My father was undocumented while I was growing up. Although I was born here in the states, my household dealt with the issues faced by undocumented people.
We still had a place to live. We still had a community. We still ate food together and had nice clothes. But I couldn’t tell my teachers where I lived. If we wanted to take a family trip to Disneyland, we would have to cross the immigration checkpoint passing San Diego. This meant, we had to dress in our best clothes and pray to ask for a blessing. We would hold hands and hope that the officer at the checkpoint wouldn’t see the fear in our eyes. It was always a victory when we could pass the checkpoint and call our family members that we had been able to bypass possible deportation (of my father).
The Great Recession in 2007 and 2008 left my family at its lowest points. We had already been moving from place to place since we couldn’t own anything in our name. But when the recession hit, we started to owe money and rely on family members for support. My family had run out of options and we decided to request government help by asking for food stamps.
Not even a year later, the government asked us to pay back the money they had given us without explanation. The economic hardship during this time was almost unbearable and we couldn’t turn to our leaders, let alone the government, for help. One night, my father cried to me saying he regretted it all. He said, “Why did I have to buy into the idea of ‘America’?”
I thought that these things had happened to us solely because of my father’s immigration status. Yet, I learned that even folks who are citizens are not taken care of in the states. People without homes in the streets is a normal thing in San Francisco, which is one of the richest cities in the world. It’s normal when women can’t leave their abusive husbands because they can’t afford to live alone. It’s normal to have students who don’t know where they are going to sleep for the night. It’s normal that people rely on food banks to have their lunch.
While these tragedies ravaged our communities, banks were bailed out and CEOs were given lavish bonuses. These experiences made me angry. “How could we, a family in need, all of a sudden owe the government money? We don’t qualify for help? But my sisters and I are citizens! Is this the way life will always be?”
Thankfully, my anger was met with solutions. I could have become bitter and cynical. But answers came when I realized that change can happen. I learned that it isn’t right to live in a world where the rich hoard the wealth while the people are forced into poverty. I learned through struggling alongside my coworkers and community that workers can take ownership and lead society to ensure that all live a life of dignity. We can’t rely on an elite-led government to meet our needs. Instead, we need to take power and use the vast resources we have to bail out our most vulnerable.
It has been over 10 years since these things played out. Now, I see the cycle of capitalism’s crisis starting again. Capitalism fails us in the broadest sense and in the most personal way. It is inherent in capitalism to have recessions and depressions. We are seeing people losing their jobs. All of this is made worse by the outbreak of COVID19. We see people who are not able to quarantine or practice social distancing because they don’t have a home. We see people that can’t apply for unemployment because of where they were born. At the same time, we see Wall Street being bailed out with trillions of dollars. This cycle of events will continue as long as we allow it to.
The time is now. In this time, when capitalism is proving unwilling to meet our needs in a time of crisis, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder and demand for something different. We need to demand for dignity! We need to demand free housing! We need to demand the elimination of student debt! We need to demand free and quality health care! We need to demand the bailout of the people!
I joined the Party for Socialism and Liberation because I knew I had to do more than just be angry. I needed to fight and be loud for my family and my community. I needed to fight for myself.
When we rise from this crisis, let’s not allow the world to go back to normal. Instead, let’s fight together to achieve a world where all life is cared for and respected.
La gente unida, jamas sera vencida.
Jael Castro grew up in San Diego near the U.S.-Mexican border. Now she is a bilingual educator in San Francisco, active within the United Educators of San Francisco union, and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.