Julia always came on Wednesdays.
My mother would buy all her cleaning supplies and make sure the rags were washed so Julia could do her job. She would come in a teal pickup truck around 9 a.m. and begin to clean, as my mother would sit in her office and work.
Julia was a tiny Latina woman who barely spoke any English. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore low-slouching jeans and sneakers. She would be there about three hours, and my mother would pay her $80 in cash. During that time, my mother would talk to her in Spanish, as she was fluent. They talked about Julia’s husband, who was our gardener, and her young daughter.
I never asked if Julia was legal. My mother never told me if she was or not. It didn’t matter to her; Julia always did a good job, so she paid her.
One day, Julia came to the house tired. My mother noticed, and asked about her daughter. She began to cry; her daughter was very sick, they had been at the hospital with her all night. My mother paid Julia and sent her home to sleep; she would see her next week.
My mother believed in America, and believed that people should be able to work. She wasn’t giving free rides, but at the same time never treated those around her as less than; she even sponsored our childhood nanny for her green card. When we were younger they were invited to family get-togethers and birthday parties as guests. There was nothing dividing us.
My mother would remember her grandparents, immigrants pursuing a dream in America, seeking a better life and working hard all the way there. Taking odd jobs, from delivering flowers to running errands, in the hopes that their children would have a better life. She was on the other side now.
Julia came rain or shine, but as the years passed the circumstances changed. Cancer was on the bill for my mother. Julia kept cleaning and they kept talking, even at the weakest points of her recovery. Eventually she came back up from her bout with breast cancer, but not before sliding down once again into complications.
As time went on, my mother got sicker and her hospital visits more frequent. I had moved back home to help her, and would be there with Julia on Wednesdays when no one else could be. One week, my father and I had to be at the hospital with her. I pulled $80 from my savings account, gave it to Julia, and sent her home. We would see her next week.
Eventually, another Wednesday came. My mother was in the hospital again, my dad was with her and I was at home.
This was the morning she died.
Hanging up the phone, I started to scream and cry in her office. Julia rushed in, and I told her mom was dead. She shook her head and broke down, tears running down her face. We held each other for several minutes. She continued to clean afterwards, but I could hear Julia sobbing down the hallways.
When I left for the hospital, my cousin came to stay at the house. After Julia was done cleaning, my cousin and her simply held each other on the couch for a good half an hour before Julia went home.
My father continued having Julia clean the house after my mother died. It was almost in keeping Julia was keeping a part of her alive. He would get cash for her and leave it on the dining room table every Wednesday until the day he moved out.
And afterwards, like a dream, Julia seemed to disappear just as quickly. And it breaks my heart, wondering what has happened to her, her husband and her daughter.
I think of her child when she was in the hospital. How is this child different from me? I lived with a mother who I love, who cared for me when I was ill. I had a father who worked hard. We were past our immigrant stage, settled in America after generations of distance from my great-grandparents. They were once the dreamers of America, working hard and making new lives for themselves and their children here. My mother never forgot that. And she saw it in the ladies who worked for us.
I left my mother’s house to settle into a guesthouse in Beverly Hills. I saw the Latin women walking tiny dogs up and down the street, or trekking up the part of Coldwater Canyon without sidewalks wearing traditional maid uniforms. The Mercedes and Audis of this road combine with rumbling large trucks filled with lawnmowers, shears and Latin men, the ones constructing the fancy houses and maintaining the yards for the people so demanding and determined to live in the most famous zip code in the country.
And yet… do these people who they work for see them as people? That they have families that they love and still work no matter the circumstances, because otherwise they don’t get paid? That no matter how many 60-hour weeks their employers have, those people will still have enough money at the end to afford their homes and pay for vacations, fancy cars and private schools, while their workers are lucky to barely make rent?
Do those people remember dreams, and the dreamers who have them?
This country, our worlds are nothing without people like Julia — human beings who love and see more to the world than the status quo. Who reducing to “legal” versus “illegal” makes us forget that they are actually flesh and blood people with hopes and desires. Who work hard for their families and keep moving forward in the hopes that their children will have better lives here. Not everyone remembers.
My mother did. She would call to me, “Remember who you are.” She would remind me regularly that we are a country made from immigrants. She remembered until the day she died that America was for everyone.
Now it’s my turn. It should be yours too.
Hey Sean Spicer. I am here to tell you something important about the Holocaust: You don’t know shit about it.
It’s not like me to be vulgar in my writing. I’m usually one who likes to remain poetic and intelligent whenever I create these types of things. But the truth is that you don’t know anything about the Shoah. You don’t know shit.
