Working with all kinds of peoplecomments (3) September 27th, 2011 in Blogs
WORKING WITH ILLEGAL ALIENS, PEOPLE OF COLOR, WOMEN, AND OTHER “MISFITS” IN THE CONSTRUCTION TRADES.
An old Irish song: “They are hangin’ men and women for the wearing of the green.”
Is racism and sexism handed down to each generation from our families and culture, or are we born with such feelings? My experience is that to be racist or sexist is a learned habitual pattern. Our family lived in a small anti-Native American town not far from the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota. There was an unwritten notice that in Harrison, Neb., pop. 500, Native Americans were not welcome. Even in the 1950s I saw signs in shop windows in places like Hot Springs, S.D., saying, “No Indians allowed.” Whenever a Native person did come through our town, Mother had food and water for them. I am grateful for that!
I think that the reason my family escaped being discriminatory of others because of race, color, gender, or whatever was mainly due to our mother, Elizabeth Brennan. She was born in 1897 of immigrant parents. She was not only Irish but Catholic—double jeopardy. She had seen the signs in store windows: “No Irish allowed” and “Help wanted. No Irish need to apply.”
As a Catholic, Mom had experienced our prairie home circled by the Klan. They rode big horses and hid behind white sheets terrorizing people. In our isolated rural area, there were no Afro-Americans or Jewish people around. So there was no one left to terrorize except us Catholics. Once the KKK even burned a cross in front of our house. So our mother with her five children knew what it was to be the object of discrimination and prejudice.
I think the very first person we hired to help build houses was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. I learned much from him about man’s inhumanity to man—stories that made my soul ache. Paul did the pickup (punch list) work behind us on hundreds of buildings for 30 years or more. He was always on the job on time and often worked alone. He was a trusted employee that kept developers and building inspectors happy.
The Latino people I knew and worked with beginning in the 1950s had been in California long before the likes of me arrived. Many of them were skilled craftsmen, especially when working with concrete. Still, they were often seen as lazy, siesta-taking, chili-loving invaders from the south.
Fernando was the first illegal alien we hired. He worked with us for 25 years or more. He was a piece worker nailing off floors and roof sheathing with an ingenious device—a walking nail-driving machine that used uncollated 8d nails (see photo). The Paslode nail gun didn’t arrive on job sites until 1962, so we used the walking gun for many years.
The next “river wader” we hired was Martin Garcia. Martin came to work as a laborer in about 1954, followed by his son Johnny. Johnny became a master carpenter and foreman on job sites. Learning their Spanish language opened up a whole new world to me. Their culture is quite beautiful. Is there some valid reason why many in our country resist being bilingual?
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