On Lawyer “Imposters” and class and race

On Lawyer imposters and class and race

 The other day I had a lovely lunch with two former classmates from law school. We were talking about future and current work. We talked about striking out on our own – putting up our own shingle as they say. I said – well I just need to get brave.

 That opened up an amazing conversation about growing up working class & boundaries of class, gender & race. Background of who was in the conversation:

M: White, working class, grew up in a trailer park in the South.

J: Black, working class grew up in housing projects in NYC. Turned 60 while finishing law school at CUNY!

Me: Filipino/white grew up in white working class neighborhood in Chesterfield Va. Neighbors were school bus drivers, big rig drivers. My best friend lived in a trailer park of which fact I was jealous since they had a swimming pool at the trailer park. My mom’s best friend worked cleaning offices and at a 7-11 convenience store. My mom was the cafeteria lady at my school, cleaned houses, worked at a daycare, and a food sample lady at Costco despite having a 4-year degree from a regional college in the Philippines. My father has a 2-year degree in computers and was first of his family who went to college. (Sorry, more about me since I know more about me). All three of us cis-women over 40, don’t you love CUNY Law?

 All three of us talked about our crossing of class lines to become attorneys. We discussed our ambivalence about being attorneys. Attorneys have a certain swagger that we now know is unjustified. We have been through the same training, education, passed the NY Bar, and so we know that lawyers aren’t “all that.” We know that you graduate from law school knowing how to do next to nothing as a practicing attorney. If only the practice of law was about passing the Bar! We can do that. Yet, we see these mainly white cis-men of privilege in their suits strutting about “fronting” as J put it, and we feel aghast.

I realized that before I went to law school I never had an attorney friend. (Is this an oxymoron anyway?) It was going to law school that suddenly opened the gates to “the bar”. Suddenly, I have people to call when a friend is arrested or threatened with deportation. Suddenly, I am the person other people call for help, although I usually answer I don’t know. One of the secrets of being a “member of the bar” is that attorney don’t actually know much, we just know where to go get the answers.

 Is this class rage? And how does it work when we are the objects of that rage? I just realized that I tend to insult lawyers – WHILE in an interview for a lawyer position. Must be part of the reason I haven’t got a law job, ha! Some winners: “Well law isn’t rocket science,” and “Most lawyers think they know everything and I don’t” was what I answered when asked about one of my special skills. My advice to future law graduates, “don’t be an asshole.” Still good advice I think.

M brought up the very idea of work – for much of her life work is what you do with your body, like landscaping or working in a factory. We all have a sneaking suspicion that “Lawyering,” then, isn’t really work. I know I feel like that – like somehow I am stealing money or I feel guilty that I get paid to do what I do when I know many women, like domestic workers, work way harder than I do for much less wages.

Another former classmate of mine, posted on his FB page that when asked if he is an attorney, he says, “oh no, no I am not,” then remembers, yes, yes he is an attorney.

The problem is, for most of history, being a “member of the bar,” carried the special privileges of the moneyed, white, cis-gendered male. Suddenly, we are in the club but we have a sneaking suspicion that we were let in by mistake. Of course, now our role is to let everyone know that the truth – that the criminal injustice system is a racist system of incarceration and profit of Black and Brown bodies. It is our job to caution our friends against cries of “justice” and extra policing when one of us is attacked, to remind people that the police are not our friends. It is our job to rage against the racism of the immigration legal system and being lawyers, maybe people will listen to us. It is our job to mentor and help other people who were never slotted for the “club” to also gain entry (if they want).

 It is a hard and nearly impossible balancing act. Like the time a judge said some racist bullshit to one of my classmates while we were observing his courtroom. The legal profession is a small, petty, conservative, judgmental place & people of color attorneys can’t afford to get kicked out of the courtroom at every racist micro-aggression, and neither can our clients.

 Not sure where these musings are supposed to go. But maybe a dialogue? What is your experience out there?







Why We Love Manny Pacquiao the Boxer but not the Congressman ~ A Radical Ringside Commentary

Why We Love Manny Pacquiao ~ A Radical Ringside Commentary

** I wrote this piece several years ago before Manny became a Senator. Since becoming a Senator, I find it very hard to love Manny so much anymore. More about this at the end of this piece.

 As we gather, first generation Filipina/os, 2nd generation Filipina/os, middle–class, and peasants & workers to watch another Manny Pacquiao fight, I wonder at the pride and love we all feel in Manny, regardless of our background, politics and class.

 We love Manny because he smiles when he enters the ring.

We are a smiling people. It is how we survived colonization. I imagine that we smiled at Magellan, just before Lapu Lapu lopped off his head. We smiled at the Japanese conquerors while some of us escaped to join the Hukbalahap[1] in the mountains. This coping strategy means that we smile in the most inappropriate of situations. For example, in 2008, Manila was hit with a catastrophic amount of rain, and without an appropriate sewage system, people waded in polluted, filthy water to get to safety, but when the television camera landed on people fleeing their homes – they always turned and smiled.

Manny turns to all of us and smiles. It’s like he looks at us and says, “Yeah, we are some of the poorest of the world, but I am so happy to be here for us, representing that the Filipino people still survive and we still have joy.”

 We Love Manny because he lives with all of his friends and family.

 Over and over the American commentators always express astonishment at the friend and family that Manny brings with him wherever he goes. Our families are large and dysfunctional but we try to stay together. We work, love and struggle collectively. This probably comes from out pre-Spanish history. Many of our ancestors traveled the South China Sea in large boats called “barangays.” And now, this is what we call our neighborhoods, “barangays” – because we know are all in one boat together. This innate sense of interconnectedness helps maintain us when more than 10 million of us are now scattered all over the world as result of forced, economic displacement. Millions of us grow up without our mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins. We survive through creating community in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Queens, New York. We survive through living together on the railroad tracks outside Manila.

Manny knows this, he lived, hustled, and worked on the streets of General Santos City. He hasn’t forgotten that his strength comes from his clan, and so he travels with the his kababayan (fellow countrypersons). It’s like he built a huge barangay and sails it into every fight. As an act of love, he proposed a bill to make Freddy Roach a Filipino citizen. Why would anybody want to be a citizen of one of the poorest country’s in the world? Because Freddie knows that to be a Filipino/a means to never sail alone. If the boat is sinking, you will have 100 people trying to bail out the water. As Manny said recently : “Anuman na-achieve ko, tayong lahat yun.” All that I achieved, was an achievement by you(the people of the Philippines)”

 We love Manny because he sings Karaoke, Seriously. Manny has now sung on Jimmy Kimmel – live – three times! All super corny love ballads. But he sings them, for real, seriously, his heart on his sleeve, his eyes imploring into the camera. He sings like all our kababayan(fellow countrymen/women), who working overseas because of forced economic displacement, gather together in basements and boarding houses to sing the pop songs of their childhood and resist the crushing isolation of life overseas. It’s no coincidence that karaoke was invented by a Filipino.

      He is every Filipino, fresh off the boat – unashamedly not cool and with every American pop song committed to memory. We love him because we remember every time we were mocked for our accents and our unabashed passion for American love songs.   We know that if he wasn’t the best fighter in the world, he would be made fun of for his willingness to croon into the camera lyrics like “every time we touch, the honesty’s too much” without a single note of sarcasm.

 We Love Manny because he is the Philippines we aspire to be.

Manny is the smallest guy in the ring, he was the poor third-world kid who sold water to the rich petit bourgeoisie in the cars. But in the ring, he always emerges victorious. He amazes the whole world. No other fighter in history has successfully fought in so many weight classes. US President, McKinley patronizingly called us his “little brown brothers” before he sent in the United States Marines to colonize us and murder us. We are the workers, the maids, of the world. Our own country sells our bodies and labor into the world market – relying on our billions of remittances to keep the bloated, corrupt government afloat. Rather than investing in industry in the Philippines, which would give us jobs in our homeland, the Philippines is the home of some of the largest malls in the world.

But we know, deep down inside, that our country should/could be better. We have endless shores of beautiful beaches, deposits of nickel, oil off our shores, and the hardest working people in the world. We know that we should not be living in the streets, under bridges, on the railroad tracks. We used to be called the Pearl of the Orient.

Manny is our Pearl. For the twelve rounds he is in the ring, we forget the historical wrongs we have suffered. We watch him astound the world and so bring honor to our country. For a brief moment, the Filipino is victorious, our courage is undeniable, our strength is unsurpassed. For twelve rounds, Filipina domestic workers can forget that they are millions of miles away from their family, that they live their lives taking care of other people’s families while they to try to skype love across the oceans to their own families.

But at the end of the fight, we must remember that it’s the People who must lead.  At the end of the fight, Manny takes home a few million dollars, but the majority of Filipina/os continue to live everyday with the realities of starvation and deep poverty. Manny knows and remembers the desperation of that reality, and that’s why he gives us so much hope. But the real hope lies within us, the millions of Filipino/as that have the power to force the Philippine government to really work for the welfare of the people. This means a government that isn’t beholden to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but rather one that is run by the people and for the people. The next time we gather together to watch Manny fight yet another opponent, let’s also talk about the rich and corrupt leaders of the Philippines that continue to keep our country down for the count.

 Why I Don’t Love Manny Quite So Much, Addendum

I wrote the above several years ago and now we have some reasons to love Manny a little less. Since become a Senator, the Congressman Pacquiao has become quite the Christian, religious conservative. His own religious beliefs are his to have, of course, but he voted no on the historic reproductive rights bill in the Philippines’ Congress. This Bill, which was recently upheld by the Philippines’ Supreme court is not a radical bill, it doesn’t provide a right to abortion, for instance. “The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act, known as the RH Bill, strikes down some longstanding barriers for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, including access to natural and modern contraception and reproductive health information for adults” according to Amnesty International’s site. Filipina women needed this bill desperately, in order to make informed choices about their reproductive health. Manny let us all down by voting no on the Bill. So, even though I am rooting for him tonite as a boxer, I hope he stops pretending to represent the people as a Senator. And I REALLY hope he doesn’t run for President!


[1] Also known as the Huk Rebellion,  (1946–54), Communist-led peasant uprising in central Luzon, Philippines. The name of the movement is a Tagalog acronym for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, which means “People’s Anti-Japanese Army.”

If measured by how we treat the most vulnerable of us – charter schools would not do so well..

Amazing things happen in our public school all the time. Teachers who call me at night to discuss a wonderful thing my daughter accomplished, text messages of my children enjoying a group art project, a classroom project about Odetta – the voice of the Civil Rights movement. But there are tough times too, kids who act out or are disruptive in class.

Pic from NYC schools website

There is a recent NYTimes Op-Ed about stats that show children with special needs don’t do well in charter schools like Success Academy. In fact, statistics show that much of the “success” of charter schools is based on the fact that they push out children who can’t survive their “no-excuses” regimes, something that public schools can’t do. And should not do! Read the Op-ed here, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/opinion/charter-school-refugees.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=1

And read a great blog post about it here: https://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/quick-send-your-kids-to-charters-lest-they-be-tossed-in-the-lions-den-with-the-special-needs-student/

It has made me think of a child in particular that our public school has worked with this year and the impact on our children. First, to preface, my girl, is very sensitive and a tad on the anxious side, and other children’s emotional distress has a big impact on her. In the beginning of the year, there was a child who the school was trying to mainstream into our class. I, of course, don’t know all the details of her, or her IEP, but I knew enough to see that she was struggling. Her behavior was disruptive, she was angry in class. The teacher tried hard to work with the child, she also asked the class to try and work with the child. “Let’s all try and help X with his feelings and respect when he is feeling upset and give him space.” I think this was a good thing for my Girl to see, to see grown-ups give attention and caring to another human being who was hard to deal with & to NOT see a child thrown away or discarded.

Unfortunately, in the end, the child was unable to be mainstreamed and was removed from our class and placed in a different class. My children observed this transition, my girl was relieved, because the constant disruptions were hard for her. BUT what was outstanding/miraculous even was that they never learned to stigmatize or blame the child. My children used language that they obviously learned from the school, like “well he needs to learn to deal with his anger more” or “he was moved to a class where there is more support for him.” They learned to have compassion, love, and patience for someone struggling.

Again and again, I see my school treat struggling children with love and compassion. What do children in schools like Success Academy feel learn when their classmates get kicked out of school because they couldn’t follow the strict letter of the law?

Spring = Brooklyn Bike Park and some musings on grief of gentrification

Beginning of Spring = Brooklyn Bike Park opening

 In our Brooklyn Barangay, Spring is marked by the opening of the Brooklyn Bike Park – there is both Izzy and Alejandro..

 The Brooklyn Bike Park is built on the former parking lot for workers of the Domino Sugar factory. When we first moved here it was still operating, although with a skeletal workforce. What has happened to Domino’s reflects what has happened to manufacturing/processing throughout the US. The company closed and moved all it operations overseas a couple of years after we moved here, in 2004 or 2005. We continued to smell the sugar for years. The building and parking lots remained empty and abandoned. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs. Old photo of Domino’s Sugar below:

Today, Two-Trees developers bought it, after the previous developers went bankrupt. They plan to tear down most of the structure and build a massive structure with 2,300 apartments. Artist rendering below. This massive development will not add additional infrastructure like, subways or green space. But Two Trees “gave” the neighborhood this Bike Park and garden until they decide to take it to build their towers of condominiums. I think it is their way to try and buy us off. Recently, Mayor DeBlasio did force Two Trees to add more affordable housing to their plan but it is still overwhelmingly a project for the wealthier.



artistic rendering from Two Trees

 We love the Brooklyn Bike Park, it is great exercise for the kids, affordable, and we get to sit in the sun while they ride over hills and through corkscrews. But always in my mind, the shadows of the future towers loom over us. It brings to mind questions about who owns neighborhoods, gentrification, and dislocation. The other day I thought about the pain of gentrification, how histories of neighborhoods are stolen and erased by unfettered development. There was community here before the arrival of the ultrawealthy. The last standing survivors are still here, dazed and trying to make the best of things. It must be harder than I can imagine. When Two Trees takes back “their space,” to build more condos, my kids will get a small taste of what is like to have their neighborhood stolen from them, one lot at a time.