As the state representative from District 58, it is an honor and privilege to represent my hard-working neighbors from Pawtucket. Like many other districts in the urban core, my district is majority-minority and my neighbors and
As the state representative from District 58, it is an honor and privilege to represent my hard-working neighbors from Pawtucket. Like many other districts in the urban core, my district is majority-minority and my neighbors and constituents are working paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet. Every day when I go to the State House I carry their stories, their dreams and their hope with me. “Hope” is the most important word there – we all know it’s the Rhode Island motto, but to people who have very little, some day’s hope is the only thing that keeps them going.
As a lawmaker, I go to the State House to represent my constituents and I am also there to protect their interests. In recent years, and particularly this session, I have needed to protect their dignity from those who think that a handout is the answer to every problem and their hope from those that believe that they don’t deserve to live their dream of owning their own small business.
I was born in the United States to Colombian immigrants who had to walk across Mexico to make their way to this country. I was raised understanding that this country was a place where hard work unlocks opportunity and that the best rewards were reserved for those who were willing to take risks and dedicate themselves to their goals and dreams.
One thing that many activists fail to realize when pushing for certain proposals, like the minimum wage, is that local small businesses, like the corner mom-and-pop restaurant or bodega, are also struggling right now. To say that they do not deserve to own their own small business if they are unable to pay certain wages is not only a gross mischaracterization of their morals, it fundamentally fails to acknowledge the struggles and sacrifices made by these hard-working individuals, many of them immigrants themselves, in order to realize their own “American Dream.” These are not greedy or heartless people looking to take advantage of others for their own financial gain. Nor are they undeserving of enjoying the fruits of their hard work to establish their businesses, often after years or even decades of barely getting by trying to establish themselves. I find such comments ignorant to the true reality of our communities and they often originate from well-funded out-of-state elites who think they have the right to tell everyone else how to best their lives.
After the past year we have had, everyone is in need of a little more hope these days. But, this hope will be unattainable if we continue to pit our neighbors, communities and businesses against each other. There will be no hope for anyone if we continue down this troubling path. Small businesses in District 58 should not be treated the same as Walmart, nor are the arguments against Walmart’s business practices applicable to the corner restaurant in Pawtucket. These small businesses and their hard-working owners are integral parts of our community and economy, not the enemy.
It is time we restore hope in Rhode Island. It’s time that we bring this hope not only to workers, but also small business owners. Until we realize that we are all in this together, I fear that the “American Dream” that my parents trekked across a Mexican desert to attain is in jeopardy, only to be replaced by divisive system where we have forgotten what unites us all and what it means to be an American in charge of one’s own destiny through dedication and hard work.
Remember, a higher minimum wage means nothing if an employee’s workplace closes their doors and this is a scary reality for many of the small businesses, often immigrant owned, in District 58.
Rep. Carlos E. Tobon, a Democrat, represents District 58 in Pawtucket.