Ai-jen Poo On The Plight Of Domestic Workers
Domestic workers are in a fascinating position. They are poor or working-class women who live in both their own world and the upper-class world of their employers. They witness the difference between these realities daily. They might accompany their employers on vacation, but they never get a vacation themselves. They see employers taking taxis, but they return home on the bus. They know when one of their employers would rather spend four hundred dollars on a pair of shoes than pay them a living wage, because they watch it happen. It’s a brutal reminder of inequality.
It’s 1994, and I’ve been sentenced on drug charges to seven months in a minimum-security prison in California’s Mojave Desert. And yet I feel godlike: I have a single cell, one of the highest-paying jobs in the joint, and a poetry group called the Mad Poets. Also I’m writing a novel, making up my own little world, and this too makes me feel like a god.
Mr. Kim is abrupt. He is brief. He is short. He is terse. He is direct. He does not beat around the bush. He brooks no nonsense. He is from elsewhere. He does not say from where. He does not like that question. He says, “Elsewhere,” when you ask that question. He may or may not be married.
This is how I met Hugo: I pick up strange men in my car, sometimes two or three at a time. I drive to the parts of town where they offer their bodies: on street corners, outside the paint store and Home Depot and U-Haul. When I slow down, they cluster around like — I was going to say, “like flies around a plate of fruit” or “like bees around a flower,” but the truth is, they swarm my car like men desperate for work. Hugo was so bold he just opened my passenger door and climbed right in.