We are the panopticon
by 伊凌 yi ling
January 12th. The website for Houston Unido was already a day late. I had promised the coalition partners an uploaded website by January 11th, 12:00 p.m. However, you were in Los Angeles for the week and hadn’t responded to my messages asking for approval of content, communications, messaging and structure. The counter-inauguaration week events were days away. Mary Moreno, Communications Director from the Texas Organizing Project, and Amanda Hart, Communications lead and Senior Organizer from the Houston Federation of Teachers, had been collaborating and effectively supervising me in your absence. I had also run the website domain and plan by Norma and Linda in our office.
You scrapped my work on the Houston Unido website that was meant to reflect the coalition that was majority Spanish speaking due to your fear that using “Unido” instead of “United” would alienate old, white union members. Logistically, I had already explained in the weeks before that “HoustonUnited.com” was unavailable as a church already taken the domain address. Furthermore, after the meetings on 1/3 and 1/9 (which you did not attend), the coalition strongly voiced that “Building Bridges Not Walls” was simply not strong enough language to reflect the desire to protect communities we were a part of and represented.
As I explained all of this to you, you derisively told me,
“You’re new to this labor movement. You don’t know our processes. I’ll talk to you about this when I’m back.”
I felt angry and confused.
I’ve worked for monetary wages since I was 12. I’ve worked and supported my mother, aunties, sisters, friends since I could remember walking, following them to their jobs. Listening to them when they came home battered, bruised, broken physically and emotionally after suffering injustices at their jobs.
If you’ve eaten in a Chinese restaurant, my sister took your order. My mother washed those dishes you ate off. She cooked the food you ate. She washed the bathroom you used.
If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods, my sister-friend has been your cashier and bagged your groceries.
If you’ve eaten at a fast food restaurant like Chik-Fil-A, my friend has fried your food, taken your money-payment and your attitude when you ask for your milkshake.
If you’ve shopped in a mall, I’ve been your sales clerk, cashier and floor manager as you knocked over our products and asked inane questions while buying nothing.
If you’ve gotten a massage, I’ve been the one to tend to the knots in your shoulder, arms, backs, legs, feet, hips, head and carefully unwind the tensions of your body-mind with skills that have been honed over countless hours of attentive labor.
If you’ve gotten your nails done, I’ve been the one inhaling toxic fumes and bent over your feet, scrubbing them with my hands and clipping the dead skin off your hands and feet, then beautifying them with my artistry.
If you’ve had your house cleaned, my sister has spent hours bent over your floors scrubbing and dealing with unspeakable grime and dirty secrets.
If you’ve had your laundry dried, my aunt has pressed your clothes and breathed the chemicals as your shirts are steamed at dangerously high temperatures.
If you’ve ever ridden the train, my grandfather has laid the railroad tracks while never being acknowledged for his labor.
If you’ve ever had your car washed, then it was my friends who worked the shampoo into your carpets and wax onto your car.
If you’ve ever eaten rice, fish, melons or squashes, my grandfather and grandmother have back-breakingly farmed, scaled, harvested all these.
If you’ve ever had a teacher, it was my sisters, my aunts who taught you and guided you in expanding your mind and getting to college.
If you’ve ever drank a cup of tea, my aunties have been the ones picking those leaves with razors taped to their fingers.
If you’ve ever been to a hospital, my sister is the nurse that took your temperature and blood samples and cared for you while you healed.
If you’ve ever used a nanny, I’ve been the one feeding, bathing, accompanying and keeping your kid safe and engaged, teaching them how to put applesauce in their mouth without dropping most of it. And how to speak respectfully to elders and friends.
If you’ve ever hired an elder caretaker, I’ve been the one feeding, bathing, accompanying and keeping your aging parents safe and engaged, teaching them how to put applesauce in their mouth without dropping most of it. And how to remain calm and peaceful in the face of death and your absence and abandonment of them.
If you’ve ever not known how to say something in Chinese Mandarin, Taiwanese Hakka/Hokkien, Texan Spanish, and the wealth of languages, I have been the one to reach into my knowledge and lexicons and to my network of friends to help you find meaning.
If you’ve ever been confused, hurt, angry, I have been the therapist, the author, the auntie, the artist who understands you and consoles you through my art, writing, therapy.
If you’ve ever used the services of a woman, I’ve been the daughter, auntie, ayi, back at home, taking care of that woman’s children, my siblings.
How then, could I be, according to your words, ignorant of the labor movement? I grew up in labor, as labor, as a friend, daughter, sister, sibling to workers. While unions failed throughout the history of this country to ever protect my family and friends because we are Asian, Black, Latin@, queer, immigrant, non-Christian, non-English speakers, I am a woman, a young woman, a woman of color, a young queer woman of color.
I am the labor movement.
 Houston and the labor movement today and in the future is majority Chinese-Cantonese and Mandarin and Spanish speaking. The movement for worker justice is not English dominant.
 Now, if this was Idaho or New Hampshire or other white majority states, it certainly would be poor messaging to say “Idaho Unido.” But this is Houston, where even the white racists say they’re driving down San Jacinto street without a blink.