Student Talks with His Former Teacher About How He Helped His Mom to Make Ends Meet When He Was a Kid

Student Talks with His Former Teacher About How He Helped His Mom to Make Ends Meet When He Was a Kid.

In the most recent episode of the animated video series from StoryCorps, A young college man named Noe Rueda talks with his former teacher Alex Fernandez about his childhood and how he found inventive ways to help his mom to make ends meet while growing up poor in Chicago.

Noe Rueda grew up poor in Little Village, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. As young as 8 years old, Noe often relied on his entrepreneurial talents to help his mom and three siblings make ends meet. At StoryCorps, Noe tells his high school teacher Alex Fernandez about his childhood, and Alex shares his dreams for Noe’s future.

Welfare is a Women’s Issue (1972) by Johnnie Tillmon


Welfare is a Women’s Issue (1972) by Johnnie Tillmon

I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. And I’m on welfare.

In this country, if you’re any one of those things you count less as a human being. If you’re all those things, you don’t count at all. Except as a statistic.

I am 45 years old. I have raised six children. There are millions of statistics like me. Some on welfare. Some not. And some, really poor, who don’t even know they’re entitled to welfare. Not all of them are black. Not at all. In fact, the majority-about two-thirds-of all the poor families in the country are white.

Welfare’s like a traffic accident. It can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women.

And that’s why welfare is a women’s issue. For a lot of middle-class women in this country, Women’s Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on welfare it’s a matter of survival.

Survival. That’s why we had to go on welfare. And that’s why we can’t get off welfare now. Not us women. Not until we do something about liberating poor women in this country.

Because up until now we’ve been raised to expect to work, all our lives, for nothing. Because we are the worst educated, the least-skilled, and the lowest-paid people there are. Because we have to be almost totally responsible for our children. Because we are regarded by everybody as dependents. That’s why we are on welfare. And that’s why we stay on it.

Welfare is the most prejudiced institution in this country, even more than marriage, which it tries to imitate. Let me explain that a little.

Ninety-nine percent of welfare families are headed by women. There is no man around. In half the states there can’t be men around because A.F.D.C. (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) says if there is an “able-bodied” man around, then you can’t be on welfare. If the kids are going to eat, and the man can’t get a job, then he’s got to go.

Welfare is like a super-sexist marriage. You trade in a man for the man. But you can’t divorce him if he treats you bad. He can divorce you, of course, cut you off anytime he wants. But in that case, he keeps the kids, not you.The man runs everything. In ordinary marriage, sex is supposed to be for your husband. On A.F.D.C., you’re not supposed to have any sex at all. You give up control of your own body. It’s a condition of aid. You may even have to agree to get your tubes tied so you can never have more children just to avoid being cut off welfare.

The man, the welfare system, controls your money. He tells you what to buy, what not to buy, where to buy it, and how much things cost. If things-rent, for instance-really cost more than he says they do, it’s just too bad for you. He’s always right.

That’s why Governor [Ronald] Reagan can get away with slandering welfare recipients, calling them “lazy parasites,” “pigs at the trough,” and such. We’ve been trained to believe that the only reason people are on welfare is because there’s something wrong with their character. If people have “motivation,” if people only want to work, they can, and they will be able to support themselves and their kids in decency.

The truth is a job doesn’t necessarily mean an adequate income. There are some ten million jobs that now pay less than the minimum wage, and if you’re a woman, you’ve got the best chance of getting one. Why would a 45-year-old woman work all day in a laundry ironing shirts at 90-some cents an hour? Because she knows there’s some place lower she could be. She could be on welfare. Society needs women on welfare as “examples” to let every woman, factory workers and housewife workers alike, know what will happen if she lets up, if she’s laid off, if she tries to go it alone without a man. So these ladies stay on their feet or on their knees all their lives instead of asking why they’re only getting 90-some cents an hour, instead of daring to fight and complain.

Maybe we poor welfare women will really liberate women in this country. We’ve already started on our own welfare plan. Along with other welfare recipients, we have organized so we can have some voice. Our group is called the National Welfare Rights Organization (N.W.R.O.). We put together our own welfare plan, called Guaranteed Adequate Income (G.A.I.), which would eliminate sexism from welfare. There would be no “categories”-men, women, children, single, married, kids, no kids-just poor people who need aid. You’d get paid according to need and family size only and that would be upped as the cost of living goes up.

