“In all shapes and sizes, beauty is recognized
Goddess and queens is what we use to describe
Now Michelle Alexander wrote the new constitution
Beyoncé made the music for the revolution
Imagine it, a world more compassionate”
– Common, The Day Women Took Over
One of my favorite rappers, Common, has a song titled ‘The Day Women Took Over’ where he describes a day in the life of the U.S. after women take over the halls of power, society, and culture. On this day, “women get paid as much as men do” and we see “Monuments in Washington of Fanny Lou Hamer.” I get excited chills thinking about what kind of America we would have if Michelle Alexander, civil rights activist and author of The New Jim Crow, rewrote our constitution like Common imagines. It would mean the end to mass incarceration and legal slavery as we know it. Ella Saltmarshe writes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that “we can use story to create immersive scenarios of the future that engage people on an emotional and intellectual level”. The power of Common’s song lies in his ability to paint a picture of a utopia that seems very plausible in our lifetime because of his references to modern day women, like Beyoncé, already creating this more just and perfect world.
Mayday, also known as International Workers Day, is a day in New York City where we celebrate the resistance led by immigrant communities and undocumented workers. And I wonder what a song titled ‘The Day Immigrants Took Over’ would sound like. What victories and celebrations would undocumented workers and children of immigrants, such as myself, include in our song?
Listening to Common’s song, I imagine how story, a core practice in my work at Center for Whole Communities, can be used as a tool and practice of liberation. I imagine how my story is one of liberation. Being raised by a single mother who had to overcome her struggles in the face of racism and sexism gives me insight. On Mayday in Brooklyn, I look to her story to imagine The Day Immigrants Took Over.
My mother first arrived to the U.S. in 1985 when she was 23. She came to NYC and did not speak any English, hadn’t finished high school, and didn’t know how she would establish a life for herself in America. She worked hard selling leather goods in lower Manhattan while training to become a home care nurse. When I was born, despite the fact that she had an incredible work ethic, she was a single, working-class mother with broken English and no formal education. This meant that the intersecting oppressive systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism would result in multiple job losses, poor pay, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination. Growing up, these issues would never go away and impacted our struggle to survive. Even worse, I spent a significant portion of my childhood believing that our struggles came from personal or character flaws that were just part of who we were.
As I write this blog post, I wonder how much of what I internalized at a young age was because of the dangerous story we were being told about people of color and “bad” immigrants. Why wasn’t I told about the beauty of our survival in the face of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism? It wasn’t until I got to college and became involved with my school’s center for students of color and the Women’s Center that I would come to appreciate and understand the interlocking systems of oppression shaping my upbringing. Practices such as story and working across difference, core to our work and theory of change at CWC, helped me uncover a narrative of resistance and perseverance in my upbringing. I discovered in my story that despite the interlocking systems of oppression in my mother’s life, she protected us at all cost to give us a better life down the road. In some small and intimate ways, her protection of me and herself already represented a day in which immigrants took over. Her battles for dignity and protection of us were a fight against white supremacy. That’s what my mother did for me every single day of my life. Our love for one another was birthed in that struggle for survival.
“The Day Women Took Over” by Common is a beautiful song painting an Afro-futuristic vision of what our country would look like if those at the margins of society had power, agency, and self-determination. I don’t think that my version would be too different from his. My song, “The Day Immigrants Took Over”, would fight the illegitimate stories being sold and fed to us every day of immigrants being “dangerous” and “scary.” We would no longer have I.C.E. raids and detention centers would be transformed into social justice organizing hubs led by the people. The gender wage gap would cease to exist and borders would be no more. Common’s version calls for “a world more compassionate.” At the core of “The Day Immigrants Took Over” would be a reclaiming of our story and a narrative of collective liberation.
“The Day Immigrants Took Over” would be a celebration of working across difference and humanity. It would be the perfect remix to a revolutionary song and the official anthem to Mayday festivities.
Josh Carrera is a proud New Yorker that grew up in Brooklyn to a first generation Ecuadorian immigrant family. During his years in college and graduate school, Josh’s interests led him to study sustainable development and international relations in Ecuador, Mexico, and Brazil. More recently, Josh has been involved in local environmental and housing issues in his native city. One of Joshua’s proudest accomplishments has been organizing a six-day volunteer event where New Yorkers planted close to 8,000 trees over six days at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Josh is a founding member of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification, an activist project which uses art as a form of protest against the rapid neo-colonization of Brooklyn neighborhoods. Josh is a proud collective member of Mayday Space – a social justice movement space where he is working on building a radical library that values truth, critical thinking, and justice. In his free time, Josh loves to take salsa and bachata classes or photograph the newest city he is visiting.