Ivan Natividad

February 28, 2008

Hope. It can be the hardest thing to have.

I first realized this while attempting to organize residents for five months with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in Richmond, California.

Of the many homes and families I had been fortunate enough to speak with, Jorge Castro was undoubtedly the most memorable personality. In a community with an overwhelmingly black, white and Hispanic population; Jorge passed as Chinese, but was truly a Filipino American. Jorge lived next to a Catholic Church and across from a continuation school, which was overrun with prostitutes every day at dusk.

It was around 4 p.m. when I first knocked on Jorge’s door. Laid out on his rough brown couch, with hands in his pockets, he got up and nudged the door open with a slight kick of his foot and said, “Come on in.” This would be the first of many visits.

Jorge is short and stocky with silky white sideburns. He lives in a two-bedroom house with his two working sons and an ailing wife. He offered me a seat as he lay down across the couch.

Jorge Castro’s stories were never complicated. He had no phony ideas. No loosely tied moments, no complex conversation. He was filled with stories about the stuff that stopped, and the stuff that was going, gone or away.

He was everything I had learned about in that Filipino American History class in college. The class that vilified my wide-eyed youthful politics, and gave birth to societal revelations: That we be brown and less American, that we be resistant and less privileged, that we be extreme for the sake of being uncompromising.

He was the young pensionado, well-read and keenly versed in the myth of the American Dream. He was a young enlisted military youth who washed officers’ dishes all over the world. He was an accomplished professional in the Philippines who “escaped” to America, to the golden streets and glamor that all well-adjusted Chevron gas station attendants hope to encounter.

Jorge was everything that could bring reason to a young man’s rebellious socialist rhetoric. He was the forgotten immigrant left to labor in the economic fields of Philip Vera Cruz, where politics were forged by foot and hand, raised inch by inch though hardship, bolstered by unions and voices that were the power of the people.

Jorge was the reason I was there, a privileged child of the suburbs, the reason why I was ripe and ready for new things.

So, with binder in hand, I gave Jorge a page of literature that highlighted the issues and goals the Richmond community hoped to accomplish. Before I could speak he uttered, “Let me read first.”

After five minutes of awkward silence, Jorge finally spoke. From his mouth came a statement that summed up the sentiment of every person I had spoken with in the city of Richmond in regard to progressive change.

“Nobody believes in it…. I’ve been here for over 15 years, and I never laughed or cried with anyone in this place…. There is not room for hope if you’re always scared you will not do anything good.”

Throughout the years, the city of Richmond has been through a constant onslaught of violence and crime, and has been recognized as one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. The residents of Richmond have experienced their share of pointless homicides, particularly within neighborhoods located in the Iron Triangle.

Nationally, Richmond’s Contra Costa County was ranked in the top 25 counties in foreclosure rates and home value loss. Homes foreclosed in Richmond have become abandoned areas, attracting drug and criminal activity.

Moreover, Chevron’s oil refineries in Richmond perpetuate pollution within the city, earning it the infamous distinction as America’s version of the Niger Delta.

With the city’s many long-standing negative issues, it’s understandable that residents are cynical about any hope for progressive change. They have fought for years to bring change to Richmond, but many who live there believe the gains have always been short term. (Richmond youth, pictured right)

To Jorge, change is a matter of intangibles. “We always trust what we can see… and where has that really got us? Not where we want to be,” he said in regards to the politics of the past.

It’s been easy for pundits and politicians to spout rhetoric, using facts and statistics to assure residents that the city will eventually move forward. But among many families in Richmond, there is a sense of betrayal by these high-chaired governmental officials. There is a sense of lost trust, and a stagnant sentiment among residents regarding community progression, resulting in the pessimism that Richmond residents may have about these ideas of hope and change.

When asked what he thought of those who doubt his opinion of these intangibles of “hope” and “change,” Jorge said, “Hope is real… and if you don’t believe that’s true… then God bless your soul.”

There are many that believe that change is coming. Despite the perceived governmental corruption that has plagued urban areas like Richmond, there are Jorge Castros on every block. There are Jorge Castros on every corner, at every city council meeting or every governmental election, out there pushing on, confident that it won’t be too long.

These are the heroes of the new world as progressives see it. Those that have lived through the hardest of times, through lost loves and hearts that have healed for good. These are the champions of our age. Those that have weathered the storms and still continue to fight, to believe, to hope and dream of things greater then themselves, with faith in people they know nothing of. Those that have fought back against a system that has sought to beat the hope from our dreams. Those that still gaze upon the stars, knowing they are there for us to touch. These are the heroes of humanity.

When I last spoke to Jorge, he was excited. He had just gotten a new job, and was glad to be up and about again. We were walking to the bus stop together, when he turned to me and said, “This is good what you’re doing…. Everything will be fine…. just keep doing what you’re doing.” I haven’t seen Jorge since, and I don’t know if I ever will.

On a side note, it is not naïve to believe in hope, nor trendy, nor unrealistic. It is not youthful exuberance to commit to a belief in something without knowing the means or the ends. That is faith. That is courage. That is love in its boldest of fonts. That is hope.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but raised in Northern California, Ivan is 24 and is a graduate from UC Santa Barbara, with majors in Global Studies and Asian American Studies. He has currently been organizing with ACORN in Bay Area communities with emphasis on neighborhood safety and violence. He loves music, film and peacocks.