Yesterday was Labor Day in the US. Everyone’s taking their much enjoyed day off, but not Jorge.
I met him at the Judiciary Square metro station in Washington, DC. He asked me to help him reload his Smartrip card.
Jorge was sweaty and apparently tired. His arms and hair were splattered with little drops of white paint. He pulled out something from the pocket of his grimy cargo pants. It was his ID. He dangled it on my face and said, “My name is Jorge (Unfortunately, I was not able to take note of his surname). I’m Guatemalan.”
While inserting his bills on the machine, I asked, “It’s Labor Day, right? But you worked?” With a strong Latino accent, he said, “Yeah yeah, from 8:30 this morning.”
“Retouch Smartrip to finish transaction,” the machine’s audio assistant said. He retouched his card, then asked, “Where you going? Me, Fort Totten.” I nodded, “Dupont Circle. So you live with your family?” He made an audible sigh and quipped, “No, family is in Guatemala. It’s for them, that’s why I need to work today.”
I smiled. The story sounds familiar. I heard, and wrote about this very familiar story a thousand times before.
According to the April 2015 data of the Philippine Statistics Authority, there are 2.3 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) all over the world. Thirty-two percent of this total number comprises the laborers or the unskilled workers. There are more than 700,000 Filipino construction workers, just like Jorge, and domestic helpers, who endure working thousands of miles away from their loved ones, just to secure them a better future. They are the people who ironically have to live away from home to earn a living.
There is a Filipino story in Jorge’s.
I asked Jorge if I could take his headshot, so I could write about him in my blog. He said no. But I showed him these photos, and asked if he would allow me to keep and post them. He looked into my phone and said, “That’s me? It’s good, good. ” I smiled, patted his left shoulder, and gestured that I am taking the other escalator. He raised his left hand to bid goodbye.
As the escalator descended, I wondered, does the US Labor Day exclude non immigrants? Apparently no, it does not. The US Labor Day is inclusive.
American history even says that both immigrants and non immigrants were valuable workforce who played a key part in the development of America. The transcontinental railroad was largely made by immigrants. The Chinese mostly made the railrooad in the Western part of the Rockies. The Irish finished the Eastern part of the great divide.
Yes, he has not taken a break. But Jorge is the symbolic representation of that Labor Day for me. Labor Day is an immigrant story. There is no holiday in labor, especially if it’s for your family.