Janice Sapigao Oral History Interview

Link to audio

Summary

Throughout the interview with Janice Sapigao, she emphasized the importance of environmental injustices and how her own personal life connects to these issues. Janice reflects on her mother, an immigrant from the Philippines, and the challenges and hardships she faced in order to provide for her family. These hardships include discrimination and unfairness in the workplace, and the result of stress and health conditions. She emphasizes how many assume that the American workplace is a positive environment, but in reality, it brought a lot of stress and mistreatment for many immigrant workers. This was the case for Janice’s mother who worked strenuously in the manufacturing field in Silicon Valley, and despite how toxic the work environment was, this did not stop her mother from giving up. Growing up, Janice has always considered her mother’s adversities and it has motivated Janice to find career opportunities that she felt passionate for and eventually work with students to find their own epiphany. Her mother is her source of motivation as she taught her the significance of “pawis” (in english translation: sweat). 

Keywords

  1. Transportation: The movement from one location to another through the use of automobiles, busses, trains, etc. It is an important source as it helps transport numbers of people over anywhere they may need to go.
  2. Pay: To receive money from jobs regardless of what the work is consisted of.
  3. Working Conditions:  Manufacturing, toxic work environment (chemicals) (i.e. microchips), didn’t know they had to regulate. Assumed that any American workplace was suppose to be a  positive working environment.
  4. Motivation: Despite having to work in rigorous conditions, motivation has always been instilled in many immigrant employees. Even when faced with stressful obstacles, they will put in the effort and dedication in order to provide for their families and to maintain a stable income.
  5. Incentives: Despite the strenuous working conditions that many immigrant workers have faced, their companies provided incentives to reward them for their dedication in the work field. In the perspective of the employees, it was a moment of celebration for them because it represented all their hard work and productivity in the work place, and these incentives can range from outrageous picnics to free visits to theme parks. Besides this major incentive, workers also stayed in their workplace to have a stable job in the U.S and maintain family income. They believed that there are better career opportunities in America, compared to the economic growth they had back in their home country.
  6. Stress/Health Conditions: Many of the families were in stressful conditions that impacted their livelihoods and relationships working in toxic environments. For example if the company was in shortage of workers, they would rely on families to recruit their own family members in order to work for the company. As those numbers grew, they would all be held accountable to maintain “discipline” by not causing any trouble. If this were to occur, the company could completely wipe out a family networks wages. Impacting the lives of not just the individual but the family as a whole. This relates to workers health conditions in which they assume that the company would be willing enough to help them get through with their conditions and address problems relating to the companies unsafe working environment. However, in the end they were often passive with the way they handled these problems, even comparing workers as mothers who have to take care of their babies (the microchips/products). This idea that workers must make sacrifices for the products, even if it meant jeopardizing their own health for the production of the products they made was alarming. Various health conditions are mentioned with the chemicals that come in contact with the products workers handle. 
  7. Discrimination: Janice worked for Great America when she was 15 and it was the hardest job she’s ever had. One of the times her mother was laid off she tried to work for Great America but they wouldn’t hire her when she was in her 50’s. There was discrimination within the workplace in Silicon Valley by the big bosses and the workers because the workers were seen as less important and easily replaceable.
  8. Gender: Women were economically vulnerable and afraid to speak up about toxic for fear that they would lose their jobs and jeopardize their family’s economic stability. This belief was held that the workplace had no fault whatsoever, and that women who were divorced were referred to have psychological problems, in this idea of mass hysteria. Hysteria by definition were those who had exaggerated uncontrolled emotion or excitement, especially amongst a group of people. This was not the case as women were suffering real conditions. Most of the workers in the Silicon Valley were undocumented women of color, immigrants who work in toxic environments. Working in places with no ventilation systems, growing out fingernails as forms of tools, involving children attaching components together, and unfortunately low wages.
  9. Environmental Racism/Justice: Where low-income or minority communities must endure the hazardous and degraded environment that is in close proximity of where they reside.
  10. Gentrification: Gentrification plays a big role, especially in areas such as Silicon Valley. For some people it encourages affluent new residents to move into the city and discover the economic opportunities that could benefit them, but for others, it becomes an economic, societal, and public health repercussion for communities of color. In Silicon Valley, gentrification pressures to separate one of the most diverse cities, where Asian American and Latino families make up a good percentage of the population and continue to push several lower-income families farther outside their original residential.
  11. Clean Room: Holding a space that is clear and neat, and can be open to anyone to come in to. In her poem, she lists guidelines that factory workers like her mother must follow whenever entering the workplace. This includes a hairnet, shoe covers, gloves, and sneakers that the company provides which were quite uncomfortable.

