While preparing for this conference, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Puanani Burgess. She recently sent me this amazing story written by her son, Laameaomauna’ala Burgess. It brought me to tears. With his permission, I’m sharing it with you. It is still in process; being edited.
I hope you are as moved by it as I am.
By Laameaomauna’ala Burgess
Waianae High School
The Juarez family had lived in that house for longer than I can remember. Compared to the houses of the surrounding properties, the Juarez house was by far the most opulent; two-stories of sturdy maple, and verandas stretching from every side. Not only that, but they owned a truck! That was a rare sight to see for a work hand in the middle of nowhere.
My family and I lived in the bunkhouse, to the side of their home; a small, cozy place that would be called a mere shack to an outside observer. For a long time, life was just a routine. In the morning, I’d wake up, get to work, take a break at around noon, go back to work after lunch, come in at dusk for dinner, sit around the card table and play a few hands, and go to sleep.
One day, the Jones’ came down for a short visit. The Jones’ were business affiliates of Mr. Juarez, and said that they need to check that production was steadily under way. They took residence in the western side of the top floor, which is the nicest part of the house in my opinion having a great view, and the best breeze. I think they just wanted a few weeks of peace that was so natural to the calm, dry plains of Westbrooke. Originally, they planned to stay only for a few weeks, but as time went on, their stay grew longer and longer.
Of course, that was alright with me. With the Jones’ came their vivid stories of the city life. Grand buildings, taller than I can see, towns of pure light, and thousands of cars and trucks moving on roads of smooth stone. I have never heard of any of these things before. I would sit in front of feet after dinner, and listen to them tell these great stories of riches and leisure.
After a while, the ranch started to change as their influence became stronger and stronger. The first change came about when I came in from the field one day. It was very hot, so I came in a little earlier to get some water, and rest in the shade a bit longer. In the house, I overheard Mr. Juarez and Mr. Jones talking. At first, it was mainly about the daily doings around the farm, but slowly it evolved into a talk about the ranch’s managing. Mr. Jones said, “Well, I’ll be damned, I’ve never seen a ranch with so much output with so little help on the land. How do you do it? On every other property I’ve been on, they all have about three families, all demanding more of this, or more of that, but you just have a single family that seems to be, dare I say, enthusiastic to go to work! Your work family only has three good workers that can go out to the field, so they must work harder than an ox to bring out the quota’s you pull, but they act content with what you give them, which is basically nothing! That is incredible!”
“No, sir, you see, we do things a little differently on this ranch than what you usually see on other ranches. Here, nothing belongs to anyone, but everything belongs to everyone. Everyone here works their hardest to pull their loads, so everyone gets an equal share of the profit. If my work man has a daughter that needs a new dress, we buy her a new dress, if he needs a doctor, we get him a doctor. On this ranch, we are all a family. We only eat when we make sure everyone has something to eat, we only sleep when everyone has done their share of the work. No one gets more, and no one gets less, everyone gets their fair amount. I and my work hands know this, so every time we go to the field, we know that every cent we earn we earn for the family.”
Mr. Jones was speechless; he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After a while he got his breath back and started to talk to Mr. Juarez about capitalism, stocks, salary, rent, taxes, ownership, supply and demand, and many other things I’ve never heard of before. Mr. Juarez seemed impressed, and started to look at some numbers Mr. Jones prepared. I don’t know math all too well, so I just went back to the field.
Later that night, when I came in to wash up, I saw Mr. Juarez and Mr. Jones shaking hands. I just finished washing up, making sure my children were ready for dinner, and went up to the house. We all sat around the table, and the food was served like usual. After prayer, Mr. Juarez started to talk about how the ranch was going to be run for now on. “There will be no more community sharing of supplies from now on. We will start using a system of salary, where you are paid according to the amount of work you have done. When you run out of your salary, that’s it, don’t come to me for any freebies. I will also start charging you for the bunkhouse you are using, the food you are eating, and the clothes you are wearing. I’m sorry, but everyone has been getting a free ride for too long, time’s have changed, so we need to change along with it.
