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Latino Political Power Starts at the Dinner Table

4 Aug

Some kids I knew watched sitcoms or MTV after dinner.

Not me.

My brother and I knew that once 6pm hit, no matter what we would be watching, we’d have to tune into the news. I could not quite understand why my father would make us watch or read about politics, especially before I reached my teenage years. If it was up to me, I would have been watching The Wayans Bros.

Part of the reason my parents put on the news had to do with their educational experience back in Ecuador. Like primary and secondary school students in many other Latin-American countries, they were required to take a civics class, meant to teach them about the workings of government and the role they could play toward progress and social betterment.

The message of those classes stuck with my parents, even if the Ecuadorian government didn’t always live up to classroom standards. My father felt that if we understood the political landscape, we would feel a sense of responsibility to do our part in making sure our country moves forward in a socially responsible manner.

However, current events aren’t the only things that shape my opinions and concerns. I also cared deeply about family and community. With politicians promoting anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia – opposed to actual reform – I feel an obligation to consider the greater Latino community, not just my own interests.

Like many children of Latino immigrants born in this country, I witnessed the social and economic struggles my parents went through on a daily basis. I was exposed to this reality at a young age, giving me a sense of familial responsibility, a cultural trait that I’ve seen many times over in other Latino and immigrant families, regardless of country of origin or economic status. Whether I was interpreting, filling out forms, or attending doctor’s appointments, I became aware of how government and its institutions work – or don’t work – to serve immigrant communities.

In this respect, our sense of advocacy transcends politics. To borrow a phrase from gender activists, I would say that within our Latino culture, the personal is political. Issues of immigration, healthcare, labor, and education aren’t just up for debate – they’re issues that affect our families directly.

We cannot solely blame government for ignoring Latinos. We should also hold ourselves accountable. While we are the largest ethnic minority in the United States and our voting population is 9.7 million, only 50 percent of eligible Latino voters actually vote! We live in a democratic country where we have a chance to make our voice heard at the polls, but the Latino voting population has not done its part. So how can we expect government to address our concerns when we don’t turn out for elections?

Once I turned 18, instead of voting before work, my father would wait for me in the evening and we would take a trip to the election polls as a family. Even now that I am married and living on Long Island, when election time comes around he will not forget to ask, “Ya votastes mija?” or “You already voted?”

I realize that it’s easier for me to remember to vote because I grew up with a civic-minded father. But as I think about the Latino voting population in the US, which continues to increase by about 500,000 every year, I hope that parents across the country are nagging their kids on election day, changing the channel to the news at 6pm, and teaching our next generation about the power of their vote.

(This post was first featured in Long Island Wins http://longislandwins.com/index.php/features/detail/latino_political_power_starts_at_the_dinner_table/)

Domestic Worker Protections Should Extend Beyond New York

13 Jul

This past week, the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee in the California State Senate voted in favor of a domestic workers bill of rights that would provide basic labor protections for those workers in California.

Now the legislation will move to the Fiscal Committee; if approved, the entire State Senate will then vote on it.

As California’s domestic workers struggle to attain basic labor rights, I recall my master’s fieldwork spent studying the work of the New York City-basedDomestic Workers United in February 2010.

The organization traveled to Albany once or twice a month to lobby for theDomestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York State. During one trip I was given the opportunity to serve as an interpreter for a group of women.

As I walked down the halls of the capital building with the group, I clearly recall one woman who was not able to catch up. I remember asking myself, “Why does she walk so slow? Is she scared? Does she not want to be here?”

I found the answer later that day as I interpreted her story about abuses she suffered as a domestic worker.

She was forced to clean on her knees for hours, and now she could barely walk due to the excruciating pain she felt both in her knees and her feet. She endured verbal abuse while braving seven-day workweeks, with each day’s work lasting more than eight hours. Not only was she underpaid at her job, she was eventually fired with no warning.

Her basic rights were being violated yet there was no legislation protecting her and the approximately 200,000 other domestic workers in New York. My voice shook in an attempt to hold back tears as I had to translate her story for our meeting with a group of state senators.

That’s when I realized the importance of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was eventually signed into law in August 2010 by Governor Paterson.

