So why do I do this work?
I arrive early Saturday evening at an affordable housing development in Quincy, having been invited by the developer, the Asian Community Development Corp. The meeting shows on my calendar for an hour and a half.
I meet with a group of about eight residents and others in a windowless but well-lit common area on the first floor of the apartment building. Most of the residents are Chinese, but not all, and most are relatively recent immigrants. After introductions, the residents begin asking questions. They ask about the future of the MBTA, conveying how important it is to them to get to and from work, family, and friends. They express concerns about the costs of housing in the Boston and Quincy areas, worrying that they will not be able to afford homes. They talk about child care costs, detailing how much of their incomes are spent on pre-school and after school programs. They are pleased with the local public schools, but nonetheless have some thoughts about special education programs and charter schools. And, they inquire about English classes, educational opportunities and training programs, stressing the importance of each.
These people, mostly women, are working long hours. Some are working two jobs. One had been working for a medical practice, where she was trusted with passwords and recordkeeping and billing. They paid her only $9.00 an hour. She also worked and still does at a hotel. Today she had been scheduled to work from 7:30 in the morning until almost 11:30 p.m., but she took the evening off to attend our meeting. Her husband was working many hours as well. She and her husband are concerned about the little time they have to spend with their children. With the costs of housing, childcare, insurance and transportation, they have few options, but she remains hopeful.
Another woman, with graduate degrees earned in China, has started her own business, working long hours on the computer out of her home while her husband with a doctorate works for a national bank, underemployed. She learned to speak English on her own, and speaks it quite well, but worries that the long waiting lists for English programs are causing others to be unemployed or underemployed, despite impressive educations and skills.
One woman, not Chinese but American, stays at home with her children while her husband works many hours earning low wages in the food service industry. She tells me how she engages her children, encouraging them to read, like her, beyond what presents on social media. She’s had her challenges in life, but her intelligence and commitment to her children, wanting them to work for good educations and opportunities, shows an incredible determination.
Honestly, sometimes I come out of meetings like these a little worn down. They are very valuable, in that they provide insight into the lives of the people I represent, but often they are somewhat discouraging, as neither I nor the Commonwealth has the ability to quickly and fully meet the needs expressed.
This meeting, however, is different. Despite the realization that their needs are many, and the Commonwealth’s resources limited, I am incredibly encouraged. They share their stories on behalf of the many like them, willing to work, willing to sacrifice, willing to do what it takes to make the lives of their children, and all children, better. This group does not ask for anything for themselves. Rather, they urge me and others in government not to forget people like them, to fight to give them and their children a chance. That’s all.
Over three hours after arriving, I leave for the short trip home, reminded of why I do this work.