As far as I’m concerned, the ladies of N.W.R.O. are the front-line troops of women’s freedom. Both because we have so few illusions and because our issues are so important to all women-the right to a living wage for women’s work, the right to life itself.


Review: Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm


Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link 


To set the background: Mardi jo Link lives on a sort-of farm in Northern Michigan with her three sons. I say sort-of farm because she has horses and a veggie garden. (Horses!  Do you know how expensive horses are to have?!) She has 6 acres, which sure… that can qualify  as a small  farm but it’s really more like backyard homesteading.

Mardi has her “dream life” with her horses,kids,and husband and then, the husband isn’t so dreamy and they get divorced. This is the basis of the entire memoir : Divorced,single mother,broke, raising 3 kids on a farm by herself. Not a unique story. It’s one that comes through my inbox a few times a week from readers of this blog. I probably compared way too much to those personal stories because I kept thinking, “This lady doesn’t have it so bad.” I mean, there are people who only contact me through email because they can’t leave any trace of themselves online for fear of their ex-abuser tracking their activity and somehow finding them. Some of them are living in shelters. Even without the domestic violence element, there are a LOT of newly single mamas struggling to get through. So, Mardi jo isn’t alone,no, but I appreciate there being a narrative out there like hers that explains this reality.

But Mardi Jo has some advantages. She has a $300,000 house with property to grow food and keep animals. Her ex husband rents a house across the street, so although it’s not mentioned, I’m assuming he’s available to co-parent and lend that support. Her boys are all in school so she doesn’t need daycare.  She has a vehicle. Her ex actually pays the child support he’s ordered to pay her.

The disadvantage is that since she stubbornly refused to sell the farm, she had to be responsible for the mortgage while her only real source of income is an editing job and the child support. In Internet land, we poor people would be told this is a stupid choice.
(And STILL with the horses! At least in the beginning…)
Just read any thread online where a poor person is telling what it’s like to be poor and house downsizing is always given as one of those “helpful pointers”. One of the readers of this blog was even told once that she should build a shed and rent out her double wide trailer.

And I truly understand Mardi jo’s desire to keep the house. Having the land gives the opportunity to be self-sufficient, which is money in the bank, so to speak.

She was raised like I was: You DO NOT ask for help. That’s a sign of weakness. On this point,I can DSC_0559relate.  She refuses to apply for assistance because that’s not what “her people” do. Yeah, I was like that once and literally could have starved because of it . It was SO frustrating for me to hear that credo repeated over and over again ,while she and her boys were hungry.

But FINALLY, she at least applies for free school lunch, even though she’s mortified at being judged by the school.

Of that experience, Mardi jo said this in an interview:
“Yeah, I was pretty resolute that I would never ask for government assistance. Not that I’m against that; I know that there are people who need it. But I always had this idea that that was for other people. I was educated. I had been raised in an intact family. I’d had advantages that other people probably didn’t, so I certainly didn’t think that I should take advantage of any public assistance. And yet nine months into that year, I had signed my kids up for  reduced lunches at school. That was a line that I thought I would never cross. I think the only reason I did was that it wasn’t for me, it was for them; it was important that they have a nutritional meal every day. It was temporary, only March and April, but it was pretty hard to step over that line. It made me realize things would have to change pretty soon or we would have to sell or just let it go to the bank.”

She mentions her advantages there in that interview but all through the book, I kept waiting for that acknowledgment. There was gratitude and feeling blessed for her sons and when something good happened. I probably would have been less irritated consistently if there had been more of that.

The parts I was least inclined to be irritated: any and all gardening talk, DIY stuff, and chickens (even though…who orders chickens through mail order and expects to get full grown chickens?). She  has one horribly heartbreaking food loss that I could relate to. During a power outage, she lost most of an entire butchered pig because the freezer wasn’t on. ( For me, it was because I couldn’t pay the electric bill nor buy ice to keep the food until it was turned back on). Losing food when you have no grocery money is one of the worst things.