The domestic work industry has become a robust foundation in today’s economy. As women have taken on an active role in what were once exclusively male workplaces, families have increasingly sought the services of domestic workers. And in the wake of the economic crisis, this industry has become highly susceptible to exploitation.

That’s why the bill of rights was so important. It grants basic rights to a historically excluded group of workers: The right to overtime pay, the right to at least one day of rest each week, the right to protection against any form of harassment under New York State law.

In the fight over domestic worker rights, we can see issues of ethnicity, gender, and immigration intertwine.

Many domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers for the elderly – are women of color. Many of them are immigrants. However, these women are often not viewed as regular workers. Due to the nature of the work, these jobs are perceived more as the duty of the woman, a holdover from a time when women were bound to the privacy of their homes.

Domestic work has been historically linked to particular socio-economic groups, such as indentured servants, slaves, or immigrants. In our current era of globalization, the work has often become a form of modern-day slavery, using immigrants, particularly Caribbean and Latina women, to provide the labor.

Considering this long history of mistreatment, I knew there would be opposition to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York. Prominent Republican leaders in the State Senate wouldn’t support the bill, including Long Island’s Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport), saying they were reluctant to pass a piece of legislation protecting undocumented immigrants.

In their opposition, they failed to recognize the economic and social need for domestic workers on Long Island. They also ignored the motivations of the workers, many of whom are forced to migrate to the US because of free trade, privatization, and the extraction of agricultural and industrial labor in their countries of origin. Instead, these workers are label “illegal,” marginalized in our society, and thus susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

Who can forget Muttontown’s Mahender and Varsha Sabhani, a millionaire couple who enslaved two immigrant domestic workers for five years? The couple forced the victims to work long hours, starved them, and beat and tortured them.

Thanks to the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, horrific cases like that can now be brought to the courts or reported to our labor department. Regardless of immigration status, workers can report abusive employers who violate their rights.

New York has already taken a vital step toward recognizing domestic workers and the importance of their contributions within our labor market, regardless of race, gender or immigration status. Now let’s stand by California, and aspire to see such a bill passed in every state.

(This post was first featured in Long Island Wins http://www.longislandwins.com/index.php/features/detail/domestic_worker_protections_should_extend_beyond_new_york/)

Help Stop Xenophobia & Racism

6 Jun
Help Stop the ongoing Racism and Xenophobia going on the Suffolk County area, promoted by County Executive Steve Levy. We have already witnessed the result of promoting anti-immigrant legislation in the unfortunate Marcelo Lucero case. Please sign the petition and prove your representatives that Long Island is progressing and wants change! Click the link below…

Un Blanquito+Una Latina in a modern day world??

2 Jun

Interracial relationships and marriages are a topic that people choose not to talk about, instead many just choose to quietly judge or gawk at it. As long as it does not hit close to home, it will be a subject untouched  for most. Based on a Gallup research, 83% of Americans approve interracial relationships/marriages however only about 8% of marriages are interracial. If most people seem to “approve” of it then why such a scarce number? If racism is allegedly diminishing from our melting pot society why such an obvious hesitation to approach a racially blind relationship?…My answer to this, interracial relationships continue being a taboo within our society.

Before 1967, interracial marriages and relationships were a cultural abomination within the United States. Interracial marriages and relationships were considered illegal by law. These laws were initially introduced within the thirteen colonies and continually enforced in states such as Virginia (the Racial Integrity Act of 1924) and Alabama — all until 1967’s Loving v. Virginia case. A white man and an African & Native American woman were married in DC in 1958; they were Virginia natives and were both caught sleeping in bed by officers who were defending the Integrity Act . They were thus sentenced to prison for one year that in turn was suspended as long as they left the state. After the ACLU filed a motion on their behalf, the Supreme Court ruled against any law throughout the nation which enforced anti-miscegenation.

Today, many fear to be labeled racist and choose to quietly disapprove of such a relationship while expressing progressive views publicly. However, there are groups in which attempt to digress back towards the anti-miscegenation laws. Such is the case in Mississippi — A poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling announced that 49% of Mississippi residents desire to have interracial marriages/relationships banned. In Lousiana a Justice of the Peace, Keith Bardwell, refused to marry any interracial couple. The resistance to interracial marriages/relationships does not only come from one group. People of other backgrounds also perceive interracial marriages/relationships unseen for many reasons that may be similar to that of white groups. They might perceive it as a form of betrayal or selling out.

