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Alabama’s “counterproductive cruelty-” HB56 – threatens the right to education and triggers exodus from the state

It’s been looming for months like a dark, ominous cloud over Alabama. After almost five months since it was first enacted and then pondered over by U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn, Alabama’s shocking HB 56 law went into effect on September 28, officially making the state the most regressive and cruel in its attitude towards immigrants. If the supporters of the law aimed to create the nation’s most hostile environment for immigrants, they have succeeded. The news of the passage of HB 56 triggered widespread panic across immigrant communities in Alabama, prompting numerous families to pull their children out of the local schools and many others to move out of the state altogether.

Among its several stipulations, HB 56 requires police to investigate the immigration status of those pulled over for routine traffic stops. This measure ostensibly lends itself to racial profiling since it mandates that police make judgments on who to stop for “reasonable suspicion” based on their appearance. Moreover, the law will also make it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state and make it a misdemeanor for an undocumented resident to be without immigration documents if stopped and checked. In addition to permitting police to ask for documents from anyone they suspect of being undocumented, the law also invalidates contracts with undocumented immigrants, which could keep them from finding housing.

Perhaps the biggest blow from the law is to the right to public education for all children. Under HB 56, elementary and secondary schools are now required to check the immigration status of incoming students. This unconstitutional crackdown in the education sector goes against a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that all children living in the United States have the right to a public education, regardless of their immigration status. In the case, Plyler vs. Doe in Texas, the justices had struck down a state statute that denied funding for education to undocumented students and charged such students $1000 annual fee to compensate for the lost state funding. The judgement was formed on the rationale  that an uneducated immigrant community was not beneficial for the country.

That reasoning, it seems, was lost on the Alabama state government that just passed HB 56. The law’s damage to the state economy is already evident. The Associated Press reported in the days following the ruling, only handfuls of farm workers showed up for work. According to an article in the The New York Times on the sudden exodus of immigrants from the state-

Critics of the law, particularly farmers, contractors and home builders, say the measure has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor. They say that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving, an assessment that seems to be borne out in interviews here. The legal status of family members is often mixed — children are often American-born citizens — but the decision whether to stay rests on the weakest link.

Within just a week of the law going into effect, schools across the state of Alabama have witnessed a dramatic drop in attendance by Hispanic students, with many of them even withdrawing completely. In Montgomery County alone, over 200 Hispanic students stayed home the morning after HB 56 went into effect. Other counties and school districts also reported numerous students either absent or withdrawn over the week, prompting the superintendent in Huntsville to go on a Spanish-language TV channel in an attempt to calm the widespread worry. While authorities claim that they only want schools to report numbers and not names, communities are not convinced, fearing a likely situation where children will be targeted for their status.

This Associated Press video outlines some of the devastating elements that make HB 56 harsher than some of the anti-immigrant laws previously enacted in Arizona and Georgia-


The reactions from within the community have been those of shock, fear and hurt. Victor Palafox, a resident of Birmingham who was brought to the U.S from Mexico when he was six, commented, ”Younger students are watching their lives taken from their hands.” The devastating effect this law will have on the education of immigrant children is already very visible. Legal residents such as Cuban-born Annabelle Frank expressed her fear of sending her six-year-old son to school: ”I’m actually considering home-schooling. Because I don’t want him involved in all this that’s going on. I know, because he is Hispanic, in some way he’s going to be singled out, you know? I’m really afraid of that.”

HB 56 unapologetically sanctions racial profiling and in doing so, has countless repercussions on various aspects of life in Alabama. While the negative impact on education and the state economy is already becoming clear, the law will instill a climate of fear and mistrust between communities and local police and law enforcement. A New York Times editorial questions the “counterproductive cruelty” of HB 56, asking “Do Alabamans want children too frightened to go to school? Or pregnant women too frightened to seek care? Whom could that possibly benefit?”

The passage of this law could result in the isolation and ghettoization an entire section of the population. HB 56 doesn’t present any sort of solution to the issue of undocumented immigration. It only throws the entire state into jeopardy in the long run, with the immigrant communities and children bearing the absolute worst of the damage.

