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A Convenient Way To Promote Happiness

Excerpts from “Working People”

Discussions on working life with Jesus Alvarez, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, and Vickie Shannon Allen…

What follows are excerpts from Working People, a podcast by Maximilian Alvarez in which ordinary people talk about their lives, jobs, struggles, and aspirations. These excerpts accompany Max’s essay “Can The Working Class Speak?

JESUS ALVAREZ on losing everything, driving for Uber

Max: I’m curious to know, because we talked about it a lot over this conversation, and you’ve lived such an interesting life, and have come such a long way from that garage in Guadalajara, when your mom passed away, when you were six. And so, jumping closer to the present, you’ve said a number of times that the Great Recession that really kind of hit in 2008, and the after effects that we’re still dealing with in significant ways, that this was kind of the real — this was the big meteor type of event, for you, for our family, and for a lot of working families around the country, and around the world. I guess, how did that translate on the real estate side that you were on?

JA: That’s been, I think, to me, the most frustrating portion, that I worked all these years in real estate to provide, and have always been able to. When the real estate market crashed, unfortunately, I tell people that never in a million years would I think that I’d be one of the casualties, because I handled property owned by the banks, the bank owned properties and stuff like that. So never in a million years did I think that our family would be one of the casualties. But as it turned out, when the market crashed, we lost some rental property, we lost the office building that I was a partner in. The business crashed, Mom’s business crashed, and as you know, we ended up losing our house. And that is super hard to get over, to think that we worked so hard to achieve whatever status we have. To have it all — it’s like water going down your arms, dripping at your elbows [laughs]. The only way I can describe it is “it’s all gone, it’s disappeared.” And it’s been tough to get back, really tough mentally. Because no one wants to talk about what happens personally, ourselves included. It’s depressing, it’s embarrassment, all that kind of stuff. And I was surprised that when we went through all of this, everybody was too busy with their lives. Nobody really reached out to see where we were at, or throw us a lifeboat or whatever. But I realized, every family’s got to survive. But having gone through all of this, having achieved what I thought was success, and then to have it all go away, and now kind of re-starting, I think it’s a big thing, swallowing my pride, to go back out there and start all over. But we still have our health, we’re still here. I always look at it as though I am a boxer — we’re still in the ring. I’m old and I’m fat, but I’m like George Foreman. I still got a good overhand right… I’m hoping to land a good right on a good deal, and get us started back up. Which I think it will. I’ve got to call my mom again.

But it’s interesting, now I’m driving a little bit for Uber. And when I went to apply or whatever, a lot of the people I saw were people my age, or older. And statistics show that a lot of people driving, or these kinds of things, are people who need secondary, or people who have lost a lot of stuff. I always thought it was just going to be the younger people, but no, it’s a lot of people my age or older, and it’s sad. As I talk to a lot of the passengers, interesting when I talk to a lot of them, because I’m pretty good at getting the conversation going now, and so I talked to several who have lost their house or whatever. And I’m thinking man, they’ve gone through the same thing, and I can relate to the emotions they went through, the depression. I think the main thing for me is that I realized is that we went through some depression. And so we’re finally, I think, over that curve, and we’re working our way back up. But I think unless you go through something like that, it’s really hard. And maybe we didn’t reach out for the help that we should have.

[…] Just two days ago, I picked up a lady at a restaurant. She was about my age, and we start talking. She’s from Mexico. And we started talking about how when she got married, her husband left the family to come to the United States, so he could try to find a job to provide. I think she said it was 1984 and he was making $3 an hour, sending the money back. And she was trying to raise I think three kids down there with the goal of eventually bringing them over. And then eventually, they were able to save enough and stuff for them to come over. But then one of the sons didn’t want to come to the United States, he wanted to stay in Mexico or whatever. It’s a little bit sad how our families get torn up. Torn up just trying for betterment, the Mexican culture or whatever. That’s what people don’t realize. We don’t want to just come over to come over and take jobs. It’s for survival. Any family would do the same thing just to provide for their family, which is hard. Nobody wants to leave their family behind. But if it was turned around to the other cultures, they would do the same thing. They would do whatever they have to do to provide for their family. And that’s the part they don’t talk about. We’re not trying to do anything that nobody else would do. We’re just trying to provide for your families, even at the tough part of ripping the families apart. Because there’s unfortunately there’s not enough economics in Mexico or other countries to provide. People don’t want to split their families up just to do it. And it’s sad when I talk to some of these people, and this lady. She’s gone through a lot. Her family had been split. Her husband is over here, she’s over there in Mexico trying to raise the kids and stuff like that, and it’s like, man. We all got our stories, and a lot of those like that.

