“If you work hard, people will notice and you will be recognized.” Parts of that tale are true — at least for me as a young person with class privilege and access to wealth. Every week, I churn in a few dozen hours, and twice a month, a paycheck is deposited into my checking account. It’s a process that recognizes my output, and pays me for it. Wage labor should be valued, which is why the Fight for Fifteen, fair overtime pay, and other campaigns to improve the conditions of paid work is so critical.
But there’s a gap that often goes unacknowledged in that saying. One you can find if you ask, “what is labor, really?”
Growing up, my parents worked. A lot. As recent immigrants in the U.S., they wanted to succeed in this new home. Despite their busyness, they still took care of my brother and I, but they didn’t do it alone. There were several other strong, immigrant women who cared for us, cooked for us, cleaned up after us, lent us their shoulders to cry on, gave us warm, assuring hugs when we needed them, even disciplined us. Some of these women were paid for their work, but many others were family and friends who lent their time out of love. All of their collective labor allowed our family to thrive — to focus on building our relationships and not have to spend what little free time we had together on errands, to alleviate the stress of starting a business while parenting two children, and to let us know we were cared for and not alone.
On May Day, I strike for them and for the millions of others like them who, because of their immigration status, gender identity, and ability, are not recognized fairly for their work and contributions. I am who I am, and my family is in the financial position that we’re in, because of them.
Dominique Tan is a member of RG and RG’s Campaign Team. She was an RG chapter leader in the Bay Area before recently relocating to NYC.