Laws such as Alabama’s HB 56 and Arizona’s SB 1070 are unconstitutional and against the grain of basic American values of dignity, and respect for everyone. Education is a human right. Living without fear of racial profiling is a human right. When we deny human rights to some, we put all of our rights at risk. If you think Alabama’s HB 56 is unjust, please sign this petition to the Department of Justice asking them to block the law from going into effect. To rally for Alabama’s future, click here.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

Fictional ban on interracial unions and abortion in America 2049 becoming all too real today

Games, it turns out, imitate life — sometimes eerily so — just as history so often threatens to repeat itself. This week, Breakthrough’s ongoing Facebook gaming event, America 2049, tackles two major issues that become linked within the narrative of the game: interracial unions and abortion. During gameplay, players encounter the story of Bonnie, a privileged white Southern woman who is pregnant with the child of a black man: the product, that is, of an illegal relationship. But that’s not the only reason she’s in hiding; she’s also at risk of being forced to abort her baby as a “mercy” (”A baby like that wouldn’t know who its own kind is,” her father says), even though abortion too is illegal in this scenario. That’s where class comes in, too: it’s made clear that while families like hers have access to skilled abortion care, women less fortunate — and forced to seek out back-alley providers — die at a rate of 180,000 per year.

Sounds a lot like our pre-Roe v. Wade past, but also, more and more, like our near future. Last month, a Public Policy Polling survey (PDF) found that a majority of Republican voters in Mississippi would support a ban on interracial marriage. Meanwhile, on May 4, all House Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to pass H.R.3, the so-called “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act,” which Ms. Magazine has called “misleading and punitive.” (For one thing, there is no federal funding of abortion.)

The bill will now go to the Senate, which is Democrat-controlled, leading many to believe that it will likely not pass. The Obama administration has also promised to veto the bill if it comes across the President’s desk.

The Mississippi poll results and the H.R.3 passage in the House happened independently, but their timing is apt. The scenario explored in America 2049 connects back to our country’s history of anti-miscegenation laws, which were not repealed until 1967. The story of Bonnie, the character in the game, echoes that of an interracial married couple Richard and Mildred Loving, whose fight for equality led to the historic 1967 decision to legalize interracial unions.

The Lovings are the subject of the new documentary The Loving Story that screened recently at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will air on HBO in February 2012. Richard Loving, a white man, met Mildred Jeter, a woman of African and Native American ancestry, in 1951 in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred was 18, she became pregnant. She and Richard went to nearby Washington, D.C. and got married, since Virginia laws at the time prohibited interracial marriage. A few weeks later, back in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for their union and banished from the state for 25 years. The Lovings reached out to legislators and advocates in Washington, D.C. and, after a long fight, they won their right to be together. On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state anti-miscegenation laws and the Lovings returned to Virginia to live out the rest of their lives. The anniversary of the date, June 12, is now celebrated as “Loving Day“ by some interracial couples and increasing numbers of same-sex couples, who are currently fighting for their own right to marry.

Watch a testimonial by Bonnie, a character in America 2049, who speaks about the danger she is in for being in an interracial relationship and being pregnant with an interracial child:

The right to choose whom to love or marry; the right to control one’s body and future: they’re intimately linked. And at present — with H.R.3 only one of numerous legislative attacks on women’s human rights today — the latter truly hangs in the balance.

As Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, commented:

”True to form, the House majority has cast a wide net in its attack on women’s health and rights — this time, trying to use the tax code to eradicate all insurance coverage for abortion. This move is the height of hypocrisy, because politicians who regularly rail against big government today voted to raise taxes on millions of families and small businesses — merely to stop them from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, added:

”Despite facing intense public backlash for bringing the government to the brink of shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood, Speaker Boehner and his allies have resumed their war on women with the passage of H.R.3. This bill is so extreme that it manipulates the tax code to advance anti-choice policies and could spur the IRS to audit rape and incest survivors who choose abortion care.”

