When my friends and I were little, May Day meant walking home from school carrying cone-shaped baskets made of woven construction paper filled with tissue paper flowers. On the way home, we would hang the May Baskets on the doorknobs of our adopted neighbor "grandmas" and on doors or mailboxes of random people in our neighborhood. We were taught that this was an act of kindness.
Later, we learned that May Day is celebrated as International Labor Day. In midwest suburbia we were shown footage of communist marches and were told workers in other places did not work hard because there was no incentive to get ahead like in the US. We heard little or nothing about protest marches in our own capital or cities. We thought May Baskets were for little kids.
On May Day 2017, social media showed us marches across the globe celebrating the hard work that everyday people do to support themselves, their families and their communities. In many places, marchers advocated for workers rights. In our home city in the US, 30,000 people marched in solidarity with workers, recognizing the work immigrants do in our community and raising up particular awareness of the widespread contributions of persons from Latin America. Many Latinx-owned businesses closed for the day to illustrate in a concrete way the impact which the Latinx community has on the local economy.
May Day 2017 in El Salvador was officially a day off from work. There were marches in the streets of San Salvador in support of workers and in support of the FMLN - the political party historically aligned with everyday working folk.
The following day in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church offices, the women around the lunch table shared their Labor Day activities with one another. A few had ridden in school buses with community members to the marches. It seemed everyone but me had gone out to eat and they were really interested in each other's food choices - nothing fancy, but also not typical Salvadoran foods. For this group of women, Labor Day included recognition of their work in and outside of the home, and freedom from cooking was a treat and a right. Like in the US, however, clearly someone is working to make pizza on Labor Day.
On the 3rd of May, we accompanied the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in presenting a workshop for a Migration Table (municipality-based focus group which includes representatives from mayor's offices, schools, health clinics, the police, community advocacy groups and the church). The office of Migration Ministry of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church is establishing Migration Tables in municipalities in which there are Lutheran Churches. (Note: a municipality includes all of the small communities in the zone surrounding the town.) The work of the a Migration Table is to understand the realities of migration at the local level, to accompany families who are forced to migrate due to threats or acts of violence, to discourage migration to the US for economic reasons, and to educate families about their options and rights.
The office of Migration Ministry was formed in response to a large increase in the migration of unaccompanied children to the United States in 2014. Children and families migrating away from threats and acts of violence is not a phenomenon in isolation, but is part of a web of history and complexity which includes the migration of individuals and families from El Salvador to the United States for work.
On May Day, the focus of many marches in US cities was on Latinx workers. There are between 1.6 and 2 million people born in El Salvador who are currently living in the US. The Salvadoran workforce in the US is sizable. Migration to the US for work with or without documents has never been the ideal nor the desired solution for Salvadoran families who are struggling to eat and have roofs over their heads, but migration north has been a reality for decades. On May Day, society gave some recognition to the work Salvadorans do at home and in the US, contributing to both economies and sustaining families on both sides of the border. For the Salvadoran Migration Tables and US organizations working in support of migrants, every day is May Day.
At the May 3rd Migration Table meeting, my attorney husband, led an introductory workshop on US immigration laws. The presentation evolves as US law, policy and practice in the US. This is a workshop which the two of us are adapting for youth, and is part of a series of Migration Table workshops being done by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Education is critical for families who need to make decisions surrounding migration. As I have been participating in these workshops, I find myself thinking that every US citizen should know this information. Awareness on May Day or marching on May Day is one thing, but I believe we have a minimal responsibility to be well-informed, and a greater responsibility to communicate with our government representatives and advocate for just and compassionate migration laws and policies.
Would you like a seat at the Migration Table?
This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the theme of migration - sort of a "migration for dummies" approach, of course with some stories. I have written a couple of previous migration-themed posts, which might be good to check out during the month of May Days.
A previous experience meeting with a migration table
Thoughts about borders during the crisis of unaccompanied minors