The truth is not many people do. I don’t care how many times you have heard Holocaust stories, been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., or even Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. You don’t know shit about it, and that’s the truth.
You might know the fact that six million Jews were sent to their deaths (although apparently your boss doesn’t). They weren’t the only ones. There were communists, gypsies, homosexuals and political rivals, people with disabilities and people of color. This is the short list. In total, the Nazis sentenced 11 million to death for being themselves.
You probably know about the concentration camps, although apparently you forgot about the gas chambers and their Zyklon B. You don’t know about the people forced to lie on the ground and have Nazi officers ride horses across them, and whoever lived were the lucky ones. You don’t know about the people who would be forced to dig their own graves and then be shot into them. How people would sometimes come to watch, as if they were going to the movies.
You don’t know shit.
You don’t know the people who would do anything to escape. They hid diamonds underneath their skin so the Nazis couldn’t confiscate them, using them to buy passage through Europe to safer places. They were the people who would do anything for freedom, who escaped on boats to places where their lives wouldn’t be taken. And sometimes, when on those vessels, were turned away from different governments and sent back to the slaughter.
You don’t know the people who risked their lives to save people. Priests who took in hundreds of children and let them grow up safe in their care. There were the men who forged documents in order to give people the safe passage to other countries. There were the women who hid families under floorboards, in attics, far away from the prying eyes of the Nazis. They risked their lives. You don’t know them.
You do know many of the neighbors of the ones who were taken. They turned their heads, hoping to save their own skins, not realizing that there were certain things in this world worth dying for. You know them because they are you, Mr. Spicer. They are your boss, his friends and those who kowtow to his whims. You are them now, in this moment.
They were you when you argued for banning people because of their faith. They were you when you dismissed the press simply because they disagreed with you and dissented. They were you when you have defended the actions of your boss, and affirmed his beliefs no matter how misguided they were.
Don’t believe me? If I asked you, at this moment, to take in a Muslim man, woman or child under pain of death at the hands, you’d probably shake your head and say absolutely not. You couldn’t risk that. Just proves my point: You don’t know shit.
You are not the one who understands the dangers of history repeating itself. Rather, you are the one trying to use it to your advantage, clean up the parts you don’t like and then play it for your puppeteering and spin doctoring.
You don’t know shit about it. You don’t know shit about the Holocaust.
I believe in the kindness of people, in the goodness of the world despite its evils. I’d like to believe we are better than another Holocaust. But with one hand you would take the evils of the past and with the other create the same exact circumstances that led to the past’s events.
And for me, and my future children and friends’ children, I will say the words that echo in my heart like a rhythmic song: Never again. And when I say those words, I say them for all mankind, no matter color, creed or anything in between; not just for those who I deem worthy at any given moment.
The question is whether or not the Holocaust happened; fortunate for those of us who need to constantly prove the history to Holocaust deniers (and possibly you too), the Nazis were stellar record keepers who kept meticulous entries of all their atrocities. The question is how do we conduct our lives based on this information. In a world where anger and finger-pointing run rampant, were hatred is easier than love and openness, how do we face the future?
Mr. Spicer, it’s time to educate yourself. You need to know more than just the basic facts of the Holocaust. You need to know more than the six million dead Jews.
You need to know the thousands scarred, the subtle history leading to the atrocities of war that we are mirroring on a day-to-day basis. You need to know about the boats turned away and the people who were sent back to the slaughter because people were too busy being scared rather than loving.
You need to know that that six million isn’t just a number; it’s human lives, people who had families and who loved and were loved. Six million souls, six million lights extinguished from the world and countless generations of humans who could change the world for the better, but perished at the hands of ignorance and fear.
Only then can you say, “Never again.”
Until then, you don’t know shit. You don’t know, you can’t know. And add your name to the list of the guilty, who sacrificed millions of lives for the easy way out.
I woke up as my phone started buzzing. The Associated Press news update shone brightly back at me, confirming that the second Ebola victim traveled on a plane a day before showing symptoms.
Groaning in slumber, I shut it off and turned my head away. I needed a half an hour more of sleep before work started, and the AP felt the need to disturb my slumber with breaking news that really wasn’t. The app pinging at me was only kept out of an old nasty habit of wanting to know about current events. Now I just take a quick peek and keep going.
It’s not like I don’t know what’s going on in the world. I do; I think this generation is better informed than any other generation before it. We are saturated with information. But at the same time, I will not get dragged into the media climate anymore. I won’t tune into the so-called “Fox fair and balanced” or the “this is CNN” buzz that we are fed. I’m too tired.