The H.R.3 bill also affects the rights of physicians and their freedom to properly care for their patients. While women’s rights are greatly affected by this potential piece of legislation, the providers who would administer the abortions safely will be even more restricted and possibly at greater risk. The Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) is one such group of providers who have committed to providing reproductive medical care, especially to those who with limited financial means. The organization supports the right of their doctors to deliver such care without becoming a target. Last night in New York, the PRCH Abortion Provider Awards recognized the dedication, compassion and tenacity of Dr. Eleanor Drey and Dr. Curtis Boyd. Said Dr. Boyd: “We are now facing the most repressive and aggressive legislation against women that we’ve seen since the 1950s.” How will we treat women and families of all sorts in the 2050s? You decide.

Photo courtesy of america2049.com

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“With Osama Bin Laden dead, can we have our rights back?” – How the effects of 9/11 could lead to America 2049

On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced the death of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the notorious terrorist who spearheaded the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. While the predominant reaction from around the world has been one of relief and joy, bin Laden’s death reminds us of just how big an impact the 9/11 attacks had on us and the way we perceive and treat each other.

While the U.S. was already grappling with the immigration issue, 9/11 triggered a major overhaul of legislation that imposed stringent restrictions on immigration and gave the government much greater power to infringe on the rights of citizens and visitors to this country. The U.S had essentially gone into lock-down mode domestically, and U.S. foreign policy became more aggressive. At the time of the attacks, Barack Obama was an local politician only known in Chicago, and largely unknown to the world. He wrote a short article for his local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, in which he reacted to the tragic events of that day and suggested a cautious approach to its repercussions. He stated-

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.

Obama’s emphasis on steering clear of blind rage and discrimination, as a way of blaming certain groups for the attacks, seems prophetic now. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed increasingly stringent immigration enforcement, and a steady dissolution of civil rights and attitudes towards immigrant communities, especially Muslim-Americans and South Asians. This view was echoed by Chris Hedges, a senior journalist and war correspondent who witnessed 9/11 and was plunged into its aftermath. In an address at a fundraising event on Sunday night as news of bin Laden’s death was creeping in, Hedges remembered-

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

The risks and backlash that both Obama and Hedges referenced have materialized over the last decade and placed the U.S. at a crucial crossroads where the decisions we take now will significantly impact the America of the future. In its fifth week, Breakthrough‘s human rights Facebook game America 2049 takes players to their mission in Phoenix, Arizona, which has been in someway the epicenter of the immigration debate.  In Phoenix, players confront heightened debates around severely restricted immigration policies. Players are also confronted with a scenario where ethnic celebrations and festivals have been outlawed for fear that “they promote dissent and unnecessarily emphasize differences between populations.” The game presents players with choices for how to address such a situation in the future, and by referencing historical artifacts, shows how our present could very well lead to the dytopic future that the game depicts. One example of this historical reference is a 1920s songbook – “O! Close the Gates.” (see photo) – that demonized immigrants in popular culture.

In Level 5 of America 2049, players also meet Cynthia Espinoza. Watch her testimonial about the need to preserve America’s multicultural heritage:

America 2049 addresses the rights of immigrants, including forced immigrant workers, in a country that has struggled to reach a rational solution to the “foreign threats” amplified by the attacks of 9/11. The attacks changed the immigration issue in America dramatically, sparking off a wave of new legislation or a tightening of existing ones. In an intriguing article, the Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) outlined five ways in which Osama bin Laden — and the 9/11 attacks he masterminded — altered the immigration landscape in the U.S. These include, perhaps most notoriously, the establishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been responsible for a growing number of deportations each year, as well as the now-canceled Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) or the “virtual fence” that was planned for the entire stretch of US-Mexico border. The erosion of basic rights accelerated with the Patriot Act, which considerably expanded the government’s ability to conduct surveillance over Americans.

The calls for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified over the past few years, making it even more pressing to address the rights of immigrants who have no criminal records and are working hard to become part of American society. Another aspect of the immigration debate that is brought up in America 2049 is the degradation of immigrant worker rights and forced migration. While the tragedy of 9/11 caused the government to enforce stricter anti-immigrant legislation, one of the side effects has been the neglect of immigrant worker conditions. In America 2049, players discover an actual account by a Puerto Rican laborer at Camp Bragg, Rafael F. Marchan, who protested against his deplorable working conditions in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, such situations still exist today, as reported by the New York Times about a story of “500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse.” The fact that such forced servitude of immigrant workers continues a hundred years on from the example in America 2049 proves that prompt action must be taken to restore basic human rights for everyone.

