Written by Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson, Assistant to the Bishop for Authentic Diversity, Inclusive Community and Service
This week we as a nation celebrate Labor Day, a holiday created by the labor movement in the late 19th century which became a federal holiday in 1894. The day is set aside to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. After close to 19 months in a pandemic and the shifting ways in which I have personally had to work I found myself reflecting on what these achievements look like, reflecting on the American workers who have most impacted me and giving thanks for their continued contribution to our world.
Growing up as a Latin immigrant I never really understood the variety of different American holidays. I lived in a single parent house with my mother who has always been an incredibly hard worker. As the primary care person in a household with three children most of her time was spent working to provide for the growing needs of a family.
I was a part of the latchkey generation, a term coined in the first part of this century to describe a group of children being raised by working parents who left them alone after school. I have never liked this term, it focuses primarily on the children and it has always brought images of captivity and abandonment. Sure most of the time the term also describes the personal identity that was in part shaped by the independence of being left alone after school. However, this does a disservice to the generation of adults who were brave enough to believe that their children could have it better. To parents who sacrificed time with family in order to provide the care and things necessary for their young to succeed. So holidays like Labor Day were always met with some anxiety in our house Because they were moments in time where we as kids would be left at home for the whole day, not only for a couple hours in the afternoon. We would be left all day. I remember my mom's worry as she left the house to go work and I remember us kids reassuring her that we would not fight, clean the house and do our homework while she was away. These promises would evaporate soon after she would leave the house and be remembered just before her return of course.
I was blessed to spend my first call as a pastor at an institution of higher learning. During this time I spent the majority of my time with students. And many of them came from similar backgrounds to my own. First generation students of immigrants. Folks that watched their parents work two or three jobs in order to see the next generation succeed. I was humbled when these parents would come visit their kids when they would come visit me and tell me how excited they were to see their dreams being fulfilled in their children. I would sit as they told me about their work in salons, construction, maintenance, as farmworkers, and as caregivers. The list goes on. This is the list of the ancestors. Those who care for our children and their children. These are the individuals I think about when I reflect on Labor day. Their achievements are held in the dreams and accomplishments of the generation to come. What a humbling thought! To be so interconnected to those who have worked and served among us. Often it is these individuals who are overlooked. Ones that are declared “essential” when it is convenient for our society but are not traditionally lifted up.
Thoughts of my mom coming home at dusk creep in. Her tired feet and body preparing the evening meal and I am overwhelmed on just how essential her work was not only for me but for my children and your children. I think about the farmworkers who rise before dawn to provide not only for their table but for mine and yours. I am moved by the sacrifices of the immigrants who came to work here in this strange land, those who in many cases have not been able to secure legal status to work here and still show up every day regardless of circumstances. I am grateful for those who tend the needs of others in jobs that are often looked at as menial and I am humbled to be in your presence. I am grateful for all of those workers who are overlooked, underpaid, and still press on to make this society a better place. I am honored to have you as my elders and to some day call you ancestors and to have my children growing up understanding how essential you truly are.