Wednesday, November 30, 2016: all REGS & EOS (final box for EOs)
Of all places, this Thanksgiving I found myself in Pebble Beach, California. My uncle and his family live out in the Bay Area, as well as 2 of my 4 cousins. We hadn’t seen them in 5 years. So our family decided to have a reunion over the Thanksgiving holiday.
While it was wonderful to see family and really cool to see the next generation of cousins meet and play, the trip itself was a bit of a beast. It was physically exhausting to travel so far with little kids, and being surrounded by so much wealth was mentally stressful and saddening.
Prior to this trip, I had just finished reading the UW Go Big Read, Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. It’s an ethnographic exploration of the connection between unstable housing, eviction, and poverty in Milwaukee. On our drive to the Milwaukee airport, I was peering out the window at the rooftops, wondering what struggles were playing out in those neighborhoods. For so many, a broken down car, or one visit to the ER is enough to throw an entire family’s housing stability off-kilter.
We arrived in SanFrancisco and then drove south. Between SanFrancisco and the Monterey Bay area is some of the densest vegetable production in California. These areas are particularly well-known for garlic, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts. Mike and I were rubbernecking like crazy try to identify crops and infrastructure as we drove by. Fields and fields of plastic were covering the land so plants could be fumigated. Farm fields were covered overhead in powerlines, as so much power is needed to run the pumps that irrigate. Evidence of worker poverty was everywhere.
And then all the sudden, we found ourselves in Pebble Beach. My affluent aunt and uncle put us up in a fancy hotel in Carmel. The wealth surrounding us made me feel really uncomfortable. The gorgeous beach homes were around $5 million dollars at a minimum. Every driveway had at least one fancy BMW. Many of these homes were 2nd and 3rd homes for people. The poor farm workers in the artichoke fields and the thought of those rooftops in Milwaukee juxtaposed with the opulence of Carmel was very difficult for me to contain.
My cousins, who I love dearly, grew up in this wealth. And while they work hard at their jobs, they find themselves working hard in a cycle of wealth. Conversely, the kids who grow up in a family facing eviction in Milwaukee may also work extremely hard, but find themselves working hard in a cycle of poverty. And of course, this applies to me too. I too work hard – not in a cycle of poverty, nor in one of of wealth, but in a cycle of privileged middle class stability.
I feel heavy, tired, and sad from it all. That there can be so much poverty. That there can be so much wealth. Coexisting in time and space.
I am so thankful for the stability my family has. And I am inspired to help others achieve their own stability, to break the cycle of poverty. If you are interested in these issues, I highly recommend reading Evicted. If further inspired, there are some really wonderful organizations in our area that work to help folks stay in stable housing. The Road Home; Porchlight’s Eviction Prevention Program; and the Tenant Resource Center.
Here’s hoping you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!