I was thoroughly prepared to hate this memoir based on the title alone. Oh, the myth of the bootstrapper …hard working people who pull themselves out of poverty all on their own because they tried hard enough and wanted it bad enough.  So,maybe I went into this with some presumptions and ready to be overly critical. While I ended up not hating this as much as I thought I would, it wasn’t my favorite “getting through the struggle and ending up ok” memoir.

Also, in the end…she met a man and didn’t have to worry so much anymore, anyway. Yay for happy endings.









Poverty Lit: “Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. … I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready.”


It’s the 75th anniversary of Grapes of Wrath. Grapes Of Wrath’ Is 75, But Its Depictions Of Poverty Are Timeless  on NPR talks about the timeless depiction of poverty and the American reactions to the book.


This feels particularly true still…

“Part of the shock, initially, was resistance to believing that there was that kind of poverty in America,” she says. “Other people thought that Steinbeck was a communist, and they didn’t like the book because they thought that that collective action that the book is moving towards — because it really is moving from ‘I’ to ‘we’ — was threatening to, sort of, American individualism.”


Tom Joad’s speech in the film gets me every time.

“I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark,” Tom says. “I’ll be ever’where — wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. … I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.”


Library Loot: Feb 26th to March 4th

On a fairly regular basis on my personal blog, I used to participate in a  blog hop called Library Loot a weekly event co-hosted by Claire fromThe Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.  I think I’ll start doing it here from time to time because I do think libraries are very relevant to poor folks. We’ve already talked here about how the library is a valuable resource for Internet services but obviously, it’s great for other stuff ,too.

I used this  How Much Money Does Your Library Save You? calculator  . Now, “save” isn’t exactly correct because I don’t usually have money to spend on books,movies, classes,and any other things the library offers. But according to the calculator, if I were purchasing or paying for these items or services, it works out to be about $20,000 a year. Not just for me by myself,of course. That accounts for our whole family of 7.

Yeah, we use the library a lot.
We pay it forward a little by donating our used books to the bi-annual book sales and in the past, I’ve helped out with some of the children’s programming. I literally visit my library 5 days a week. As a treat, my son goes there after school sometimes to play the wii (we don’t have game systems at home) or just to hang out with his friend and play Pokemon or do lego builds at one of the tables.  Plus, they have a magazine exchange shelf that I frequently check and contribute copies to. I really love magazines but don’t have money to subscribe to my favorites. It’s like winning the lottery when I find copies of Brain, Child , PasteMother Earth News (and all sorts of other gardening/homesteading mags), Mother Jones, and on and on. I end up reading a lot of magazines I would have never even thought of reading before just because they’re there.

I just love my library,ok?

So, this is a sampling of what we have out right now from the library:

I intended to do reviews for all of these that we read on Goodreads (if you’re there, you can follow me here ) but considering I started the draft for this post on Monday evening… yeah, I haven’t gotten to it yet.
There’s a few not in the picture because they were in different rooms of the house and I forgot about them. Poor excluded books.

I will probably do a review separately of the Sweet Potato Lovers Cookbook with gratuitous food & recipe pics.

The one huge disappointment here was Sherlock. It’s Season 3, which I haven’t seen yet. But silly me wasn’t paying attention and grabbed the Bluray copy. We don’t have a Blu-ray player, so that didn’t do me much good.
Well, we do have a Blu-ray player but it’s way old and doesn’t play blu-ray discs anymore, only dvds.

My little guy’s favorite book this week was Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales.   





Here’s a video of the author reading it. She reads it MUCH better than I do. My Spanish is quite awful, even though I took 4 years of it in high school and Spanish is my step-children’s native language, so it’s used often around me. Something tells me my 3 year old will speak better Spanish than I do before too long.

So, that’s just a quickie look at some of our Library Loot this week. Yay, libraries!


parting shot from my little "helper"

parting shot from my little “helper”



Review: The Garden

The Garden

In the aftermath of The La Riots , the city of Los Angeles  gave the citizens of South Central LA a piece of property as a healing gesture. The land was to be used for a community garden, in the heart of the inner city. For 12 years, about 350 families farmed the 14 acres of land, making it a jewel in urban America – the largest urban garden anywhere in the US.Then quite suddenly, The Garden residents  were ordered to vacate the property. The original owner, through what can only be describes as suspicious political dealings, had bought the land back and wanted the farmers ..and the farm…off the land. He intended to use the land “as it was intended” – to develop the property & build warehouses.

