Smile again

Happiness is her poetry
In a world where reality
Is likeness of truth only
With her flights of fancy
That vies feverishly
Though they sometimes flee
And vanish into the high sky;
Fleeting dreams pass by,
Budding despair creep by,
But the seeds of hope stay,
Happiness, that is why.

‘American Made: What happens to people when work disappears’ by Farah Stockman

Howard Stern might not be everyone’s friend, but he’s got the point when he articulated in his radio show a decade ago that what was eating out this great nation was not racism but classicism. The recent unionization movements among service industry workers, such as Amazon and Starbucks, indicate that the demand for the dignity of workers supersedes ideological politics that discourage the growth of American esprit de corps. American Made is a story about this American class consciousness that will put together disintegrated tesserae of the collective national mosaic made by the people and events.

The author follows the three principal workers of the now-defunct Rexnord Factory in Indiana: Wally, a black man whose diligence and amiability promoted him to a coveted position in the factory; Shannon, a single white woman with an abusive partner taking pride herself in being a wielder, a male-dominated position, and John whose fortitude and conscience never left him during his long, turbulent unemployment days. Sex and race don’t matter when it comes to losing their jobs, let alone loving them because the importance of what they do for a living and the need for their livelihood are their commonalities that build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, class solidarity can never be achieved if class consciousness is transcendent of racial prejudice to be achieved first. Unfortunately, the antebellum wealthy southern plantation owners systematically destroyed the poor white laborers’ wage systems by replacing their workforce with the free labor of African slaves, thus planting the seeds of racial hatred in the hearts of the poor whites. The vicious cycle of devious racialized economic caste system has since firmly constituted the American economic system ethos under “Separated but Equal.” The author sees the absurdities of American society as a result of the disintegrated labor movements primarily due to racial prejudices, which is why worker’s solidarity is a way forward to achieve national unity.

Wally, Shannon, and John are not just working-class Americans. The author emphasizes differentiating her elite station characterized by expensive private higher education and intellectual “profession” from those with hardened coarse hands of workers in the factory. They are ordinary people, a majority of Americans making up this country, ubiquitous in the landscape of our daily life. They are expendable at the whims and caprice of profit-driven employers who see their employees as no more than living at-will automates. That is what happened to the Rexnord Factory, where workers’ lives were no less than collateral damage for a successful operational mission of the company.

At times, the author positions herself as a conscientious liberal intellectual, paralleling her fortunate environment with her unfortunate subjects. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for being an NYT journalist. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in pointing out a lack of national cohesion resulting from the politicization of racial rhetorics into bipartisan ideology, which falls by the wayside of solidarity of labor movement overcoming institutionalized racial prejudices. Recently, I have read that the workers of Starbucks and Amazon in New York have voted to unionize. American Made is a story about them and us too because the dignity of work makes us who we are.

live to tell

I just read an article from the January 2021 issue of BBC History about a British family’s real-life experience in China during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 60s. It was so engrossing a read that prompted me to put pen to paper.

Kim Gordon’s live-to-tell childhood memories during the turbulent times in the country where he and his parents had believed to be a model communist haven as accounted in his diaries and letters put it on the same pedestal with Louise Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants and Anne Frank’s Diaries in the context of regarding political turbulences through the eyes of the tender age and the lasting impacts on the minds of the young.

Gordon’s writings are a prime example of historical records, which George Orwell called a reason to write in his “Why I Write.” In fact, reading Gordon’s account of his memories of forceful detainment in Peking gives me an association with reading one of Orwell’s war correspondence and his first-hand experience as a voluntary tramp in London to report the reality of homelessness and unemployment.

I think his writings deserve far higher recognition and broader readership in the publication of a memoir, for which I will read forthwith.