome experience, despite the acoustics of the US Bank stadium, which were a bit lacking for such a concert. (Fortunately he was prepared and gave me earplugs in advance which cut down significantly on the musical distortion of the speakers.) What fascinated me most were the visual elements added to the show, the imagery used and the political elements of his message.

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From September 8, 2017 concert

Granted, Bono’s music has always contained an element of social critique (many artists I respect have this in common) but this was more than I expected. For me, it was a welcome addition to what I had expected would just be an entertaining night of rock and roll.

Bono commented that he had been one the “dreamers” in this country, the immigrants who want nothing more than to participate in the ideals of America, the freedoms we have come to enjoy, the opportunities that draw people here. In light of this week’s news on the President’s announcement regarding the intention to replace the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, we know what this commentary intended to convey. The faces used in the videos were diverse in age, national origin, race, and gender. The montage of the women painting the U.S. flag while at the same time showing a woman in a flag bikini with a lasso to me conveyed the contradictions in our national symbolism. There is complexity and messiness in a land of 50 states unified by an idea, by a commitment to a set of ideals, some of which have been challenged in our recent political milieu.

The concert also featured a historical compilation of women and faces of our history. Bono commented on the necessity for women to rise up, with the men that are in their lives as well, and to claim the power that they rightfully have. While I am paraphrasing his words, the impact they had on me was visceral. Here is a feminist artist, using the power of his stature and popularity to speak on issues that matter to him, and to so many of us. The video background had a quote about the power of the people not being in the hands of the people in power.  It is all true, and something we forget at times, when our major media trains all of our eyes on the troll-elect and the legislators that fight with him. Granted, we must pay attention but we lose sight of where the real power is, in every day people and every day acts of bravery and conscience that we all face.

As a feminist I believe in equality of the sexes in political, economic and social terms. I know that as women, we must stand up for these principles. But I know that we are not alone in this, men and women but stand up, must insist that we can do better. This country can do better. Or as Paul Wellstone loved to point out: “we all do better when all do better.” This is more true today than ever, when our globally-connected world makes sure that the fact of humankind and indeed the planet is ever more dependent on acting in harmony and acting out of mutual, rather than self-centered interest.

It troubles me that so many women, so many immigrants, so many people of color, so many who do not fit the “norm” of the dominant culture do not feel safe. On the flip side, I try mightily to empathize with a white family in middle America that sees their schools and infrastructure crumbling, and at the same time sees many more brown faces in their communities, they feel insecure. They do not know what is happening in their world. While they may not see that their schools would possibly close without these young immigrants arriving, or that many of the jobs these families are doing are helping to bolster the fragile economies of their towns, they are also struggling. When I read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance last year, it really helped me see this more clearly. Both political parties in this country have ignored for far too long the needs of working-class Americans.

What if we challenge the idea that it is “us against them?” What if we strove to find the commonalities between people? What if we emphasized the shared goals we all have for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? In what ways might we come together toward a better world, toward a country where people did not have to fear the future, but instead could see how our unity is our strength?

To me, what feminism brings is a way to acknowledge the value of ALL people, of all contributions and all that is precious in this world. It is in the process of inclusion and inviting more balanced representation in our political discourse and politics that we transcend the limits of our current reality. We challenge the limits of our imagination when we consider what is possible, and work together toward a better future. She moves in mysterious ways, and indeed, she (America) moves us to consider how we might be a part of re-imagining some better world that serves us, instead of dividing us.