My name is Maria Vasquez. I have been a member of CTUL’s Defensores committee for four years and I am a member of the board. I have lived in East Saint Paul for about ten years. I am from Morelos, Mexico. I invite everyone to visit. They call it the “city of eternal spring” because it is always spring all year round. I want to return one day but I am happy where I am. Saint Paul is a small city that has everything. Everything you could ever want is in Saint Paul.
I first arrived in California working in the fields cutting lemons, which is how I first received my permit. After working in the fields for five years, I took care of a blind elderly woman for ten years. I came to CTUL because around that time I met a coworker and she was a member of CTUL. She invited me because she told me she thought my boss was stealing my wages. I did not do anything about it at the time. They stole my wages but they would give me a lot of hours of work. If they paid me twelve a day but didn’t pay me for two days, then maybe it suits them and it suits me. I never kept a copy of my hours worked at that time. I did not realize that my work was not being valued.
Currently, I work as an assistant to elderly folks.I like my job. Some elderly are lonely people. Many times, family and friends do not want to listen to them. They already gave their lives for the family. They paid taxes and supported the development of the country. But now it’s like they are things that no longer serve society. I like to see them happy. Some tell me that I am the mother, others tell me that I am an angel and I tell them you are the angels.
That’s what I dedicate myself to. I like it. I take care of them, I am sweet to them, and attend to them. I give them haircuts, manicures, pedicures, everything that I can do. I am very interested in helping the elderly because in the end I am going to be an old woman too. It is the golden rule. We should give back to our elders. They are in need of care, a flower, and time above all.
I think we are all essential. The one who cuts the tomatoes because without tomatoes how are you going to make the soup? There is no non-essential job. How can you tell me the gardener is not essential? How? Of course they are essential. Because if he doesn’t work we don’t eat.
As for the pandemic, I never missed work when my patients had COVID. Of course we took our precautions– I put on double gloves, masks, and you cover everything and go for it. Because the elderly still have to eat, bathe, and go to bed. My job is essential.
I have had great experiences in this country. I am very grateful but I have cloudy days and sunny days of my life here too. For example, when my son was deported after many years here. He had his business here. He started setting up restaurants in California and then here in Minnesota. He was always cooperative and paid his taxes. In the end, due to a mistake, he was deported. This was an injustice because he has three children here and his wife. A seven-month-old girl, a four-month-old girl and a fourteen-year-old boy.
I like CTUL because it is an organization that spends time and resources to help workers. We are living in a moment where everyone is fighting for oneself. There is an individualism that does not let you help the other anymore. For immigrants, when we come from our countries we are not always educated in our rights and that is what CTUL does – educate and empower those who are suffering from wage theft, low wages, and other injustices at work.
I think it is something that we should practice service to others. When we practice service to others, we are practicing our own service.
So here I am, continuing to attend workshops for workers. Since I already suffered wage theft, I don’t want others to experience what I experienced because that money could have been of great use to me and my family. We should not just accept the situation. We must fight for our labor rights and that is what I do with CTUL.
There exists an imbalance between the worker and the employer. I want something more equal and more just. The worker bears the brunt. We work physically hard and they steal our wages. They are not valuing our work.
My vision is that there is more balance. More balance between those of us who are workers and the employers in the companies. Because why do they take most profit? If the raw material is produced by us and the production is everything, then what about us? We do it for the development of the country but their salaries are completely different from mine. If we are essential, then they have to value our work as essential.