Let me share a little bit about the economic reality in which Glendi and I live, because it’s really intense, and I want to start talking more about it on this blog. I really need to talk about it more, reflect on it more…feel it more.
Here’s the short version: Glendi and I are more or less the sole breadwinners for our family of 11 people in Guatemala (and occassional supports of 4 or 5 others). This means at least one monthly payment to cover all food and utilities expenses (which are constantly rising in this economic climate), but it also needs to cover school fees, clothes, transportation, medical expenses, and so much more. This is something that we, of course, have built into our budget, but every month, when we send our payment (and especially when we have to send our frequent emergency payments), I am just struck by this reality. We are responsible for the health, nutrition, safety, and economic stability of a huge family who we barely even get to see every year. Coming from my own very stable U.S., white, managerial middle-class family, there really is no straightforward way to assimilate the full implications of this. It takes time, and it is a daily struggle (and one which I am privileged and honored to be a part of).
Truth is, it’s something that I find hard to talk about with my friends, and especially with my family. Sure the numbers and broad politics of it, fine. But the deeper emotions that I live with, and which have been stirring in me for these two years that Glendi and I have been living together…this is something else. I mean, I’m still me. I still like movies. I still play video games. I still like new gadgets and toys and all of that shit. And at the same time I don’t just have some distant family that I married into because I love their daughter…her and I are their core economic (and often emotional) support. I am involved. I have been grabbed by a context and pulled into the center of a family that is so different from me in every way…and it’s so real and so immediate that often there isn’t a lot of time to pause and analyze it.
I mean think about it as like some pop-ed workshop scenario exercise about power and privilege: Twenty-something middle class white guy marries spanish-speaking immigrant campesina and becomes a primary breadwinner for her 11-person family. What are the intersections of oppression? What does allyship mean? Just how problematic is this social relationship? I’ll tell you! It’s extremely problematic, and it’s also our daily life. With an economy in rural Guatemala in which there is almost no legal work, where health problems are mounting within the family, and in which the majority of children are still focusing on their education, what other options does Glendi’s family have but to depend on what their family in the U.S. can send them? And in a context where we make 4-8 times what they make in a month for doing much easier work, what moral option do we have but to send part of our check to them every month?
Having friends who are mostly white, anti-racist activist types, this is something that I like to talk about, but which leaves me feeling lonely. It’s a situation where I feel so much more comfortable talking with immigrant folks, because they know what it’s like to send the moneygram or money order, and to know that it’s never enough.
It’s never even close to enough.
And it’s so, so much harder, and so much deeper, when this beloved family calls and needs to ask for more. To think about their dignity, and the fierce injustice of needing to depend on this white guy and his wife (who only got here because of marrying the white guy) to be able to fucking pay for their pre-school for the twins, or the diabetes medicine, or little cotton balls for a school diarama…and even more complicated when we are stretched, and we don’t know if we can pay…but we also know that we do have a subscription to netflix that we could cancel or cut back…
This is just the beginning of me talking about this and working it out. It really goes so deep, and touches so many layers that I am going to need time to get at it. But I really want to. Because I feel like my inability to express myself about this to my friends and family is really cutting them off from understanding what my life and emotional state are really like…
…and also why I sometimes think that a lot of current U.S. activist preoccupations and analyses are kind of bullshit…much more than I used to, anyway. I mean, when people who you love are fucking screaming from malaria, or locked up in fucking Texas deportation prison, or they are eating beans and rice for the 7th straight meal of the week, because they can’t afford even carrots…then yeah, one’s sense of what is most important politically really changes. And you kind of do start thinking about some “oppression olympics” and some “class reductionism” sometimes. It’s hard not to. But it’s also important to keep the bigger picture in mind…but it does change you.
And I have been really changing. Not toward the sell-out side of the spectrum, not by a long-shot. More toward the, I am so pissed at this society that I need to do more side of the spectrum. My anger is a lot more visceral, and a lot less academic than it used to be.
As you’ll see as I eventually write about this more.