Labor

It’s the end of Labor Day Weekend, traditionally a transitional weekend. Even though the temperature this past week in Los Angeles has climbed over 100 every day, I admit that pumpkins and apples have been appearing in my feeds and emails. Fall is near. Many of us live according to an academic calendar, which means we have just started a new school year (if you’re on the quarter system, we’ve got a few more weeks!). Excitement and anxiety and anticipation abound, and Tuesday morning traffic has returned to ever freeway in southern California in full force.

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Photo by Mariano Rossi on Unsplash

I just finished reading Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love yesterday. In case her name isn’t immediately familiar, Guerrero plays Maritza in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin. She also happens to be a best-selling memoirist. Her book details the story of growing up in Boston in a family of Colombian immigrants, she the only US-born member. Since everyone should read this book I won’t give everything away, but the crux of the story is the scene in which Guerrero returns home from school at age 14 and finds her parents have been taken by ICE. Within weeks, they are both deported back to Columbia, and Guerrero is left totally alone as a new high school freshman.

With the decision to end DACA confirmed this week, Guerrero’s book feels more than relevant, it should be a textbook read for all of us. As many of us enjoyed a day free from labor yesterday, at least in a formal sense, I thought about Guerrero’s daily struggle with a different, invisible kind of labor- emotional labor. Her situation forces her to grow up years beyond emotionally in a matter of days. The emotional struggle translates to many physical issues, and an especially chilling scene shook me to my core. The thing about her story is that 800,000 DACA-mented folx and other undocumented people in the United States struggle through a similar narrative every day.

This emotional labor often takes a much larger toll than many realize. For a few years I have sought out and listened to stories of immigrants in the United States, their statuses mixed. It seemed like the best way to engage. This will never make me understand the struggle, mind you. The stories I heard made me consider mindless choices I make every single day, like booking a flight and putting my address, applying for a part-time job, or even walking in public places. The emotional labor of these decisions for undocumented folx hangs in the air every day, until their meaning is internalized. Unknown. Unrecognized. Unwanted. The labor it takes to live a full life despite these internalized attitudes is one that does not allow a day off.

As the season of new school years pushes off the dock, I think my emotional labor should involve more listening and awareness around the internalized attitudes that create roadblocks. My roadblock this week comes from deep-seeded anger. It’s an anger that can only prove productive if it drives me to keep working.

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