I joined the Communist Party. I had already read some of Marx, but in the party I gained a deeper understanding of surplus value, means of production, imperialism, and even dialectical materialism.
Most of all, I came to see how capital feeds and functions through the evisceration of our very bodies, alienating us from ourselves and our labor power.
Grace’s baby was not dead through random chance. I did not grow up wealthy in Guatemala by sheer force of my father’s work ethic alone.
If there was a logic to our suffering, there was also a solution.
I started to address neighborhood concerns in Spanish Harlem through Centro Obrero de Habla Española, a leftist community coalition.
I quickly learned to get my rap down and, being fluent in Spanish, French, and English, proved an asset in getting folks out to meetings and actions.
I took what I learned in Centro, and organized my compañeras on the shop floor. We formed La Liga de Costureras, a small garment workers’ union.
We were affiliated with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), but we were still pretty much on our own receiving little support or dollars for our work.
In ways good and bad my labor career had truly begun.
Because we were largely ignored by the larger ILGWU we built a supportive community among the workers, turning La Liga into a family affair.
At the time, some male unions formed ladies auxiliaries to provide aid.
We flipped that and organized a ‘fraternal group’ charged with fundraising!
Fathers, husbands, and brothers of Liga members took on the traditional women’s work of selling tickets, publicity, and refreshments. They organized weekly bailes to raise funds for our local.
It was a strange site - our men helping us in the workplace.
At home things were a bit more normal. Miguel stayed absent by hiding in his brushes and bottles. He still couldn’t get work as an artist and decided to apprentice as a drunk.
I became a tireless organizer and was rarely home. Activism was my refuge and in short order I became a full-time organizer with the ILGWU. It became apparent though, that like my husband, union leaders had little interest in Latina workers.
The union saw me only as a worker - a class position, and by now you know I have never been that simple. Looking for spaces that were willing to address my concerns as a Latina, a mother, an artist and on down the list, I started going to a lot of other leftist meetings and events outside the union.
It was during these forays searching for political recognition that I met him. Gray Bemis, a Nebraska farm boy turned New York Cabbie of all things. He would offer me rides home from meetings and I would always accept. Gray was an activist with the International Workers Order. He wasn’t especially attractive or dashing (thank Dios), but he was so … tu sabes …
Meeting Gray would give me the courage to finally do one of the few things I never thought I would.