The Garden documents the community’s struggle to keep the land that they had devoted so much time & energy into for 12 years.  The land fed their families, taught their children the value of community ,nature & self-sufficiency. In a community of all low income families, primarily Latino, the garden is what kept them from slipping farther into poverty, maintaining themselves on food they proudly grew themselves.  Not only it is a struggle for the land, it’s a struggle against greed,racism, dishonest politics & classism. The citizens also must deal with conflicts among themselves, as they try to sort out the anger that’s bound to result from one man & a city telling them that a piece of property is worth more than they are.

Intensely emotional to watch (or maybe only if your a rabid dirt-loving, real- food loving hormonal pregnant woman), The Garden is inspiring & infuriating all at once. The cause of The Garden was supported by some celebrity faces, who appear briefly in the film – most notably to me (since he’s one of my many Pretend Boyfriends) –  Zach de la Rocha  ,at a benefit concert organized to raise funds for the farmers to buy the land outright themselves.

A must-watch film for anyone concerned with sustainable food supply & urban farming, especially for low income families .

This post originally appeared on crazy dumbsaint of the mind on February 1,2010.

Review: Food Stamped

Originally posted January 7th, 2013 on crazy dumbsaint of the mind and edited for clarity & additional thoughts

Food Stamped documents Shira & Yoav Potash’s challenge to feed themselves on a food stamp budget. This has been on my To Watch list since it came out but my library just got a copy of it last week. I was the first one to check it out!   So, I watched the library’s virginal copy last night.Shira is a nutrition educator who teaches families how to eat well within a food stamp budget, as well as children. I used to do something similar in a program with Head Start families. It was that experience, as well as working with children in my own daycare ,that helped me to understand one of the key pieces to helping people eat well when they’re living on limited resources. It all has to do with education. I encountered a lot of families who had never made anything that didn’t come in a box or a can. I worked with children who could not identify common vegetables. Even a potato, despite french fries being a  staple of their diet. And really, this education is not just needed for poor people. This applied to every economic class.3D-DVD-coverWhen I started this food stamp series , I had a mission and that was very basically, to prove that you CAN eat healthy on a food stamp budget. It’s certainly become  diversified and I feel like I haven’t focused on things that need to be discussed in depth ( for example  I have over 3,000 words sitting in my drafts folder just about junk food and the complexities of why we should/shouldn’t prohibit certain items from being purchased on SNAP and why the current political climate isn’t going to allow change to happen anyway and why. It needs to be put out there but it needs edited so people don’t fall asleep reading it) . Overall though, this is still my main objective . This was also the basic premise Shira set out to explore :Can you eat healthy on a food stamp budget?

First of all, the amount Shira & Yoav worked with is quite a bit less than most food stamp challenges you read about. The amount they allowed was about $1 per meal for one week. Realistically, this is more accurate than the $35/week amount most challenges  work with. This has been hotly debated both here and on my Facebook page before. I also moderate a private group online for food stamp recipients and no one receives this amount of $35/person. Right now, we receive $20/person per week and that seems to be about the norm.The film showed both Shira and Yoav’s grocery shopping trip and also the grocery shopping trip of a food stamp recipient. Whereas Shira & Yoav’s objective was to eat healthy, the food stamp recipient represented the Standard American Diet.I took notes while watching and compared how we shop to both:

