Monday, November 10, 2014
November 4, 2014 Voting Polls: Is Our Government Racist Even With A Black President
Breaking the Afro-Latino Yoke in Western MA...
On August 20, 2014 I entered the City of Holyoke’s City Hall auditorium to attend the mandatory Poll Worker training. I noticed Mike Carlson of LHS Associates, the trainer, had no LCD screen to project images of the ballot machine and, no microphone. The crowd murmured they couldn’t hear Carlson. Amongst the mostly retired white female senior citizens I spotted a sprinkling of Latino and African Americans. Carlson didn’t speak about the voting process, how to steward recently moved residents, incomplete voter lists, or how to educate voters without influencing their vote. Despite having worked in my ward last November and attending the September training; I never received a call to work. The day before the election I called Brenna McGee, the City of Holyoke’s new Registrar of Voter Clerk. After some phone tag, I received a voicemail.
“Actually, my bilingual person called out so, I do have an opening but you need to get back to me right away.”
I returned the call and confirmed myself for the morning shift at Falsetti Towers - a housing project for senior citizens in a predominantly Latino community.
“I am here to work,” I insisted pointing to myself and then, inside. A white police officer signaled me to enter the polling site with his index finger.
“She’s here to work,” Susan Rosa yelled over to Larry Ryan, the poll Warden.
Larry walked outside on his cell phone returning with another Latina woman. When I looked up I realized they were both walking towards me. Larry bent over my table and quietly informed me
“Uh, I just got a call from City Hall; this woman was previously scheduled and she’s supposed to be here. They called you but, I was just told to ask you to leave.”
“I am not leaving, “I refused.
“I don’t want any problems; I will leave,” the Latina woman offered.
“No, we should both stay. Why can’t there be more than one bilingual person when this is a predominantly Latino community?” I questioned.
“We, don’t need more than one; we don’t get that many,” Lynn, my table partner, whispered. The woman left.
“I’m so sorry,” Lynn apologized. From across the room, I heard Larry say
“I don’t get paid enough for this bullshit.”
Voters streamed in non-stop and 75 percent were Spanish-speakers who bypassed Larry, Sue and Carol coming over to me. Latino male elders posted outside the voting site ushered voters straight to me because I would help them. In between streams, Lynn asked
“So you think our government is racist even with having a Black president?”
“Perhaps that young man in Ferguson was a thug but, it just kills me about that other one...what was his name?”
“Trayvon Martin?” I offered.
“Yes, oh, that just kills me every time I see it.”
Most of her references were based on mainstream characterization of people of color asking me
“Why are Black neighborhoods so dirty?”
I overheard Larry ask a Spanish-speaking woman at the registration table
“Who’s stupid, you? I’m not stupid.” Larry greeted residents mockingly “Kielbasa!”
I overheard a son helping his mother.
“We need you here.” I said. The young man smiled.
“You can do this; it’s not hard. Go down to City Hall and request an application to work as an election poll worker, next year,” I encouraged him.
“Really, where do I go?” he asked.
“Just go right over to,” I started.
“Could you help this man?” Larry demanded pointing to an English speaking voter I had already helped.
“I will,” I answered.
“No, go now!” Larry shouted.
“I will go when I am finished talking with this young man!”
Later, Sue brought over a senior Native American, resident of the housing development.
“Her name is N- E-P-A-L,” she over annunciated in a loud voice as if I was hard of hearing.
Ms. Nepal’s difficulty to speak and walk made her commitment to her civic duties all the more honorable. I felt truly humbled to be in her presence; Ms. Nepal wasn’t the only one though. Ms. Basilisa Maldonado an Afro-Latina senior resident stood straight as an arrow waiting patiently to vote and be checked out. Ms. Maldonado’s graceful yet deliberate stride stole my attention and, I had to ask her PCA her age.
“She will be 103 years old December 1st,” she confirmed.
I wanted to sit at her feet and relish her wisdom. But, I settled for asking her permission to include her by full name in this article. As Ms. Nepal left the voting site I overheard Sue telling Larry
“What?” Larry asked.
“She’s Indian!” Sue repeated louder. “You know, bwhoobwhoowhoo!” mockingly beating her mouth with her hand.
I believe this account answers Ms. Lynn Seward’s question:
“Do you think our government is racist even with a Black president?”