Tag Archives: American

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/)

For Same-Sex Couples Trapped by the Immigration System, Marriage Equality in New York Isn’t Enough

13 Jul

Within the Latino community, especially back in our countries of descent, homosexuality can be handled as taboo—you know it exists, but you do not talk about it. In most Latin American countries, religion is quite important and shapes the values of many families, creating a sense of animosity towards the LGBT communities.

My parents are from Ecuador, and during a trip there nine years ago, I met individuals who kept their orientation a secret but would ask me how their lifestyle would be perceived in the US. Based on what I told them, they expressed their utmost desire to one day live in New York. This was their American Dream.

In a few weeks, LGBT couples in New York will be able to walk into City Hall and say, “I do,” thanks to the Marriage Equality Act, a law that was recently passed with the support of Governor Cuomo and a majority of New York State’s elected officials.

The mere thought fills me with excitement, even anxiety, at what awaits—New York State, a symbol of equality. It makes me feel good just to write that.

Unfortunately, this historic victory won’t change the way federal law regards LGBT couples, in New York or any other state, and it won’t help such couples enjoy the same rights afforded to their heterosexual counterparts.

Soon after marriage equality passed in New York, I started hearing about another piece of legislation: The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, the act recognizes the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, denying LGBT couples the federal status given to heterosexual spouses.

Not only does the Defense of Marriage Act block marriage equality legislation on a federal level, it grants states the right to not recognize same-sex marriages conducted by other states.

But that’s not all. The law also keeps LGBT spouses from applying for citizenship in the way that a heterosexual spouse could.

It’s no accident that our immigration laws target LGBT couples. Just look at our immigration system’s history of discrimination over sexual-orientation:

The Immigration Act of 1917 placed openly homosexual immigrants under the classification of “mentally defective,” and the amended Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 linked homosexuality to “sexual deviation,” enacting a closed door policy to any openly gay immigrant.

The Immigration Act of 1990 eventually made legal immigration possible for openly homosexual immigrants, but that still doesn’t account for same-sex couples who want their spouses to join them in the US.

Since the Defense of Marriage Act does not recognize same-sex marriages, one same-sex spouse cannot file for permanent residency for his or her partner, perpetually ostracizing those couples based on their sexual orientation.

Anyone who studies social issues knows that policies and problems tend to be linked to one another. Immigration and LGBT rights are a perfect example.

Immigrants today, regardless of their sexual orientation, share the aspirations that newcomers throughout history have expressed – the desire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For me, it all comes back to the people who I met in Ecuador. One particular guy who I met was living in secret. When I asked him what came next, he said “nothing.” He planned to eventually marry a woman and have children. He would be stuck living in the shadows, only able to dream of a different life in the US.

As a country, we should be proud that members of LGBT communities abroad look upon us in such a positive light. Let’s try to live up to that reputation, and support changes to our immigration system that will give long overdue equal rights to LGBT couples.

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

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….

 

Latina in Suburbia

2 May

I have been a New York City native all my life. Was born, raised and lived in Queens the last 26 years. Recently married, I relocated with my husband to Suffolk County. He was born, raised and lived there all HIS life. The two of us brought two worlds together in one home and continue exploring and living out our life as a modern day couple — heavy metal-meets-reggaeton; Ceviche-meets-Corned Beef; Futbol-meets-Drag Racing; Novelas-meet -Reality Shows…and boy can we go on! A new world and representation of how times have changed…or have they?

Living in Suffolk County has opened my eyes that New York City and what it stands for, is only a small part of New York State let alone our entire nation. And suburbia most certainly consists of a different culture.  Reading, listening and watching local media sources and people’s ways of interaction has simply opened my eyes to a silent ignorance resonating throughout a suburban community. Filled with stereotypes and general misinterpretation of different cultures has led to a clear division within this county. While I have had the pleasure of meeting very open-minded individuals whom are simply curious as to who I am, I have also have met individuals who have clearly shown a non-welcoming attitude if I dare say uncomfortable mannerisms once this elephant comes into the room (yes, I shall refer myself as the elephant).

While this can be irritating, I choose to channel it through an education filter…and how do I do this?  Pretty much educating ignorance. Yes, I have had individuals initially attempt to treat me as an analphabet however they are proven wrong once we verbally interact on whatever the issue may be. I have also have had the pleasure of being able to teach at the local college in Suffolk. At the beginning of the semester, many students had misconceptions of the Latino community based on stereotypes but as the semester has progressed these same students have shown me that all individuals need is to be educated. And I don’t mean this in a Higher Education sort of way because realistically we cannot send all of Suburbia back to school but government can certainly provide an alternative method. Instead of having our local representatives, such as Steve Levy (Suffolk’s County Executive) use the “anchor baby” reference and criminalizing immigrants providing local residents only this perception of a community, government-formed commissions or forces should be formed instead. These entities should educate residents on the misuse of stereotypes and provide culture insight on our community. Insights into a diverse community full of Entrepreneurs, Public Servants, customs, art, music, food…simply a diverse culture within a culture.