“Also, I would like to announce that Mr. and Mrs. Jones will become our new business partners, and I would like to thank them for helping me open my eyes to how we should be running this ranch.”
Upon hearing his name, Mr. Jones stood up and began his speech. “Thank you, thank you. As you may have heard, I am now part of your “family”. I will start giving out the business orders as I see fit. Don’t worry, I’ve done this for a very long time, I know what I’m doing. Just leave it to me, I mean, us. Mr. Juarez and I will make a great team in leading this ranch into a new era of profitability. And if you are worrying about the new pay schedule, don’t worry, you will still be paid a fair amount, but this way, we can keep track of exactly what a fair amount really is. Enough of business, let’s celebrate, this night marks the creation of a new Brotherhood!”
For a few years, everything went well. At the end of every week, we would receive our salary. We would pay the Brotherhood most of what we got for food, clothes, and things like that. Whatever was left over, we would save, just in case we needed it for some emergency down the line.
After a while, the Brotherhood decided it was time to expand, so they built a few more bunkhouses, and the Jones’ brought a few more branches of their family in, inducting them into the Brotherhood. I didn’t really care for those newcomers; they had a mean air about them. I didn’t care much for this new system either, Mr. Juarez used to be a good friend of mine, but he said that lines had to be drawn to remain professional. The Brotherhood wasn’t all too swell for that matter. It always seemed to get bigger and bigger, and Mr. Juarez always seemed to get smaller and smaller.
Three years passed with a few bumps here and there. By that time, the ranch now had seven work families, and eight in the Brotherhood, one Mr. Juarez, and seven Mr. Jones. At this point, if Mr. Juarez wanted to do something that everyone didn’t agree upon, Mr. Juarez was put out of the picture. I remember Mr. Juarez once trying to argue with the Brotherhood when they decided that the Juarez family should live in one of the bunkhouses. The Brotherhood said that this business was a democracy, that everyone needed to vote, and that the majority has to win, and in this case, the majority said it would be better for everyone if the Juarez family lived in a bunkhouse so that they could deliberate without disturbance. Mr. Juarez recognized his defeat and surrendered to his bunkhouse.
And life went on like that for a while. Three years later, the brotherhood had become fifteen strong, with fourteen Jones’ and poor Mr. Juarez. I think Mr. Juarez could feel that his reign was about to pass, so he put up as best a fight as he could. He demanded that he be given special rights of power because he was the original owner of this ranch, and that as such, he should have the final say in what happens or does not happen on this farm.
The Brotherhood responded, saying that it sounded like he was trying to be a tyrant, that this wasn’t his ranch, this was everyone’s ranch. They said that Mr. Juarez should understand the virtues of democracy, that this is what is best for the people in general. They said, “Let’s vote on it.”
So, that’s what they did. The Brotherhood met together and held a very democratic vote to decide on the problem of Mr. Juarez. The votes were cast, and the first Mr. Jones’ read the results, “We, the Brotherhood, have finished the counting of the votes deciding the issue of returning special powers to our Brother Mr. Juarez, upon which if the majority voted in favor of Mr. Juarez, those said powers will be granted to him, but if the majority voted against him, Mr. Juarez will be denied those said powers, and will be furthermore dismissed from the Brotherhood at which point he may choose to leave and take his family with him, or to stay as a work family who will abide by the rules and benefits that all work families enjoy. The results are as follows, in favor of Mr. Juarez: one vote, in opposition of Mr. Juarez: fourteen votes. We attest that all numbers and deliberations are true and honorable before the powers that be, thank you. Mr. Juarez, you may report to the Brotherhood with you decision no later than six ‘o clock this evening. If you fail to report by then, you will be forcibly removed from the premises. Thank you for listening, you may all return to work.”
At six ‘o clock, Mr. Juarez reported to the Brotherhood.
The next morning he was out in the field, tending the cattle.