Teaching May Day Everyday
By: Irene Sanchez
May Day 2018. I go to work. I’m a high school teacher and have been this past year. I teach Chicana/o/x or Latina/o/x Studies at three different high schools everyday.
I never forget everyday the responsibility I have to my community. I never forget the responsibility I have as a Xicana, mama, woman, worker, and union member. That is why today I made sure the students knew that today is International Workers Day. They asked me why I came to work after we briefly talked about the significance. I said because I have to and I’m going to a protest after work anyways. They laughed.
The class I teach is considered a social studies elective. It meets the G elective requirement for the University of California admissions. Part of knowing history/social studies is knowing about Democracy and our rights to assemble and freedom of speech. It is also knowing that in this system we live under that we call a democracy, we understand lies and dishonesty have no place in it.
The class is where we learn about history and a lot of that for Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x people’s has revolved around labor. The demand for it from 1848 when much of the southwest became part of the U.S. after Mexico was invaded, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexicans all over the southwest were working in mines. The gold rush happened during 1848 although Natives, Mexicans, and Chinese did much of the labor, they were taxed heavily if they did find gold. During this time Mexicans were lynched at high numbers. Later there was a demand (and still is) for agriculture labor so we see programs like the Bracero program. Many women worked in factories and agriculture as well. You see labor protests become a big part of our struggle for social justice. One that has continued today as Latina/o/x people but particularly those of Mexican decent remain the lowest paid workers in the U.S. and have some of the lowest educational attainment levels.
I tell the students to seek truth in the midst of other people saying the class is too hard for them, that they don’t want to learn about their history or culture. Truth is some think they’re inferior to take college prep classes, truth is we still have to deal with racism and discrimination on a daily basis. Truth is when it comes down to it, the ruling classes would rather we remain in our places because they believe our labor is unskilled. This was another thing we discuss and it wasn’t yesterday. What is unskilled labor? What is skilled? Who gets to determine how much it is valued?
At times I didn’t understand why others teachers didn’t like the class, but since then I’ve also learned just because someone is pro-labor doesn’t make them anti-racist. Just because someone is pro-labor for themselves doesn’t mean they want to see young kids of color think they can do something else other than serve the ruling class for low wages. The claim has also been the class teaches “activism” as if students participating in advocating for themselves and knowing their rights and history behind them is dangerous, but it is very important that students know and have an understanding of our history as workers in the U.S. as well as our contributions to labor movements in the past and present so that we as workers can change our conditions.
The future of the students
What lies ahead.
Is their future as workers.
Happy international workers day!