AUSTIN, TX—Roberta Asher, 47, a longtime crusader for environmental and human-rights causes, once again humiliated her teenage son Monday when she appeared on the local TV news speaking at a rally for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers.
"I'm sitting in the living room with my friend Josh [Marden], when Mom comes in and turns on the news," said Craig Asher, 16. "Wouldn't you know it, there she is with a bunch of other freaky-looking people standing outside the Capitol going on about how Texas is failing to uphold the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. I swear, I could've died."
Added Craig: "Of all the moms in the world, I get stuck with one who's dedicated to eradicating economic and social injustice."
A 1976 graduate of the University of California–Berkeley, Asher has spent much of her adult life fighting on behalf of the underprivileged. Over the years, she has taken up such causes as women's reproductive rights, the imprisonment of AIM leader Leonard Peltier, No Nukes, and Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential run. In 1996, after receiving a law degree from the University of Texas, she established a non-profit foundation in Austin offering free legal counsel to Mexican migrant workers.
Michelle Asher, Craig's 20-year-old sister, said she is "used to [her mother's activism] by now," but sympathized with her younger sibling's feelings of humiliation.
"I mean, it's fine that she wants to help poor people and stuff, but she does it in, like, this really embarrassing way," Michelle said. "Couldn't she find a way to do her protesting less publicly?"
For the past 18 months, Asher has worked tirelessly to force the state of Texas to more closely monitor farm-labor contractors and agricultural employers, demanding that they be required to disclose more information about their treatment of workers.
"The MSPA requires farm-labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor," said Asher, her son cringing nearby. "But there's no structure of accountability in place to actually punish them for abuses. There are workers out there being treated no better than slaves because employers know they won't seek recourse."
Over the years, Asher has embarrassed her children by appearing on the local evening news, writing impassioned letters to the editor of the local newspaper, speaking at city-council meetings and rallies, and even posting signs on the front lawn of their home.
"Last week, Mom stuck a big sign in the yard that said, 'Support H.R. 343!'" Craig said. "Thank God none of my friends know it's some dumb bill that requires companies to provide contracts in a worker's own language or some bullshit like that."
Asher's commitment to improving working and living conditions for migrant workers in Texas not only puts her in front of the camera, but occasionally on the front lines, as well.
"There was a picture in the paper of Mom at one of her protests, and Mr. Gemberling, my social-studies teacher, brought it in to class and showed it to everybody as an example of 'someone making a genuine difference in the community,'" Craig said. "So Doug Fritz yells from the back row, 'Dude, your mom's a dork,' and the entire class cracked up. Why should I have to put up with this? Can't mom wait until I'm out of high school to do this shit?"
Michelle said she long ago gave up trying to explain to others what her mother does for a living.
"Everyone else can say that their parents are bankers or doctors or whatever," Michelle said. "What are we supposed to say? That she's an advocate for positive social change through direct action? That she gives a voice to the voiceless? I don't think so. I just say she's a waitress."