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Oldschool Economics

How working poor dealt with a declining economy

By Slowjoe
Published on LatinoLA: February 23, 2009


Oldschool Economics


What do you do in this current economy when all seems dismal? How do we ride out this dubious wave of complexity?

I've been poor before. It's been a while but I think I remember how. You see, if poor is something you've experienced, then reverting to it can be a natural transition. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be bothered by the current economic situation only that if choices are non-existent, you revert to the past and lessons learned to survive.

Being Mexican prepares you for such a situation. My brother Danny would cash his check and stuff all his pay in his pockets. When he run out he was broke. It's not rocket science.

When Danny wasn't working he'd go over to brother Art's house and drink beer. When they were both out of money they'd go to mine. If by chance I was out then we'd hit up David or Chris, our younger brothers. When you figure in our many cousins, uncles, and friends, well the possibility of not drinking beer was slim.

It seemed like no big deal being poor in those days; most around us were in the same boat. It made for some of the greatest times I can remember, times with family and friends. Making the best out of a situation, creatively carving out a good time. We never acknowledged our poverty. When your living poor you're not constantly comparing it to anything, only aspiring for better, hoping that the opportunities will come and you'll be able to propel yourself into prosperity. It wasn't just money but commonality, education, success and love driving our ambitions. Dreaming was a constant reminder that the best things are free. We realized optimism; that the less you have the more you had to gain.

Sure, there were others that didn't share that view, people on the fringe of society who had deep confusion and disillusionment. There were those who blamed others for their misfortunes. They kept no hope, forming conspiracies and acting out aggressively. Gangs that promised a false sense of security, a delusional prospective that used words like familia or honor. Claiming to 'represent' but really demoralizing, and emasculating, impressionable youth.

It certainly was the reason so many poor Chicanos looked towards the Armed Forces as a refuge, hoping for an honorable resolution to a personal and/or financial dilemma. As usual, those more affluent got the best training and positions. Unfortunately after the experience those with psychological and emotional problems continued to struggle. A new form of social order coupled with the experience of war and life outside the barrio made it difficult re-adapting to a changing community.

Those of us in minimal dead end jobs or under-employed, who floundered yet survived, somehow found this mundane situation to have left room in our lives for creative energy that manifested itself into a lifestyle. We were the working poor having fun, making the best out of what we had, looking to do better but comfortable in our situation.

Poverty was the great inspirer, the taking off point for bigger... better. We would tend to really focus when tired of being poor. As young underachievers we acknowledged our shortcomings, comfortable in knowing that if we applied ourselves we could get what we wanted, surprised at what we can do when pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.

The one saving grace even through all our complexity is that this is a country of opportunity like no other. Although it has never been perfect we have a grand history of change and atonement.

Thing is, most overwhelming situations, like stock market crashes and bubbles bursting, are always confusing. It's what we don't understand that scares us. All indications are that this, too, will pass. We can use this impoverishment as energy, to search within ourselves, to propel ourselves into a more realistic and responsible people, who are willing to help each other and gain strength through truth and adversity.

You'd be surprised.

About Slowjoe:
Just another car dude from South San Gabriel
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