The following is an article that I wrote many years ago, originally slated to appear in Diamond Bars: The Street Version. Decided to remove it because a number of poems in that book already covered the same ideas. Some poems in my forthcoming book will tackle some of these same themes as well. Anyways, I found it, and thought I would share it...
The majority of my life I lived in anger. To call it shame would be an incredible mistake. When I was very young my dad and I always fought over doing work outside. When I wanted to step in, and join him out there he often wanted to yell at me, tell me I was doing something wrong. That was because he felt connected to it. It was something his own. Something he controlled. I think I understand now; somewhat. Then, later, he told me to do the work; told me to, "Get off the couch and go outside!" I had been 'conditioned' at this point not to do the work and I would get irritated. He worked, so I didn't have to, after all. No need to break with that proud tradition and interrupt the Saturday morning cartoon lineup right? I was a very spoiled child, I know. I started going out there into the lawn. Damn, but I hated working out there. My hands and body were disgustingly weak. You don't realize how little you know about working with your hands until you actually try it. Then and only then do you realize how pathetic you are. Go out, pick up a tool, and find out what I mean. Consider relying upon that tool to get something someone tells you that you have to get done, done. Figure it out. Wrap your head around it. Once you put yourself in the shoes of a worker your whole outlook changes.
But, anyways... it was at this time that I hated my father. I didn't understand him. I didn't understand why he had to work and why so many of the fathers of the kids I went to school with didn’t. I didn't understand why I didn't have to work so hard in life and he did. I thought I was superior. "Oh yeah, I think about art. I think about films and philosophy. He only thinks about work and sports obviously." I remember one time right around Easter, he rolled up the sleeves of his Cal-Trans work shirt and, seeing his arm hair for the first time, as he grabbed for a pastry (his treat after coming home tired from a graveyard shift), I remarked, "You look like a gorilla." It wasn't the last time I would say something so hateful towards my father. As much as I loved him and as much as I wanted him to love me, I thought lesser of him. I thought of him as someone who acted more on instinct than on logic and reason. I know now that it was illogical and irrational of me to think that way. I had never taken an interest in his reasons and maybe he felt that relating them to me would compromise his identity as the man of the house. After working out in the yard enough I grew to like it. It made me unique. Vaguely I gained the awareness that I was the only one out there on my block mowing the lawn. At that time I was still too concentrated on the work in front of me and how it made me feel. It gave me something to be proud of. I knew how to do some work. I thought about the slow hours I spent out there and the result of the work I did. I would actually look at the grass and, seeing the green evenness of it all, feel the utmost pride. I thought about how sometimes, if I thought enough about what I did, I would find a way to do what I was doing better. In fact, sometimes, I realized I had found out how to hold a tool the way my father or older brother did. It was great. I had always felt weak up to that point.
With those tools I felt some strength. Corny enough as it sounds, I felt like a man. I didn't hate my father so much any more. Instead, I saw this as my reconciliation. This was my chance to apologize to him for anything I had ever done in thought or action to belittle him. He had performed manual labor his whole life for our family. He knew the implications of that far better than I did.
I wanted to be like him. So, I worked. I rolled up my sleeves, sweated, got thirsty, got tired, got sore, got dizzy, and worked. And then I worked some more. I realize that it all wasn't really all that hard. But, for me it was, for you it might be, enough work to classify as 'hard labor.' Tell me another one. And think about those who actually perform hard labor on a regular basis. But when you're suffering (or think that you’re suffering), you often don't think about those who suffer with you and you definitely don't want to think of those who are suffering more. I remember my exhausted joy out there with my rake, my edger, my lawn-mower. I didn't understand where I was in this world. I would find out. My Mexican-white-skin blazed in the sun. I got sun-burnt so many days. I worked with my awkward body shirtless some days so I would get more tan (all the more ironic that I would grow to hate those who I regularly saw; those who were naturally brown). In a way, they were more me than me.
Yeah, they were those who were doing the exact same thing I was doing.
They were on the way in their Toyotas to go mow lawns. I saw them as somehow stealing my lawn; or wanting to. I mean, everyone else around talked shit on the gardeners on my block, so, why shouldn't I? I thought everyone did it for the same reason that I did. I channeled my frustration with school, friends and those girls who got away into those men who worked harder than me... Why? Because I knew that this land, this yard, was my father's, and he had entrusted it to me. So then, it was also mine. I didn't want anyone else on it. Especially those I didn't know. They were trying to take my land, my yard, right? I didn't think they were me. I didn't think they were my father. But who was he anyways? He was someone who had worked in factories. He was someone who had done landscaping in the Army. He was someone who had spent most of his life maintaining our freeways and taking all of the risks involved. Simply put, he was a laborer. Just like them. In some ways, they knew more about him than I did. The work that took me hours and hours took them about a quarter of the time; an eighth even. Just like my dad. Yes, they knew my father in that way far more than I ever would. Man, was I insecure. Still am. I want to be me. I want to be like them because they know how to work and they never stop. I stop because, "I don't feel like it, I'm tired, it’s not the right time, and I’m scared..." They weren't trying to steal our land. In fact, in smiles to me, they were outstretching their hand, in subtle gestures, building a notion of our land. "This land is my land. This land is your land..." But I was, still am, so insecure... Well, if they speak Spanish, and I speak English, with a decidedly 'white' accent, then we have nothing in common right? Wrong. I didn't hate them. I certainly didn't hate my father. I could no longer hate myself. Well... that's an ongoing battle. But, my thoughts turned to all of those houses where the gardeners went, all day sometimes with their desperate family, (wives and children packed into trucks, vans, cars), or without. I thought about those who didn't go week to week doing what my father and I did (yes, we had a bond). They were the same who might not work in their yards or anywhere; ever. One day in class, I told a classmate that I was proud that I mowed my lawn every weekend. He said, "Wow, I wish I could say I knew how to do something like that. To work, and feel something from it..." I asked him if he wanted to learn. He ran for the hills. Once you have some understanding of what manual labor is and the fact that some people will never do it, you know all of that, "Well, my job is really stressful too... White collars have a hard time too..." is a load of shit.
That gave me a conception of “my people.” Don't exploit my people. Don't exploit me. Don’t treat us like refuse. I tell you: I’m there in your lawn; in your parent's lawn.
I’ve got headphones in, an old walkman, or a beat-up radio with music blaring. I’m wearing an old trucker hat or cowboy hat. You might even think that it looks like a sombrero on me.
I won’t turn my sympathy and empathy away from the whole of the human race. This isn't about that. This isn't about me saying "fuck you" to all of those who don't understand.
This is about understanding. My people are more than that. My father was more than that. I am more than just a reaction to a situation. The majority of my life I live in anger. To call it shame would be an incredible mistake. I'm proud of who I am.