No Days Off
Jacqueline Perez Valencia is a first-generation college graduate committed to fighting for the dignity and respect of underrepresented communities. She received her B.S. in Sociology and minor in Business Management from the University of La Verne. She began to get involved in Interfaith work during her freshman year in college and since then has maintained herself grounded in the idea that we are “Better Together.” Follow her on Twitter @JPVpico28.
When I was younger my dad was out looking for work 6 out of the 7 days at the local Home Depot and would take any job he could get. One day he was picking grapes in Oxnard, another day cleaning cars, or assembling some concrete handguns. All I knew was that he was always doing his best to provide for my family and he never gave up. That left us with Sundays as the only opportunity to spend family time together. Church provided us a place to go as a family to learn what is deemed good or bad and my parents would look at us saying “Did you hear that, listen to the priest.” Once I started college, I did not have time to go to church with my family but still felt that need to continue to learn and ground myself in values so I joined Common Ground at my university where people of all faiths and beliefs come together and to do collective good. I felt no need to identify as a certain religion and instead focused my energy on creating positive change.
One quote I live by is “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” - Maya Angelou
One group that I have focused my energy towards is ‘jornalerxs - Spanish for laborers that seek jobs on a daily basis, the 'x' is to not attach a gender to it. This Labor Day weekend I wanted to also invite you to consider day laborers. No savings, no housing security, no job. Many day laborers ‘jornalerxs’ face this on a daily basis, even before the paralyzing pandemic hit. Other groups like students and those unemployed have received support with rent and basic needs. Unfortunately, there is little to no help available for ‘jornalerxs’. Many are left to depend on prayers and goodwill to secure their next meal.
A friend of mine, Carlos Yanes is the coordinator at the Downtown Community Job Center of Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA). He explained that “we typically facilitate work opportunities for jornalerxs but when the Safer at Home Order was issued we began to provide them with letters for their landlords citing financial impact due to COVID-19 and business closures to avoid eviction. Not qualifying for government aid forced workers to decide between food or rent; ‘Do I make sure my family can eat or do I make sure we have a place to live?’” During the pandemic, IDEPSCA has been actively supporting day laborers through referrals, relief funds, and food donations so that day laborers can at least cover their basic needs as job opportunities have dwindled in the past few months. “Day laborers are aging and can’t retire with a pension or savings leading to financial uncertainty which then forces them to seek jobs during a pandemic that can potentially expose them to the coronavirus in order to survive.”
Growing up Catholic I had values instilled in me that I continue to live by even if I no longer identify as Catholic myself. One of those values is that food and water are something you should never deny anyone of. Even if we find ourselves struggling ourselves, there is always something we can give, whether it is our time, labor, etc. In Spanish, there is a famous saying “Donde come uno, comen dos,” meaning that where one eats, so can another one. The idea is that we can rely on each other to get through the tough times. In college, I had the opportunity to learn and be exposed to different religions, faiths, and non-faiths, and the common pattern was always to be kind to our neighbors. I now self-identify as spiritual and know that I don’t need to follow any specific religion to continue to practice my beliefs and to be of service.
After speaking with my friend who expressed how the workers at the center he manages are struggling now more than ever I couldn’t just listen, but I had to act. I joined with friends and created hygiene kits and a fundraiser for hot meals for jornalerxs that are not able to take time off, get stimulus checks, or file for unemployment benefits. ¡La unión hace la fuerza! The temporary relief that these kits offer will allow for day laborers to be safer while they work and go about their day, as well as, enjoy a home-cooked meal safely.
As you celebrate Labor Day as a day off, I ask you to appreciate the moment and understand that it is not the reality of everyone. There will still be farmworkers working the fields without ever being able to work remotely. If you are looking for ways to support them, you can learn more and/or donate to movements like Movimiento Cosecha or organizations like Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California IDEPSCA.