Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

Although you would not guess it from her picture on the book jacket of Hand to Mouth, Linda Tirado is one angry young woman.  She herself admits to being angry much of every single day of her life.  What makes her angry, you wonder? It’s this: being poor and having to put up with a way of life she sees no end to despite what she considers her best efforts to break free from the cycle of poverty into which she was born.  Only Tirado can say if she has given up on ever escaping poverty, but from the level of anger she so readily embraces, that just might be a safe bet.

That Linda Tirado knows of which she speaks is beyond dispute.  She has the lifetime credentials so many of this country’s poor earn the hard way: through personal experience.  She is an obviously intelligent and articulate woman and she hopes that more fortunate Americans are willing to listen to her for the two or three hours it takes to read her book. 

I listened and I agree with much, maybe even most, of what she has to say about being stuck in low-paying jobs for the long term.  Tirado’s points about how extremely difficult it is to escape the barely-making-ends-meet life are valid ones.   As she says, it is near impossible to find a better paying job if you cannot afford a car to get you to that job; it is hard to go to school if you have to work two jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table; it is near impossible to save for the future at the rate of five or ten dollars a paycheck if the first medical emergency that comes along is only going to wipe out your savings again. 

Author's Book Jacket Photo
Tirado, though, seems to have given in to the temptation to do more than just inform with this book.  She wants to get even – at least a little.  Even as she shoots down all the stereotypes that “rich people” hold about “poor people,” she gleefully embraces all the ones about rich people.  She preaches tolerance and respect for the poorer segment of American society while ridiculing the rest of that same society.  She demands respect but does not display any in reverse.  She strays into politics but shows that she knows little more than liberal talking points, and she uses those points to distort the position of others with whom she disagrees.  And, frankly, her “Open Letter to Rich People,” with which she ends the book, might be “cute” but its contemptuous tone makes it pretty much counterproductive.  

The author paints everyone not living a life of poverty with the same brush, and we, of course, are not all the same.  Many of us come from backgrounds very similar to hers (my own parents were sharecroppers who moved to a neighboring state in order to start a whole new life with little more than what they could carry with them in their old car – I grew up poor and did not escape that life until a good while after I married). 

And that is a real shame because this book has a worthy message.  But a little less anger would have gone a long way in getting that message across.

No comments:

Post a Comment