Shira & Yoav’s Grocery List

  • One thing that can’t be reflected in just a week challenge is the staple items you might buy that will last a whole month. Like for me, vinegar & baking soda are essentials because I also use them for cleaning …and along with the oil they purchased, they could have had salad dressing. Also flour…they could have made bread themselves.
  • During the summer months when we have good access to free produce thanks to the Veterans’ Sanctuary Farm and garden shares, we have a little bit more flexibility to buy the more expensive things like coconut oil. I think the jar of coconut oil I have right now was bought in September and I use it for many things (even making deodorant). It was$9 ,so not a purchase that could be made when I have no flexibility
  • They showed very well how every purchase requires forethought and how much planning needs to happen.During discussions of living within a food stamp budget, the critics will always scoff and point out that SNAP stands for SUPPLEMENTAL blah blah…. that the program isn’t designed to fund a recipient’s entire meal plan. This is where education of the general public fails and the disconnect with those people and the reality of living on food stamps. For most people, that is absolutely all there food budget is and for some, food stamps is the ONLY income they have.
  • I was happy to see that they supplemented with a little dumpster diving (for bread). Depending on  the city, there are some organizations who will collect all the perishable food from the supermarkets and distribute to those in need, so you don’t have to dumpster dive.
  • Yes, we eat a lot of beans,too. Not always organic and it’s honestly the last criteria I have when buying food. It’s important to have enough to feed my family and that takes priority over things like whether it’s organic or local.
  • I buy coffee. It’s not ethical coffee and I consider it my “sin item”. One of these days, I’ll quit it.

Richard (SNAP Recipient)

  • we do buy ramen,too but we throw the nasty flavor packets out (MSG makes me ill and my  kids don’t need it either).We just add spices and herbs to season. I joke that my Faux-Hubby should write a ramen cookbook because of the diverse dishes he can make with ramen noodles. We always add veggies..sometimes meat. The veggies aren’t always fresh .
  • Meat is always the first thing axed from the budget to allow for produce
  • Richard is type 2 diabetic (like my own dear Faux-Hubby) and admits that his diet isn’t what his doctor would recommend. I know from living w/ someone who doesn’t follow the best eating plan for a diabetic that it can be really hard to break out of the habits,even if you do know better.

They also visit a damn good food pantry. Here in my very small town, the food pantry very rarely has fresh produce. Actually, we don’t use the food pantry because most of what they offer is processed , pre-packaged foods. Obviously, if we were not making do within our food stamp budget, I’d have no problem accepting the food if I had to in order to feed my family but it’s not what I choose to feed them normally. It’s a last resort for me.


However, we have accepted food from The Friendship Donation Network, which is one of those organizations I mentioned before that collect perishable food  from supermarkets,restaurants, and caterers and distribute.Other than the actual experience of food shopping & cooking within the parameters of a limited budget, Food Stamped very thoroughly covers the basics of the hunger in America, the food stamp program itself , the political factors affecting poverty in America , the obstacles poor people face in accessing healthy food, and (hallelujah!) the relationship of The Farm Bill to SNAP. Shira & Yoav Potash did an excellent job at presenting the information that everyone should know, whether they are a critic of  SNAP, a concerned citizen who would like an activist role to play in food security, or a food stamp recipient. Rep Jim McGovern  and other politicians also appear to offer their input on why hunger is how it is and what should be done. As McGovern says, “Hunger is a political condition. We have all the resources, we have all the knowledge…we have everything we need to solve it. What we don’t have it political will.”

 I often feel that if  citizens were better informed on the issues, there would be more of a push to affect change and more pressure put on politicians to change the broken system.The harsher of my own critics who have followed the food stamp series here are the kind of people who could benefit the most from seeing all this information in one piece. I always feel so frustrated after watching a good documentary because I feel like the people who need the information the most will never take it upon themselves to watch it ,or if they do, they do so with their ingrained mindsets firmly planted and closed to receiving info that could even slightly alter their view. My local grassroots organization Back to Democracy hosts public viewings of documentaries on many topics and it’s always the same people who attend. People who already have an inkling on the subject matter and already would have a leaning to not only be receptive to any information learned but also be inspired to take action towards changing things.

As my friend Jennelle just said, “What annoys me more is people who should see a particular documentary and not only do they *not* see it, but then they comment on it like they’ve seen it when they’ve only vicariously seen it through whatever bullshit they’ve heard about it in the media.”

It’s SO true. I know I’m an altruistic dreamer but I really wish people could just be open to receive information purely and unfettered,without preconceived notions and bullshit clouding how they process it and exactly what Jennelle said…. be willing to get the information themselves instead of being fed what they know from other sources.So, see it or don’t but of all the information out there, this is one excellent resource to get the fundamental idea of the issues that affect those living on food stamps