A Playlist of Memories: My Birthday & Mother’s Day Wishes

As I sat down and pondered my many blessings on my birthday –which also falls on Mother’s Day –I thought I’d share my reflections in the form of a birthday/Mother’s Day playlist.

I would not be where I am today without the unconditional love and support of my mother, May Lum.  She sacrificed everything for my brother and I, and has always provided everything we needed.  She Raised Me Up (Josh Groban) to be all that I could be. She had so many hopes and dreams for us, and I know that I work everyday to live up to those hopes and more.  I try to be as generous, kind and loving as she is everyday hoping I can be half the woman she is one day.  Whenever I hear Lee Ann Womack’s, I Hope You Dance I feel the hopes, dreams, and happiness that I always felt from my mom.

For those who know me, or perhaps read some of my earlier blogs –they know my dedication to teaching and research comes from a desire to recuperate the lost stories of my grandparents.   I wonder how my grandmother survived the long absences of my grandfather when he left China to work in the fields of California.  I wonder if she was scared escaping the communist takeover.  I find myself Wanting Memories (Sweet Honey and the Rock).

I am very blessed to have a bonus family –the Purcells.  When I think of the Purcell’s I think of love, laughter, fun, and light.  Anne Purcell is the most amazing step-mother –she always gives so much to my brother and I.  She’s such an amazing role model who taught me early on, when she studied to become a nurse, that if you set your mind and heart on a goal you achieve it.  She reminded me that Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrel) She was and always is there with love and encouragement. I am so grateful and blessed.

Not a day goes by, that I don’t remember Dorothy Purcell –my bonus grandmother.  When I think of her, which is quite often, I always smile. Her presence was always so reassuring and calming. Her happiness was always contagious.  I hear Bill Wither’s, Lovely Day and it reminds me of Aunt Dorothy –and how she could make any day brighter and better.

Of course, where would we be without the other mom’s in our lives. The ones that nurture and care for us. My brother and I were lucky enough to have Jeannie who was there for us through it all.  Despite suffering through tantrums, kicked shins and mischievous kids who put out/doused/and sabotaged her cigarettes so that she’d quit.  I don’t know how you put up with us Jeannie –but so many of us wouldn’t be where we are today without you.  Thank you for loving us as much as you love Elvis, even when we were Too Much.

I am so inspired by the friends around me that are such strong role models to their kids.  When I hear This One’s For the Girls, I’m reminded of how much we’ve grown. Not so long ago we were trying to figure out who we are –now you’re bringing up little girls and boys.  Your strength amazes me.  You are Superwomen (Alicia Keys) to me.

Earlier this evening, I was reminded that in the US, Mother’s Day was originated in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe –the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was so upset by the number of deaths resulting from the Civil War that she had to “protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.”[i]

In her proclamation she called for peace and an end to war.  She wrote,

“We women of one country

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with

Our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm!”

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!

Blood does not wipe out dishonor

Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have of ten forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.

Let women now leave all that may be left of home.

For a great and earnest day of counsel. 

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace,” (ibid)

So my birthday wish is peace, and it stems from the spirit of motherhood that has shaped and influenced me .  I want the children of my friends, and the communities that are instrumental in all of our lives, and my 2 year old god-daughter  to trust that we can built a better world.  Let’s hope that we can do more than Imagine (John Lennon) that future.

May Day: Reflecting on the Past, Mobilizing for the Future

“In California we find a curious attitude toward a group that makes our agriculture successful. The migrants are needed, and they are hated.  Arriving in a district they find the dislike always meted out by the resident to the foreigner, the outlander.  The hatred of the stranger occurs in the whole range of human history from the most primitive village form to our own highly organized industrial farming. The migrants are hated for the following reasons, that they are ignorant and dirty people, that they are carriers of disease, that they increase the necessity for police and the tax bill for schooling in a community, and that if they are allowed to organize they can, simply by refusing to work, wipe out the season’s crops. They are never received into a community nor into the life of a community.  They are never allowed to feel at home in the communities that demand their services.”[i]

Reading these words, one might think that they spoke of the contemporary experiences of immigrants in the United States. However, it was John Steinback who wrote these words In 1936, as part of a series of articles for the San Francisco Examiner.  The ‘migrants’ he referred to were, the ‘Okies’ from Oklahoma  –poor white farmers fleeing the Midwest in the midst of the Dustbowl and the Great Depression in hopes of simply finding jobs to help their families survive.  I find myself inspired by the series of articles John Steinback wrote in “The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath” because it reminds me that our histories are interlinked. It reminds me that the fight against discrimination, and the pursuit of social justice is a marathon, not a sprint and impacts all social groups.

It seems almost poetic that this May Day, I find myself in an airplane traveling the length of California  (or most of it at least) –San Jose to San Diego.  Looking out the windows, I see agricultural fields cover the land below, stretching out as far as the eye can see. Obscured from my view at 25,000 feet are the immigrants planting, plowing, and harvesting those fields, ensuring each of us fresh fruits and vegetables on our tables year round. As I gaze out at the land below, I remember that the immigrants working today are part of a much longer history that connects generations of immigrants to the land and economic development of this country.  My grandfather, like many other fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers worked these fields creating the wealth and plenty so many of us benefit from. The discrimination felt by the Okies during the Great Depression still exists today.

May Day –the International Day of the Worker should remind us of the contributions that all workers make to improve the quality of our lives.  Obscured or lost from our working knowledge of history is the fact that unionized workers are responsible for the 8 hour work day, child labor laws, and occupational safety standards.  Immigrant workers built the historic and contemporary infrastructure of this country –including but not limited to the railroads, highways, the technological super-highway, the cell phones we carry, and the food we eat.  They clean our offices, our cars, our universities,  parks, and public spaces.  We depend on them to take care of our children, cook our food, and sew our clothes.  Almost all of us (with the exception of those indigenous to these lands) are immigrants –some new and others a few generations removed.    If it were not for the May Day strikes in both 1885 and 1886, the ‘work day’ would be very different then what it looks like today[ii].

Now, May 1st 2011, workers’ rights are under attack again.  Legislation weakening or dismantling collective bargaining rights is on the table in over 20 states.  In addition, 24 states have proposed anti-immigrant legislation under the guise of immigration reform.  The challenge, it seems, is to move beyond scare tactics and hearsay. Instead, we must remind ourselves of the history that built this country and commit ourselves to standing for the principles of democracy, community, and fairness that the country was founded on.  When we care for workers, and invest in their well-being we all prosper. This May Day, let’s recommit ourselves to promoting policies and procedures that help, not hurt workers.

[i] Steinback,, J. (1936) The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath