The Dignity and Value of Work and Family

by | Sep 2, 2014 | Other

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

Amable Alvarez grew up in a poor, rural village in Spain. As a child, he never got the chance to attend school because his family couldn’t afford to be without his help on the farm. But, every once in a while, Amable would slip away to listen outside the village schoolhouse, following along with the lessons and learning how to read and write using a stick and dirt.

As a teenager, Amable’s drive inspired him to take a boat to the United States in order to work in the steel mills of Ohio, where he put in long days and saved all his money. He eventually returned to Spain to try and start a small business, but the strains of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship led him to return to the United States — this time with his wife, Isolina.

Because he had no formal education, Amable worked as a laborer and eventually became a building superintendent in New York City. He was bright, handy and could do it all when it came to building maintenance — despite being self-taught. He learned English by reading the Encyclopedia Britannica and the New York Times.

In a short time, he was managing several buildings and making a decent living during tough economic times. Isolina was right there with him. She never learned to read or write, but she raised their three children, and did the traditional work of a man to protect the family’s livelihood. Amable and Isolina were a team. Isolina didn’t get paid, but her contributions made Amable’s job and success possible. And she raised their children in a loving, nurturing home where everyone chipped in and family was more important than anything.

I’m honored to say that Amable and Isolina were my grandparents. Reflecting on their story around Labor Day and Grandparents Day this year has reminded me of just how much they taught my parents and me about work, family and opportunity — and how much their story is still relevant today. I am inspired by them as I fight every day for fair and family friendly workplace policies.

Sadly, too many people in this country face significant barriers to success at work and home, and many of them are women. Sometimes the barriers are as obvious as discrimination, poverty wages or erratic employer scheduling practices. Other times, it is the absence of a policy like paid family and medical leave that keeps workers from succeeding at work and caring for their families.

My grandparents instilled in me the value of hard work. They had a vision of a country and world where people have equal opportunity and everyone can contribute and have a good life. I hope all of you who share that vision will join me in telling elected officials that it’s time for a fair and family friendly America — so our legacy to our grandchildren is a country that offers equal opportunity for all. As Amable and Isolina taught me: There should be dignity in work, and family is everything. No one should have to choose.