every once in a while, i will have a seemingly small encounter which turns out to strike me to my core. today, after a long morning of management meetings at multnomah county and a quick yet powerful union action at the county board meeting, i was feeling the low blood sugar hunger of not eating all day. around 2p i jumped on the bus up to burnside to get some lunch. i got off at burnside and grand, and proceeded to walk up to the "back to back cafe". i walked past the clusters of day laborers, waiting for hours in the sun for the small chance to do some sort of usually hard physical labor. i walked briskly both because i was hungry and because it often makes me sad to see these guys, as a reminder of a broken society and of their difficult existence.
i ordered my food and sat down at a table next to a couple of spanish speaking individuals who looked like they might also be day laborers. as is too often the case these days, i was absorbed in my own world, my own petty stresses and long "to do" list, my grumbling stomach, and my desire to get some quick fuel so i could get back to my pressing tasks. the fishbowl was over my head, and the tunnelvision was in effect. my burrito arrived and i dove into it greedily. between mouthfulls, i caught a portion of the conversation of the spanish speaking guys behind me, as they talked about how hard it is to get work, how they would do anything to just have a little bit. they talked with the soft voices of immigrants who know all too well about where they fit in our cold society, their place on the lower rungs of a social heirarchy that values them only for the cheap labor that they can provide and then ignores them or worse the rest of the time. they had nothing on their table. my bites slowed as my attention continued to shift towards their conversation and their world. one man got up to leave, to return to the waiting game down the street. i finished my burrito but had a pile of tortilla chips left on my plate. normally, i would have jumped up and dumped the rest of the chips in the trash and dashed out the door--as i have done most times in the past, as almost all others do. but this man behind me had intersected my reality in a way i could not avoid. i sat their in silence, asking myself if i should offer the rest of my chips to this man, whether he would take it as an insult. i didn't want to pierce the "stranger veil", and had no idea how he would react to me. i stood up slowly and turned around, and in the most humble and respectful way i could, i asked him: "usted desea estas tortillas?" [sir, do you want these chips?]. very surprised, his face lit up and in what was almost a bow of his head he said "thank you" as he reached slowly for the plate.
as tears welled up in my eyes, i almost ran out of the cafe. i kept shaking my head as i rushed up to the bus stop, fighting back tears. that one small moment of human interaction shot a lightning bolt through me. it was a painful reminder of how priviledged i am on this planet, how comfortable, how self absorbed. the entire 15 minute ride back to work, i wiped away tears, my heart aching for the brutal reality of our society--what it does to the people inside this country and the hellfire it dishes out to the rest of the world. i have so much in relative terms, and this man was so appreciative for a handful of chips that i would have thrown away. but i think more than anything, both of us were surprised and appreciative for the small interaction of two human beings that is not very common these days--of basic respect and understanding. i don't think this man had any idea how deeply his expression touched me and what a sincere wakeup call it was for me.
before people go dissing me for my "bleeding heart" or "self congratulatory" post, i want to say that it is not about that at all. i write this simply to document my experience for myself. i am very well aware of my position of relative privilege as an educated white male. you can think and judge as you will. this was a reminder to me to stop and appreciate the things that i have, and to continue to work towards a more just society where everyone has their basic needs met. hundreds of billions of taxdollars are spent in a twisted orgy of blood, oil and empire in iraq, while a man who came to this country seeking a better life--willing to work harder than most of the soft, comfortable sheeple--doesn't have enough to eat. so the story of modern globalization and empire goes...
justicia y dignidad para los trabajadores