It’s Just NOT that Easy…

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio, and Black women’s activism in the United States.

When someone tells us they are experiencing domestic violence or any type of abuse for that matter, many people are quick to ask the question, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” and I think we need to talk about that.

Let’s talk about the vast range of reasons why an individual might not be able to just pack up and leave their abusers. In my opinion, if we start the conversation with this in mind, then we force those who ask these questions to think about why it might not be realistic to chuck the deuces and bounce. Also, with a comprehensive understanding of why individuals can’t just leave, we can brainstorm ways to counteract the institutions and structures that place this undue burden on the survivor. 

I spent the majority of my undergraduate career working with agencies that provided services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, among many other things. Working with survivors from all walks of life made me start thinking of the “what ifs” when it came to domestic violence. It seemed as if the more time I spent thinking about the “what ifs,” the more I realized that those what-if situations were a reality for many individuals seeking out services from the organizations I worked with. Most statistics state that it takes, on average, seven attempts to leave an abuser before actually being able to end the circle of violence. Since seven seems to be the magic number, I want to propose seven random scenarios off the top of my head for readers to think about in regards to asking, or telling, a survivor to “just leave.” 

  1. What if you live with a physical disability and are dependent upon your abuser for mobility. How can you get up and walk away from your abuse if you’re unable to walk? By default, you cannot leave the vicinity of violence if you’re physically unable to move.
  2. What if you live in a community that has been traumatized by police brutality. Would you call the police if you’re stuck in a catch-22 between police violence and violence at the hands of your abuser? In this situation, who could you look to for protection?
  3. What if English is not your native language, but the 9-1-1 operator doesn’t speak your language? Who do you call? 
  4. What if you are hearing impaired or nonverbal? How do you communicate to anyone, let alone authorities, that you are in a violent situation? 
  5. What if you are financially dependent upon your abuser? If you leave, how will you afford to put a roof over your head or food on the table? 
  6. What if you’re married to your abuser and are dependent upon them for health insurance? If you leave, how will you get access to healthcare? 
  7. What if you’re undocumented? Do you call the police and risk deportation, or do you endure the violence? 

Now, these examples might seem far-fetched for some, but every one of these situations resonates with me. I can put a name, a face, a family, and a story to those “what if” situations because I know that is the reality for some. So when we talk about domestic violence we need to start with an understanding that not all people can “just leave.” 

Hispanic Heritage and Making America Great

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio and Black women’s activism in the United States.

Let me take you back to 1942, only a few years after the Great Depression, in the midst of World War II. In many ways, the United States was struggling on the homefront. With no one to work the jobs that were too low paying to sustain the American dream, there was no way to meet the demands of consumers. In a quick fix to the lack of able-bodied laborers here in the states, millions of migrant workers from Mexico were welcomed with open arms to ensure that our agriculture industry continued despite feeling the effects of war. At that moment, the Bracero Program was born. Bracero in this context, which literally translates to “laborer” in Spanish, meant one who works with their hands.

On August 4, 1942, the United States entered into the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement in order to sustain the large farm industry in the United States. Over the course of twenty-two years, it’s estimated that over two million Mexican immigrants signed contracts to work on American farms and railroads on a temporary basis for wages lower than Americans not fighting in the war were willing to work for. This program was later enacted into law as an amendment to the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951. The extension of this agreement repeatedly brought Mexican workers back to the states to work in return for housing, low wages, and “humane treatment.” 

As one could imagine, the housing was poor, the job came with risks, and the workers were not treated humanely. But that isn’t why I wrote this piece … I want to talk about the immigration rhetoric we currently hear from the most recent occupant of the White House. The fact of the matter is that at one point, we were welcoming Latinx immigrants to the United States because we were in need of help. Now, only four decades later, there are people advocating for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico. By ignoring this history, we allow a false narrative of the “bad hombre” to be perpetuated. 

Yes, this was a bilateral deal that was beneficial to both parties in some way, but the logic that follows this history is the notion that there are jobs in America that Americans simply won’t do. We outsourced laborers to fill our needs and we still do. Imagine if every immigrant worker left right now … do we have enough people left to sustain the economy? I don’t know but I don’t think we want to find out. 

In case you didn’t know, September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and I feel compelled to write this in honor of LatinX immigrant history. When I first heard of the Bracero Program a quick Google search returned few results. I feel like if more people knew about the program,  they would have the same questions about immigration that I have. How can we turn our backs on people in search of opportunity when that’s what brought European immigrants here? How would we sustain life as we know it in the United States without people willing to do the hard labor that others shy away from? I might not have the answers to any of the above questions, but as an aspiring historian who has ample access to historical resources, I felt obligated to share information that I believe has the power to change the way people look at immigration.