This past week was the second meeting of women at the Tenants and Workers United, TWU, in Alexandria, Virginia. In my fourth week, I am slowly realizing what it means to be a part of a group of women as someone from the “outside.”
Meetings are rough. I speak Castillian Spanish, cannot say gracias without a lisp, and had no idea what a carro was (I later learned it meant the same as coche). I know little slang and even fewer curse words, the outcome of learning Spanish from my grandmother who focused on linguistics and never cursed in front of her grandchildren. At meetings, I get laughed at frequently for my inability to catch the jokes being told.
Last week, however, I had a breakthrough. I realized that instead of listening I needed to speak up. Engage in the “we” or nosotros that the meeting had been focusing on. I had been sitting off to the side, silent, listening. It is so easy to just listen, but to speak up is harder. This is what I have encountered in my work at TWU. So many people are too afraid to say what they believe, especially in situations where the language is different or the cause is so close to one’s heart. For me, both of these are true.
I learned about the importance of staying active and honest. It’s easy to fall into a repetitive system, whether one’s own or that of an entire organization. Either way, it’s a trap. No change or security can be reached if the status quo is not constantly questioned and changed.
The women coming to the TWU meetings seek some kind of economic stability. They are concerned about their financial well-being, and they are trying to make changes in their lives to find financial security. I want to do whatever I can to work with them in that pursuit.
However, this is not what I should be doing this summer. I came into TWU believing that I could help the women who came to meetings and women in the surrounding community. My focus was on the individual even when I thought I was talking about the community. There is a different nosotros that I forgot to include in my research goals; it is a nosotros that cannot be measured, counted, or placed in a single box. It is the power of relationships that are not measured by individuals but instead by the active networks of awareness and action throughout a community.
Working with the women at TWU to create a cooperative is amazing, but the project’s focus is on individual rather than collective and communal self-awareness. For that reason, my new focus is on creating a curriculum that will engage women and men throughout the community, a curriculum that will provide education and community support for domestic workers and caregivers who work tirelessly behind the scenes. One cooperative will not change the face of domestic work or care-giving. Bringing women and men together in a space for dialogue and education will. With those tools, the nosotros will become bigger than 15 women, and instead will be a community consciousness that inspires change in wages, time-off, treatment, and access to support on a vast and uncountable scale.
Anna Loup firstname.lastname@example.org