I should care more about the news. I’m college educated and majored in journalism. I was a reporter before I became an editor. My eyes were wide at the world back then, hoping that somehow I could deliver the news to people and help make this country a better place to be.
Charles Kuralt and Walter Cronkite danced before my eyes and made me want to reach higher to help shape the media landscape. I read the news every day, keeping up to date on current events and being well aware of how things worked. Meanwhile, I entered the workforce as a journalist. The pay was awful and the hours were long, but it was the passion that fed me more than anything and the hope that maybe, just maybe, I could make it to the top.
But as I entered the field, the passion was clouded with men who would tell me on a daily basis I wasn’t good enough for it, using my faith, my then-upcoming nuptials and my writing abilities (or according to them, lack thereof) against me. The old boys’ club wouldn’t let a woman steal their thunder. When I switched over to the editing desk, I found that club easier to deal with because of my considerable talents as both an editor and manager that couldn’t be challenged as readily. But not even these were immune to the recession. Nothing was, and journalism suffered tremendously during that time.
As my desperation hit and I was willing to take anything, I ended up jumping from job to job, only to end up in a series of layoffs. When my marriage crumbled, a move back to Los Angeles made it even trickier. I was coming into one of the worst economic climates in the country expecting to find work as an editor when that was always the first position a company eliminated. And as I interviewed, I watched hundreds of doors slam in my face with a shrug and a “no.” I had to keep moving forward even when my arms were tired from treading water.
Yet somehow I kept reading the news: CNN, MSNBC, AP and plenty of others. Every day it was the same stories, although the details would vary: The Republicans were trying to limit women’s rights, look for more oil and give banks breaks because having money made you special. Democrats talked about giving the people back control and helping them, yet their spines shook as it was time to get there. The world was constantly in a state of crisis, every day with war in some little corner of it, and deaths became words wagging across tongues. There were the talking heads yelled at each other about whose fault it was, with each one saying even more outlandish things than other in order to get attention among the millions of voices talking all at once. There was more fear than actual news. The corporate interests of news outlets (as the majority of them are owned by large corporations looking to make money) overruled the need for information. News judgment, or at least the way I knew it as a reporter, was gone.
The goal was who could get the most clicks, not about actually getting the unbiased information across. And being in the journalism world, I knew how many journalists were willing to compromise their ethics in order to get the best story to beat the others — and even if they don’t want to do it, their editors are begging them to. They would transform it from the issue at hand to whatever created the headline that would gain the most attention.
There are still the people out there who want to pursue pure journalism, give people the information that we need in order to see the ills in our society and tackle them head on rather than the superfluous information that tells us to freak out. Yet the arguments for such things are often given head pats of being cute and then told to go play in the corner.
Meanwhile, I was left every day reading the news and finding the same thing again and again. And the more I saw it, the more I glossed over it and moved on. I knew the basic issues, but I never bothered to read more. As my monetary situation crumbled in recent years and I have been left barely keeping my life afloat, all I could think was, These news outlets aren’t paying my bills. They aren’t really helping me and they aren’t really interested in anything except my clicking. It’s just making me feel even worse about life and humanity. Why should I pay attention?
Perhaps it’s my apathy at America at large, how we have gone from a system where it’s for the people to one that’s more for the large bank accounts. But as the world beat me down, I have became exhausted. Like the slamming doors of job interviews, how could I keep coming back to the same thing day after day hoping that it will change and more often than not finding that it never does? In looking for a better life for myself, I didn’t have a choice in facing those doors. As I feel the depression taking over my body while I’m stuck surviving and not truly living, I have a choice in bringing more darkness into my world. Which means removing depressing influences, and that includes the news.
It doesn’t stop me from feeling wrong about it.
The truth is I want to care about the news, about the world. Somewhere inside me is still that college graduate who wants to change things. She still wants to make it better and feels that she can somehow. She’s smart, capable and determined and wants to be well educated on the issues, discussing them thoughtfully without being attacked for her belief systems. She doesn’t stand for reading the news and going, “That’s a damn shame.” It’s why she became a journalist: To wake up the world. It was this young woman who the journalism world tried to quash. Although she is quieter now, she refuses to go away from my heart.
I don’t want her to give up the fight. I want to tell her that there are others out there like her who want to go to battle for the heart of journalism, who will join in with her voice of reasonable dissent against the media status quo. That there are ways we can take back control of this mess and make people feel empowered instead of stuck in a terrible world where we are helpless, whether it’s through the media or any other form this culture takes. We deserve better as citizens of the world.
But in the meantime, I do what little I can. So I’m going to keep surviving, and in the meantime shut down the media noise. I have enough to worry about without the news’ help.