At 87, my mother hadn’t voted for years. So a few weeks ago when she told me and my sister Peaches that she wanted to vote in the next general election, I was happy to go online and record it.
I quickly remembered the 1970s when, as a single mother, she was raising four children on her own at a time when women had few rights and fewer opportunities for advancement in the workplace. Jobs were scarce in our new hometown of Flagstaff, but she found work as a hostess at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant and often brought her famous burgers home.
She often took me with her when she voted.
Later, after several previous attempts, she finally passed the employment exam for the telephone company and was hired as a switchboard operator. She did a lot of work for us, but by simply dialing “0” I could usually call my mom instantly on the phone.
My mother was a pioneer
We were poor. There really is no other way to tell. Although every penny counts, Mom still joined the union and happily paid her union dues because she believed in workers’ rights.
I remember she had taken me to hear a union leader speak in 1972. I was 11 years old. We were in a union hall in East Flagstaff and the union leader even got into the back of a flatbed truck to make his point on the lettuce boycott. His name was Cesar Chavez.
I was fascinated. There was someone who looked like me (or maybe I looked like him) talking about fair wages for hard work and the right to organize. And the people listened. A bit of a dramatic child, I used to make a rather comical impression of Cesar Chavez: “Don’t eat lettuce. Your tacos are still good without them.
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My mother was sort of a trailblazer. She was among the first women to work in the Supply Yard, a stubborn bastion of machismo. On the first day, she found the office full of porn magazines and pin-ups. She wrapped them all up and left a note for all the men to see: “If one of them belongs to you, claim it today because tomorrow they will be in the trash.”
No one claimed them.
Later, the woman who years before had repeatedly failed her driver’s test was driving a forklift. Failure has never been an option.
She became a shop steward and later became a shop steward. Although she did not finish high school, she graduated to eventually become president of the Communications Workers of America union for northern Arizona. The distinction of never having lost a union grievance against an officer or the company is still relevant today.
His ballot has arrived, but I’ll vote instead
I once asked him for his “secret weapon”. She said it was no secret; it’s called “integrity” – and it’s out there for everyone to see, but it’s also there when no one is looking.
As a longtime journalist, as a public policy researcher / author / communicator, as a teacher, as a colleague and as a manager, as a volunteer board member, as a ‘friend / neighbor / family member, as a person I have always tried to respect this’ secret weapon’.
My mother was fortunate enough to retire 25 years ago. As she became fragile and more vulnerable, I welcomed her into my home to take care of her as she took care of me. As she got older, she wasn’t as plugged into the news and politics as she used to be.
She stopped voting.
Fast forward to 2020, and Mom was ready to vote again in what rightly calls the most important election of our lives. “We are so proud of you,” my sister told my mother. I had the honor of registering to vote for this lovely person, mother of seven and grandmother / great grandmother / great great grandmother of so many others.
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His ballot arrived in the mail the other day, but it will not be completed or returned by mail. Her integrity fully intact, Virginia Garcia died on October 6, the day before the early voting began and ballots were mailed out.
Although she will not vote, saddened but resolved, I pledge on her behalf that my ballot will be completed, signed, sealed and returned.
I ask you to make a similar pledge for someone special in your life – past, present or future – and make sure you vote in this important election.
Democracy must live. Families are counting on us.
Joseph Garcia is Executive Director of the Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, CPLCActionFund.org, a non-profit advocacy organization for equity and social justice through voter empowerment, education and engagement and elected officials. This column originally appeared in the Republic of Arizona.