I am married to what many Latinos would call a, Blanquito/Gringo/Zuco/Colorado, in plain English – a white boy. However, when I met him, he was just another human being who soon became my partner. I am a Latina, very ethnic looking at that so walking down the streets of New York City we did get some looks of curiousity, some of disapproval from both sides. Walking down the streets of Babylon Village, there were the same looks however in a predominantly white community dissaproval was a bit more obvious and well, pissed me off. One day we were both curious with what each side was thinking. I tried so hard not to pre-judge many of the white people’s stares and he felt the same way about Latinos. As we exchanged our thoughts and what our cultures were quietly thinking we both came to the conclusion that some things have yet to change…

I told him some Latinas or Latinos look for white partners to move up socially and even economically within society, this is not a generalization just cases I have seen and heard personally. Therefore others within our community consider that a form of selling out which of course I would agree because searching for someone based upon race is racist in its own matter. Others would feel its a form of betrayal to our community; a lack of solidarity and embarrassment of where one comes from, their identity. I have also had friends who have asked me, “What? No good Latin men?” and my answer would be “I’m sure there are, but I don’t require a Racial ID”. From his side, he made me aware that ignorance continues to exist filled with stereotypes and some that coincide with some of my community’s misperceptions. He made me aware that while many looks might be curious looks, others were of disapproval. Individuals might think its a step down from the social ladder. A white man rescuing a latina from the ghetto. Therefore she must be somewhat un-educated, have an accent and maybe even not documented.

As we both confirmed the world has not caught up to present day, we both knew it would be a little harder since we both had to educate others down this path and continue doing so. I speak Spanish fluently and as many of you know my identity has a solid foundation. I don’t have an accent, I love the skin I’m in and am very proud, I hold a Master’s Degree and can hold a conversation with anyone. As for my husband, no he did not save me from any ghetto (I did not need any saving from anything; I love where I came from). He eats latin dishes, dances, speaks a little Spanish — ultimately respecting my identity as I respect his.

Interracial marriages/relationships are quite the taboo however, its a taboo because there is a small amount as it requires a little more work due to the societal pressures that exist. But what’s taboo is not necessarily wrong….

 

No Hablo Spanish!?

15 Mar

Growing up in a Latino immigrant home, I learned the importance of Spanish and English in the United States. Spanish is my first language and English my second. My parents figured they’d take this approach as being a Latina-American, I would be exposed to English everywhere else. My physical features clearly depicts where I am from, sometimes so much people are taken back when words come out of my mouth.

My parents were my only link to Latin America and where I came from — and they made sure this link was a steel chain…a chain that has become a strong part of my identity today. History, Literature, Politics, Values were all part of a foundation strengthening my identity. My eyes embraced poetry by Cesar Davila Andrade & Pablo Neruda; Literature by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — particularly his book, “El General en su Laberinto/The General in his Labyrinth”, a story surrounding itself upon a historical and important figure in South America, Simon Bolivar. I would sit attentively as my dad told me of the Gran Colombia and what became of this once ideal South American Country and what it was present day. I would watch and read news on current events in Latin America…I lived in Latin America all the while living in the United States.

I spoke, learned, thought, read and wrote Spanish but as years passed and as I integrated myself in a predominantly English-Speaking country I rapidly moved away from my little Latin America. I was always my family’s interpreter. But as I made friends and attended school, English took over as my first language. Eventually Pop culture took its toll on my life and I fell into a world of hanging out, wanting sleepovers or become part of the Girl Scouts and thinking friends were family. Next thing you know, my parents were at a fervent struggle, with me in the middle and Anglo-America on the other side tugging.

However, there was one thing that kept me from losing my identity…one thing my parents never forgot to remind me by doing this one thing….and that is Speaking Spanish. A language in which constantly reminded me where I came from, enforcing all I was taught through that language. And so I ask myself one perplexing question….why are so many families…as I have witnessed…within our own community so reluctant to pass this on to their first generation Latino-American children?

