This is a letter to my earlier self, dedicated to all of you - to young, talented, inspired, and motivated, worker organizers in the labor movement. Thank you for listening to my story and I hope it will illuminate your own path and experience.
My name is Nica. I am a writer, working artist, community & labor organizer, and on Thursday afternoon's teach swimming to children at the local pool. I started out in Manila, in the Philippines where I grew up, and I moved to California in 2008. I graduated from UC Berkeley, and upon graduating landed a super cool internship in the summer of 2013. Because of that internship and my college degree, my job choices moving forward were influenced by my desire to be a person who helps people get out of poverty. I did not know what that would look like but in time I decided I could do that by working for unions in California. My first union job was to be an administrative staff for an electrician union called the IBEW in my county, San Mateo. When I got bored of that job, and I was very bored, I quit. In the middle of my resignation I applied for another job, a sophisticated sounding union job to be a project coordinator for the one and only California Labor Federation.
Fortunately, I got the gig. I secured an income that was livable and enjoyable at the age of 26. I found out later that through the pile of resumes they saw mine and said "Who is this?! Who is Nicollette?" That is my real full name. I spent my time as a union organizer representing workers in the workforce & economic development system in California which is a space not a lot of unions occupy at the moment. Unlike my job with the electricians, this was not boring, but I still quit after 4 years of working there because I felt like I was at a dead end. There was no career advancement for me within my department. My relationship with my boss started to degrade. The principles of equity, worker voice, representation, and many more I was starting to question within the organization I was in. Part of my experience at the time felt fraudulent, I must admit, so I quit last year in 2021.
Today, instead of a job I have projects. I am very proud to be involved with AIWA, which stands for Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, a small nonprofit based in Oakland chinatown. Also, BSP - a worker training organization that provides education and training janitorial and airport service workers. But most importantly, my most favorite project of all time is sharing my creative world, I call Kwento by Nica. Now I will show you it.
Kwento is my creative project and I created it all throughout my career working for unions and how did I do it? I will show you how.
1. 617 experience - show blog post
2. People at the workplace were fascinated. They couldn't wrap their head around how I was able to have energy to do it. And this is the part where I tell you and encourage you to listen to your inner voice even in the workplace. If doodling is a bad thing in the workplace, but you are so so amped up to do it while on clock, I encourage you to create. Because the results amount over time, and soon you will have your own portfolio or website like me to showcase it.
3. Some people won't like you for it. I had a coworker who really didn't like me and the positive reception Kwento by Nica had in the workplace. This coworker made it so unbearable for me to work in the same office as her that I quit. And that is how I left my job with the electrician union. Now, this is the part where I tell you, being creative and showing that side of you in the workplace will not always be celebrated. Coming out to say you're an artist in the professional space will come with reactions. So... to be creative is to be brave in the workplace.
4. Now, when I was working for the labor federation, everyone supported me and my ventures outside of worker organizing. My coworkers and directors knew I was creative because I made that as part of my identity. BUT in that role I learned that not all places of work are ready for creativity. There are traditions, patterns, hierarchies, and practices that are so well established that the slightest offering of a creative solution on how to improve or refresh old systems will be perceived as too radical and impossible to pursue.
And this is the reason why I am reading this letter to you. It is to remind you not to forget your inner voice, your creative voice, especially at times when you feel defeated in the workplace. It will happen. And when the time comes, even it is a 5 min, 10 min, 1 hour, 3 hour break from work just to express your craft while clocked in... I encourage you to do it. That is how you can express yourself, mesh your artistic self in the workplace, and make time to be creative while you show up for a job.
Was this worth sharing to you? Yes. How do you find balance to do that? Well I hope I was able to show you and now we can practice.