I am reminded of a story I heard during the eulogy for my grandmother, Efigenia Martinez.
To say my grandmother was a complex woman would be the understatement of understatements. She meddled in the affairs of everyone from her window perch in our Brooklyn brownstone. Sitting there with her “special” bottle of apple juice. (FYI - Motts apple juice bottles can fit a six pack of Budweiser in them.) She used to drive me nuts. I couldn’t stand her truth be told. I loved her but she drove me nuts. But as I get older . . . yeah I am reevaluating.
Oh yeah — her eulogy.
Well, like most immigrants she came here and took on jobs that many of us would refuse. One was in a factory that made little cloth flowers. It was every stereotype. Rows of brown skinned women sitting for hours on end in harsh conditions — being paid pennies (if that) for each of these little flowers. And yes, there was the factory foreman who would hover over them and use his power to abuse the women who fell behind. Because that is what little people do — they try to use power to intimidate. My grandmother sat next to one of these women who struggled to keep up.
So during the eulogy I come to find out that for a period of three years my grandmother played a cat and mouse game with this foreman. She would make enough for herself and her neighbor. Discreetly placing the extras in her basket so her friend could keep her job, and the money that she needed to keep her family fed. My grandmother didn’t give a damn about the consequences for herself.
And I think that is the point. In the fight against injustice, in any form, if your inclination is to think about the consequences for yourself — well, that is the path that leads us to capitulation.
It reminds me of another story. I recall being at the bank with my grandmother when I was six. Some pretentious white corporate type pushed her aside because he was in a rush. She didn’t back down. She went right at him: “Vete a la mierda!” and kept her spot. “Vete a la mierda” — I had no clue what that meant.
So yeah, when I think about those who try to use their power to oppress instead of liberate; try to keep certain groups of people down instead of lifting everyone up; and try to corrupt systems by consolidating power instead of using it to serve. Well, I want to look those foremen right in their eyes with the immortal words of mi abuelita ringing in my ears: “Vete a la mierda!”