Walking down the street of NYC or riding its trains and buses I sometimes listen to Latino immigrant parents speaking to their children in English and sometimes when their children attempt to speak Spanish they would correct them. I have also met young Latinos who would not speak a word of Spanish nor associate themselves with their culture. Instead they seemed very removed from this part of their identity.

Throughout my Graduate studies I found an answer to this question and much of it has to do with living in a country in which constantly promotes xenophobia. This country was established by immigrants and there has always been an influx of different ethnicities throughout our history. When Irish immigrants migrated to this country, similar animosity was expressed by alleged true Americans in the U.S. They were socio-economically set aside. At one point they co-habited positively with African Americans a group also set aside by American society. Seneca Village and Five Points were two historically recognized neighborhoods in which Irish and African Americans co-habited. However, the Irish had one benefit working to their advantage, their color. Soon, Americans were not able to bear the idea of a white group living with a group of color. They rapidly integrated themselves to American society all the while leaving their culture in an attempt to portray what an American was implied to be.

As many of us have watched documentaries or tuned in to the daily news we see, hear and read about “real Americans” and their anger towards Latino immigrants — “We’re in America, in this country we speak English”…”Why can’t they learn English?!”. Rejection, repugnance, disgust are all expressed through crimes and even policy making on behalf of state governments.

Many immigrant parents feel and see this animosity and thus naturally feel the need to protect their children from hate and anger simply because of where they come from. Many then feel they need to inculcate their children the American way in order to be accepted by society, not realizing they were aiding in burying an important part of their identity.

Seventy-Five Percent of the world does not speaking English. That means English is only a small part of humanity. Everything else is composed of different colors, languages, food, history, politics, religion, etc. And the United States should represent what this country truly is…a country of Immigrants. An example of how humanity can live in harmony regardless of differences.

And as Latinos, we should be a little stronger than that and strengthen our identities through language because it is nevertheless our only enduring door to our rich and beautiful culture that many of us still take pride in.

 

The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Immigrant Policies

10 Sep

“RESTRICT ALL IMMIGRATION PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILDREN AGAINST RUINOUS LABOR AND BUSINESS COMPETITION THROUGH UNRESTRICTED IMMIGRATION”

Based on the language of above-mentioned quote, one can link it to today’s current issues in our country but if one would inquire where it came from, this was written in a newspaper article in the early twentieth century–now blown up as a large poster board in one of Ellis Island’s exhibits, describing the xenophobic sentiments and policies generated and promoted throughout that time.  Individuals from Irish, Italian, Polish and Scandinavian descent were cast aside and fell victims to violence, harassment and persecution simply because of their migratory status.

Towards the late nineteenth century, President Wilson’s Immigration Act of 1882 restricted the influx of immigrants, denying uneducated immigrants to this country and specifically denying Chinese immigrants the right to migrate to the U.S.  The Temporary Quota Act of 1921 during President Hoover’s administration monitored the amount of immigrants coming into this country from Europe.  The National Origins Act of 1924 opened doors for massive Irish migration unlike the massive restriction of Italian migration to this country (65,700 Irish immigrants compared to 5,000 Italian immigrants coming into the U.S. ‘Data based on Erickson-Coble’s study).

Prior information is only a minute explanation of this country’s vicious cycle of anti-immigrant sentiment which creates a paradox since this IS the only country established by immigrants. Today we are faced with the Arizona law SB1070. Rhode Island, Florida, Massachusetts and New Mexico are some of the states in this country who have begun proposing anti-immigrant policies within their states. These policies proposed by individuals which if we were to take it upon ourselves to research are more than likely, unless they are 100% Native American, descendants of immigrants.  However, the argument to a comment such as the one I just mentioned would be that their descendants arrived here under legal conditions but this too can be questioned.

This country was found through blood-shed and war, internally and externally.  The history that is neglected by much of academia from grades K-12 is the mass genocide of real natives by settlers who are now ancestors of many of these anti-immigrant politicians and individuals.  Under basic human law, the morality of how this country came to be founded, can be considered illegal thus deeming all of us, with the exception of Native Americans, illegals.  So how can the pot call the kettle black?