Until this ideas dawns upon local government, I will continue eliminating stereotypes on an individual level and hopefully government will catch up.

 

A Fairytale Wedding…

29 Apr

Many of us cherish our sleep so much that we are willing to press on that “Snooze” buttom five hundred times until the last minute when we literally have to RUN out of our houses/apts. to start our days. We may skip breakfast or a good morning work-out to start off our day because we are soooo busy and time is key. However, many of the people falling within this category  have been up since 4am this morning!  Why?! Well if you can’t answer this question then you simply haven’t been watching the news! Its the Royal Wedding!

William & Kate Middleton have just wed and its all many people talk about! From hosting Wedding parties in the city to buying memorabilia, this wedding has become another event thanks to our strong pop culture within our society.  However, this is another event that in my opinion represents our social and political hypocrisy…much which many choose to ignore.

Social hypocrisy — mostly because its a wedding between two strangers which most of us have absolutely no personal connection. A wedding between what some media sources have called a wedding between a “commoner” and a Prince. A wedding representing what many women dream of! However, its only a binding social contract in which from the first day of their courtship consisted of obligations and responsibilities mostly on her part. A contract which dictates how she will smile, how she’ll be referred to, what she will wear, what she can or cannot do PERIOD! Less we not forget another Royal Wedding in which many women dreamed to be in that other woman’s place, William’s mother, the late Diana. A fairytale wedding in which many women dreamed of (and continue dreaming of as we’ve witnessed in bridal shows and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent just for a few hours by future marital couples). But many will not mention the fairytale turned nightmare of the years following Diana. A nightmare in which is part of a reality in which many choose to ignore; consisting of adultery, bulimia, attempted suicide, depression along with all the other obligations she was forced to conform to once married. That is why I find it funny many so-called feminists or women who like to use the word “Independent” countless times would actually sit in front of a television at 4am, travel to Buckingham palace, or  purchase memorabilia…simply being part of this hype, salivating over an event such as this.

Political Hypocrisy — The definition of a monarchy: “is a form of government in which all political power is passed down to an individual (usually hereditary) known as a monarch (“single ruler”). In a time where even democratically voted in leaders are labeled dictators, monarchies are sole examples of dictatorships. They were initially forms of governments which claimed they had a divine right to rule over people and most ruled over many…RUTHLESSLY! Both British and Spanish monarchies will and are going down in history as ruthless forms of governments which colonized (and in Britain’s situation continues to colonize) many countries. The American Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution are two grande examples of the result of colonization. As many of us have learned in our elementary, middle, secondary and higher education classes monarchies go down in history as bearers of plagues, genocide, diseases and rape among social diseases as well. So my question is why do they continue to exist? While the British monarchy is not an official form of government, it continues to be influential in its current one as well as its society. And while we attack other countries for holding what many believe are dictatorships or symbols of such, the symbol of who colonized the United States is admired?

So as many watch and continue to follow this event, not only will I refuse to refer to any of those figures as Prince/Princess/Queen; nor will I dress up to go out to a wedding party/reception (I boycotted the idea even on MY wedding day). Instead I will be productive with myself and relax for tomorrow’s Drag Race Event in Maryland 😀

 

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 Pilgrims did not knock at this Latina’s door….

24 Nov

Instead this day will be another day of  thanking an all-mightier power for all that my family and I have been blessed with. And acknowledging the struggles/obstacles that each one of us have gone through and OUR ancestors have gone through, so we could be where we are today.   It is a day of reflection – a day in which many have a pre-concieved notion honoring pilgrims and idolizing a capitalized image of an American Thanksgiving.

In school, we cut out turkeys and read a few paragraphs in our textbooks on how the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower; met with this country’s Native’s and as they founded a friendship, they sat together and ate in harmony.  Its a nice fairy tale the academic system likes to brainwash us with as children but as an adult, growing up in a “non-American” household, daughter of Latino immigrants you learn to accept reality in your life very early in life.  Our school textbooks did not touch upon biological plagues colonists brought to Natives or violence that was inflicted upon them resulting in a mass genocide and segregation of Native Americans in this country by these so-called friendly foreigners.  Instead, many parents choose a fictitious and fairy tale method of teaching, establishing an invisible blind-fold on their children’s eyes perpetuating a vicious cycle of traditions founded upon lies.

Married with an American man has brought this day in a whole new light this year as we prepare to share Thanksgiving as a family.  A new family has been established with two completely different worlds but somehow that is the reason why I have accepted this day but in a different manner.  I will not honor this day to give thanks to those so-called happy go lucky pilgrims–whom for most part brought diseases and violence to the Indigenous Natives of this country.  In respect to this day, it will be honored as a day of reflection as to the sacrifices my ancestors, throughout my family’s history have made on all levels because if it was not for them, I would not be where I am today. While I’ll be making Candied Sweet Potatoes, my mother in law the stuffing and my mom the turkey — we will be sitting down reflecting and thanking for literally bringing two completely different worlds together and finding an alternate and new ritual to us Giving Thanks…..