(Left) Susie Rivera in her home. (Right) Susie in Washington DC, November 2022. Credit: Susie Rivera
We all have a story.
Mine began 36 years ago working in nursing homes, but it really changed when I gave hospice care for my grandfather in 1991. I saw what a gift it is to care for someone at the end of their life, when everything they’ve achieved is behind them, and their story is coming to its end. I also saw how much care workers are needed, and I’ve been working in care ever since: in home settings, in assisted living settings, in rehab situations helping someone get better, and hospice where you are caring for someone as they pass on. I tell everyone I work with “I don’t care if you have a marble floor or a dirt floor, you’ll get the same care from me, to the end.” People trust me, and I take a lot of pride in that.
At the National Domestic Workers Alliance, everybody has a story to tell. Care workers were always here – we were always essential – but the pandemic brought it out more. And now, and we are being listened to.
I went to DC last year, where domestic workers and care workers marched to the Capitol, and I had goosebumps during that entire event. It was the first time I was with so many people who do the work I do, and we were talking to lawmakers in Washington – Nancy Pelosi was there, and Chuck Schumer was there – and they were backing us up. They’ve opened their eyes and their ears, and it made me feel that our voices are being heard. You feel valued.
People want to hear my stories now. Last year President Biden wanted to hear my story – for 45 minutes! He got to know me, my family, my wife… he got to know all about me. I take a lot of pride in my work, and I told him that care workers like me need to care for ourselves, too. And I know that I was heard.
Society is like a big wheel, with spokes coming out, and each spoke representing what our society needs to function: food, water, safety, education. Care is one of those spokes. It’s us.
Now, I’m a caregiver for my mother. But when I was still working hospice, the family I was working with would say “the cavalry is here!” when I arrived. We are the cavalry. We provide the necessary care when families need it most. I can see the ripple effect of this work reaching out, to the families, to the children of elderly parents who can go and do their jobs because they know we are doing our jobs.
I’ve seen a lot of change in 36 years, and I’m optimistic. We are organized. We are set in our mission and what we want accomplished, so we can get better pay and better benefits, and I know we’re going to get it done.
‘Cause we are the cavalry.