These anti-immigrant policies promote violence, xenophobia and racism within a society that is not fully educated within the field and importance of immigration.  We have slowly witnessed the increase of violence towards the Latino community.  Just as anti-immigrant policies are being promoted and increasing, so are hate crimes.  The murder of an Ecuadorian immigrant in Long Island, a group of Guatemalan immigrants in Brooklyn, Mexican immigrants in Staten Island are some of the cases we see on the 6pm or 11pm news.  What we do not see is a discrete and social impact these policies have amongst us.  This I can attest to…

As many New Yorkers can relate, we constantly witness or are part of confrontations during our travels.  And I myself have heard or seen a shift in some of these confrontations.  In a city full of diversity and modernity one cannot imagine racism would exist but it does.  If one is brown, the usual stereotype these days is that we are illegal or we do not speak Spanish.  Ignorance + Anti-Immigrant Policies= Hate…this formula has viciously transcended into our daily lives.  I myself have been witness to comments such as, “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY, YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!!!”, “THIS IS AMERICA, LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH”, “SPIC!”  Words that are freely used by a individuals young/old and who consider themselves, “American”.  But I ask myself what is American?  Latinos are American, all of us by birth, for we come from only a different part of America.  And English is not a native language, for it is a language brought forth by European immigrants who in some shape or form forcefully established themselves in a country already inhabited by Native Americans all whom have been in some form been cast aside from asserting what can be considered an illegal immigrant.

Every country has every right to control their own borders, to that extent I can agree.  However, immigration reform policy is urgently needed.  Current policies only repeat the mistakes of administration’s pasts and ignite the same hate Western European immigrants had for Eastern European immigrants in the late nineteenth century or Protestant immigrants had for Catholic Immigrants in the early twentieth century. Today, Latinos are the second largest consumers in the USA and hold important roles within the labor market, illegal or legal.  Our community and influence is embedded within the market therefore in a highly globalized country we are essential to this country’s past, present and future.

Marcelo Lucero – You are remembered…

6 Nov

As a Latina but most of all an Ecuadorean American, Marcelo Lucero will always share a part of my identity.  On November 8, 2008, this Ecuadorian immigrant was beaten and stabbed to his death by seven teenagers in Patchogue, Long Island.  As Mr. Lucero was walking to a friend’s house, these teenagers who were “Beaner-Hopping” confused him as a Mexican, beat him and with a stab in the chest, killed him.  Regardless of the assumption made by Suffolk County’s Executive Steve Levy, his death was not a “One Day Story”.  Instead it has opened a Pandora’s Box which can no longer be ignored.

Post World War II, Long Island attracted manufacturing jobs.  But in the ‘90’s the decrease of the industry made room for private sector jobs.  As the industry expanded so did residents’ incomes and so did their need for low-wage labor. Service industries within restaurants, landscaping, construction and domestic work aided Long Island’s economy but enforced an informal labor market consisting of predominantly Latino immigrants.

Latinos compose 12% of the Long Island population, pronouncing itself the largest minority.  Most of them low-wage workers, endure long hours, unsafe working conditions, low wages and no job security.  Individuals such as Marcelo Lucero were a part of this community.  Latino immigrants have forged an essential role within Suffolk County, but their “status” marginalizes them from the rest of society thus conceding to a sense of vulnerability.  The lack of proper immigration reform has permitted hate crimes and exploitative practices towards our community.  And has forcibly silenced many.

This “silence” is no conundrum.  Their “illegal” status silences them out of fear.  Fear not only of the people around them but of politicians.  Politicians who have and are adding fuel to the fire.  Politicians who stereotype and avidly express anti-immigrant sentiment and support for legislation promoting such, teach their followers the same.  The only difference is that through ignorance; hate, xenophobia, racism or whatever one chooses to call it will reflect through violence.  And if politicians are against the community, then “silence” is the best option.  But this should not be their, our only choice or even a choice at all.

The term “illegal” should not be used as a way of setting a community aside and placing them in the shadows of silence.  The lack of legality in this country should not dehumanize them.  Everyone is entitled to the right to life.  Regardless of color, race, sex, gender, status…we are all human beings and have a place in this world.  Marcelo Lucero had one as well as many of the Marcelo Luceros in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York State…the United States.  We all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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