I push a partially shattered glass door of an incongruous looking office and walk past a group of Latino and African American men into the offices of the San Francisco Day Labor Program (SF-DLP) in the Mission district. It is a slightly chilly morning but that doesn’t deter the workers awaiting a job assignment from taking a break outdoors. Inside, rows of half-occupied chairs—like those seen in hospital waiting rooms—accost my eyes. The workers mill about, chat, read the newspaper, and one of them, Leon, reads the popular Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita. The spiritual detachment propounded in the Gita helps him overcome the despair of waiting, he claims. It is a long wait alright—barely 10 per cent of the waiting work force will work that day.
“The only way change is going to happen is from the bottom up.”
I believe that popular education starts from personal experience and builds a deliberate intentionality about trying to help people look at the conditions and issues they are dealing with on changing things and making things better.
I first heard about popular education when I was doing HIV prevention work in San Francisco with immigrant women. I started learning about some of the models that had been used in Latin America with immigrant communities, like the promotora de salud model. The premise of promotora de salud was that people in the community were the best messengers to other folks in the community. That was my introduction to popular education as a tool to help individuals learn and as a method of empowering and organizing communities.
At the South Asian Network (SAN) we work with youth and older South Asian people to engage them in dialogues on racism, violence within the family, and immigration. We look at how policies on these issues impact the community. The question is, how do we do that so that the community feels a sense of entitlement and ownership?
Popular education works with immigrant and refugee community leaders because it is something they can relate to based on cultural and historical background. It’s a style that we know as indigenous cultures, for example, myself as a Somali refugee. It’s based on people sharing knowledge and having open space to solve and create space where people work together. So it’s part of our culture even though we may not have the same words for it.
Immigration is once again at the center of national debate, deemed a major threat to
In 1998, 48-year-old Parvathi Ammal came to Cupertino, California from Madurai, India, to visit her distant but well-to-do relatives on their invitation. During her originally planned three-month stay, she helped the Gopalan family with household chores, including taking care of their two children and occasional cooking. At the end of her stay, the family invited her to continue living with them as a domestic help for a monthly payment of $300, convincing her that working informally and overstaying her visitor visa, were not crimes.