The Story of Amelia and Enrique
Amelia came from Mexico to reunite with her husband ten years ago; and brought her two children with her. Although the trip across the border was difficult, Amelia was eager to see her husband after two years, since he had come alone to The North. She had dreamed so much that the whole family would be together again. Her pleasure lasted for a short time, for the work she found through a temp agency was very heavy, and the salary she was paid was spent almost entirely on childcare. Besides, the problems with her husband had become daily bread in her life.
She does not remember exactly when Enrique began to change, but it pained her that he was no longer the same person she had met in the village, when they were twenty. At that time he was affectionate and made sure that she was well. Now he shouts at her for anything, curses at her and reminds her that he is the boss of the house. "Just because we are up her doesn't mean you've become a "gringa," he says. Several times he shoved her so hard that one day she fell in the kitchen. At this point, fear seized Amelia and and she tried not to contradict him. She fears the day when he might unexpectedly hit her; the same way that her neighbor's husband punches his wife, Margarita.
The worst thing is that out of fear she cannot tell Enrique about the obscenities hurled at her and her co-workers by the temp agency van drivers ("raiteros"). Nor of the abuses of the foreman of the factory. She is very saddened that Enrique can not be a true companion, the supportive force in life as she thought they would be for each other. And she cries when she remembers about how much she missed him during those days, alone in the village, dealing with their children and the daily challenges of the family, and when she would think, "I wish Enrique were here."
Amelia's story is not unique. At the Chicago Worker's Collaborative we hear similar stories continually, and this concerns us. First, because we think of all the Amelias in our community being mistreated at home and at work, and without any support. And it seems to us that it is a great injustice. But we also think of our male comrades who commit abuses at home, and who may never have seriously considered the harm they do to their partners and their families. Some of them will probably say, "It's what I learned from my father" or "one has to demand respect, or she will get forget her place"; or perhaps, "American women can do what they please, but in my house I rule." However, none of these beliefs justify mistreatment of a partner.
Violence within our homes should be considered the number one enemy in our community, as it is contrary to the ideals of solidarity that we proclaim to all those who believe in dignity and justice for workers. Without solidarity there is no community, without community there are no collective actions. The power of the workers is in unity. It is a tremendous disadvantage for any movement when basic unity between a woman and her partner is absent from our homes. Where else are you going to cultivate a positive concept of yourself, to convince yourself that you are worthy and have rights as a human being, if not in your home? We already are subject to verbal and other abuses from temp agencies, supervisors, employers, the media, police, judges, and ICE agents. It's unconscionable to repeat the same abuses at home.
The Chicago Workers' Collaborative affirms that the struggle for justice for workers must start at home. That is why we are currently undergoing a process of restructuring our programs, and soon we will be able to offer our members workshops and tools to assist them in creating safe spaces for personal growth and mutual support within their homes, and where children learn that violence is not the way to resolve disagreements with others. Violence towards women is not normal and that as a community we do not have to accept it. We all have the right to live a life free of violence and exploitation, to receive a salary that allows us to live with dignity and to have time for rest and care for ourselves. And to win it we have to struggle together, men and women!