Ever since I can remember, I have watched my mom and dad fill a huge box with clothes, towels, Spam, shoes, nonperishable foods, and a countless number of other things until they could fit no more. I remember looking into the box and wishing that the huge container of Nesquik were in my hands instead of being cradled by Tang and powdered iced tea. My parents explained that they sent the box to my cousins in the Philippines because they didn’t have all that we had. I always frowned at this, because we definitely did not have chocolate milk mix in the cupboards.
Space is precious. Once my parents made sure that there was no empty crevice left in the box, they would start the closing process. This is a ritual that I have watched so many times: my mom’s and dad’s hands work simultaneously to close the box. Sometimes they ask one of us kids to help. Their experience in packing boxes is clear in their quickness and accuracy. But, taping the top of the box is just the beginning. My dad then grabs a black permanent marker and writes his brother’s address on each side of the box, save the bottom. Then, he wraps the entire surface of the box in clear packing tape to ensure its security on its transoceanic voyage.
“Do they make you tape the entire box?” I once asked. “No, but this is how I can make sure your cousins get everything,” my dad replied.
Editor’s note: Since publication Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In celebration of this victory for the labor movement and immigrant rights movement, we proudly revisit this piece by Gabriela Hybel, originally posted in July 2012. If you want to know the history behind the bill, give this thoughtful post a read.
A guest post by Gabriela Hybel
On November 29th, 2010 New York passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, making it the first state to enact laws specifically protecting those who provide cleaning and caring labor in the homes of others. A recent report by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment explains that this bill guarantees workers a maximum eight-hour work day, one day off per week, three paid days off per year, overtime pay, and temporary disability benefits provided by the employer. It also protects workers from discrimination, sexual harassment, and harassment based on gender, race, national origin, and religion.
As I walked through Zurich’s old city to meet my friend Anne for a beer on a warm, late summer night, I paused at an intersection to wait for the signal to cross. A cyclist approached from across the intersection, and I noticed that he rode on the wrong side of the street. As he approached the corner on which I stood, he lifted his arm and shouted forcefully in the face of a man on a scooter, “Sieg heil!” Stunned, I turned toward the scooter rider, and noticed that he had dark skin. The signal changed, and I crossed the street as the man on the scooter rode away. Disheartened, I noted that this was not the first instance of open racism that I had witnessed in the city.
My host was unnerved. His neighbors had been talking loudly outside of his apartment again. He explained to me that there is a “certain class of people” who behave this way. They have loud conversations in public, behave and speak crassly, and they have taken over the public spaces of the city. He supposed the volume of their conversations might be because of cultural differences. In London there are ever increasing numbers of immigrants from beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. It didn’t used to be this way, he told me.