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD on survival

LBBA: I am the first in my family to ever attend college, and that was through the love and grace of my grandma. I am the first in my family to graduate college. My sister was second. And all that I learned going to school was “America needs to be educated.” We need to know the truth of what is really happening here. We need to start looking at our economics, because right now, my reality: I am a widow. I live on a widow’s benefit. It’s barely enough to make my monthly payments. I have to figure out how to, at 63 years old, how to make a little extra money to get all my bills paid. I plant my own garden. I gather roots and berries, and prepare for winter. I have a wood stove, so we gather wood. But at 63 years old, there are other people who are sitting back, in their retirement, having a very comfortable life. That is not our reality. It is not how we live. When we have people here on the reservation living without electricity, without running water — people are hauling their water — we live in a different world than the rest of America, our own home, our own homeland, where the roots grow out of our feet. Where we can tell the history of this land for thousands and thousands of years. To be pushed until America makes us invisible. And so I am pushing back. I am saying, “I am alive. We are still here.” We have our hands out saying, “let us teach you how to live on this land. Let us teach you how to respect the water. Let us teach you how to respect the land. We can do this for the betterment of the world, we do this so your grandchildren’s grandchildren can drink clear, clean water.” We are standing here offering our help.

We have never ever been an aggressor, we have only been defenders of this land. And we will continue to defend the land and the water. So growing up, that is how I grew up. I grew up a very difficult Indian childhood. Foster homes. Boarding schools. My two younger brothers were farmed out to a farm, and they were able to return home. Does America really know their own history, their own background?

Max: I really don’t think that many do. I’m so gripped by everything that you’re saying. Not only your work as a historian, but as you’re saying, the very kind of way of life, sustainable, communal way of life, these forms of knowledge that, you said, you have to teach the rest of America, even though the rest of America not only doesn’t know, but often doesn’t even see that these forms of living, that these communities are even there. So it seemed that for a moment, over the past few years, that with the No DAPL movement, that more Americans were starting to learn. Do you feel that — and you started by saying what a lot of people around the country who are protesting the separation of families at the border, is that this has been going on in Native communities for centuries.

LBBA: Since 1492.

VICKIE SHANNON ALLEN on working at Amazon

VSA: It’s a mind-fucking, because you literally have to be conscious of what you’re doing. I’m talking about even if you need to refill your water bottle, or go get ice, or go to the bathroom. I mean, if your stomach is tore up one day when you go to work, you better hope to god that you can take a shit in the amount of time that they allow you to go to the bathroom, which they don’t, it’s — I’m not saying it’s allowed. But what I’m trying to say is you can go to the bathroom whenever you feel like it, but you get timed from the time that you walk away from that station on that last scan that you did, to the time that you come back and do your next scan. Because as soon as there is a gap there, here comes the manager with their laptop saying, “okay, well where were you?” And I’m 49 years old, and I’m not in the habit of telling a 22-year-old kid when I go to the bathroom, and how long I was in there, and what I was doing.

Max: Yeah, Jesus Christ. Nor should you have to. Like what kind of dystopian bullshit is that?

VSA: That’s exactly what it is. And the thing about it is, they don’t really have a lot of managers my age. Actually, they don’t have a lot of managers over the age of 30. All of the managers are under the age of 30.

Max: And that’s like, part of the mental game, right? You’re just constantly making people feel inadequate, look over their shoulder. And I mean, like, and I know some of this has been like — this has kind of been leaking out in bits and pieces over the last year especially. But I know there were news headlines where like, warehouse workers pissing in bottles because they were terrified to go off the line for a minute.

VSA: Right. I can really see that happening. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, and I’m not saying it did happen, but I can literally see that happening, because the only time the managers ever come to your station, is when they want to get onto you about something. They literally — you never see them. You never see them any other time, except for when they want to come say, “hey, I noticed that you had some TOT time, can you tell me where you were at?” Or, “hey, your rate’s low.” You never get an “‘atta boy,” you never get a pat on the back. You never feel appreciated one time.

The Working People podcast is available on Stitcher and iTunes. Visit the Working People website here.

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