Bibliography

Hossfeld, K. J. (1994). Hiring immigrant women: Silicon Valley’s ‘simple formula’. Women of color in US society, 65-93.

Hyman, Louis. “The undocumented workers who built Silicon Valley.” Issue 2018 1. Print

This article will dive into undocumented workers who ultimately were the ones who helped produced many of the major products that we see today. These workers are mostly paid at a low-cost, undocumented mostly women of color, immigrants who work in these toxic work environments that don’t regulate its hazardous health conditions. Some of these conditions include no ventilations systems, growing out finger nails as forms of tools, taking components of pieces brought at home including children who worked in them, and most importantly low wages. I believe this is a useful source, to better understand the types of people who work in these toxic environments in the Silicon Valley. This can provide information about the past, and analyze how companies are using undocumented workers to work for less despite its harsh conditions. Louis explains how punishing undocumented laborers would not solve much of the problem, but instead people should focus on workplace rights for these people or better regulate these businesses instead of holding them accountable if problems continue to persist.

Pellow, David Naguib. “The Silicon Valley of Dreams.” Issue 2002: 499. Print.

In this book we looked at specific chapters in Ch.6 The Core: Work and Struggle to Make a Living without Dying which emphasizes different stories of workers who were denied several aid from hazardous conditions they worked in. Chemicals contained in these products are often handmade such as semiconductor chips, wires, and electronic parts that lead workers into unhealthy conditions in the long run. Despite continuous requests upon mangers, it is often noticed that they were ignored and cared more about the products productivity rather than the workers who make it themselves. The author makes an analogy between babies as chip industry and mothers as workers whose job was to take care of them. Managers were implicitly asking workers to make sacrifices for the products they make even if it meant jeopardizing their own health. Main argument I believe is in what extent does this type of toxic work environment continue not only in the Silicon Valley, but other parts of the world in which workers are being exploited and overworked reaping little benefits. In addition to harmful effects these chemicals have in the body. This is a book source, which is a very reliable source mainly coming from primary sources upon people who experienced many of the harmful effects of working in certain technological industries whose demands are very high. I believe this will be a very useful source.

Roose, Kevin. “Workers of Silicon Valley, It’s Time to Organize.” Issue 2018: 1. Print

In this article it talks about the workers of Silicon Valley and realization that the time is now to start organizing and thinking about specific strategies in order to fight off major tech. businesses who operate in an unsafe manner. Some of the topics that most organizers would probably fight for would be higher wages, better working conditions or stronger job security. He also mentions the certain impact workers can have if they focus not only on their employers government ties, but their products, business models, and basic standards if done publicly. Meaning forming organizations or unions against major tech businesses. This is a short article source that would be a great source in order to find certain strategies/solutions towards tech businesses who don’t provide benefits for their most valuable assets. Some of the limits of this source is that its not very long, and more of rally pep talk to get people to be motivated to organize. Although even though its short, its giving me ideas of ways that the Silicon Valley can ultimately find solutions to these problems.

Sapigao, Janice. “Like a Solid to a Shadow” 2017

Sapigao wrote a poetry collection about her journey in America about the limitations she faced being a first generation of a Filipino immigrant in America. The book includes love letters from her deceased father to her mother and the constant need to translate the forgotten language of her family (lllokono) to English. Her father passed when she was six years old so it was her mothers job to raise the family without the help of her husband. In the Filipino culture, the men are the bread winners and make the money for their family so when her father passes, they had to learn a whole new world.  This book is important because she relates to many other first generation Filipino immigrants that had a hard time translating to their parents how they really felt because it was difficult to translate their native language to the English language she knows so well. This is a good source because it clearly states her feelings of who she is and it is very much relatable to others.

Sapigao, Janice. Microchips for Millions” 2016

 Janice created another poetry book mainly about her mother whom was a line worker in Silicone Valley and Janice witnessed how much her mom suffered to make ends meet for her family. Her mother worked a job where she was taken advantaged of and over-worked as an immigrant in America. The book switched between English and her native language in which she chose her words wisely in a beautiful way to describe the injustices that someone she loved dearly experienced on a daily basis. Many people relate to this poetry book because they have also witnessed their parents work really hard to make the best life for their children which is the main reason why they emigrated to the United States. This is an important source because it explains why Janice works so hard for what she believes in and to make her mother proud. She witnessed her mom selflessly working twelve hour days as a line worker to make the rich men richer solely to support her family since her husband passed away. Janice watched her mom work very hard while also experiencing the harsh racism in America towards immigrants.