So while the world celebrates the end of a tyrant, we must remember that more than celebrating a death, we must take this opportunity to work towards lasting peace and respect for basic rights for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or background. Osama bin Laden caused much havoc around the world and claimed countless innocent lives, but letting his actions be used as a reason for the dissolution of respect and rights for hard working, innocent people can simply not be justified. As a statement that circulated virally soon after bin Laden’s death was announced said- “If Osama Bin Laden is dead, can we have our rights back?” Ten years on, let’s make that our main goal.

Photo courtesy of Norton, et. al., A People and a Nation (5th ed., 1998)

Re-enactment of Chinese immigrant exclusion and recent quelling of protests show a future without diversity and freedom

“The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.”
- Eleanor Holmes Norton, civil rights activist and Democrat Delegate to Congress representing the District of Columbia.

The freedom to disagree forms the bedrock of a thriving democratic society. Today, as we witness numerous incidents of suppressed protests and dissent around the world, the call for this freedom becomes even more pertinent. It also reminds us of America’s fortunate position as a society where considerable disagreement is allowed to foster healthy debates on issues. This freedom of speech and debate is inextricably linked to our nation’s fabric as a confluence of immigrants. This week, Breakthrough‘s ongoing Facebook game America 2049 addresses the issue of quelling dissent in the future, reminding us that the freedoms we have today can easily be restricted for the sake of supposed national security. On Saturday, April 30, Breakthrough is also partnering with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) in San Francisco to host the Interrogation Reenactment Event,* an opportunity for visitors to witness a historical scenario and learn about its repercussions today. From the event organizers-

…actors in period costumes will reenact an actual interrogation of Chinese immigrants attempting to overcome the Chinese Exclusion Acts [of 1882], the first American legislation to exclude a specific race or nationality from immigration to this country. We will see what these intended immigrants went through at the island’s Administration Building, and the outcome of their ordeal. Following that, well-known professors Judy Yung, professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, and Bill Ong Hing, law professor at the University of San Francisco, and a recent immigrant who is a college student will participate in a panel discussion relating the Angel Island experience to what immigrants face today.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 provided a 10-year absolute moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. It was then extended in the form of the Geary Act, which added further restrictions on Chinese immigrants already in the United States. Chinese immigration was stringently regulated until 1943, when all these exclusionary acts were repealed in favor of more rational quotas on immigration for each nationality. The targeting of specific immigrant groups (based on their ethnic background) in the U.S. exists in other forms even today with some states passing stringent immigration acts that tend to affect the Latino communities primarily.

Harsh immigration laws affect our country to this day. The diversity of opinion that comes with healthy immigration forms the unique social, cultural and political fabric of our country. Today, as the people of several Arab nations are rising to claim their rights for equality and fair governance, some of their own governments are actively halting their protests. While the future of the ‘Arab Spring’ remains to be seen, this moment in history points to the greater issue of freedom of speech. Americans are fortunate to have much greater freedoms in protesting and dissent, but we must remain aware of this and not take it for granted.

In America 2049 this week, players are confronted with a situation where the authorities have sanctioned the use of a chemical agent in the water supply, SerennAide, that would pre-emptively quell any dissenting activity, making the population completely passive. Whether fictitious, as shown in Joss Whedon’s 2005 space western film Serenity (in which a chemical agent was added to the air processors of a planet to calm the population), or the very real new “calming” drink ‘Just Chill’ from a California-based company, a SerennAide-like scenario is not too far from reality. Most importantly, SerennAide is also a symbol for institutional measures that have sought to prevent dissent or difference of opinion for the sake of national good throughout our history. In the bleak future of America 2049, the situation is at an extreme, raising awareness for the value of diversity of opinion.

A society that is so heavily based on immigration and diversity, such as the United States, must remain aware of its uniqueness and strengths. We must learn from our past, from decisions we made then to actively prohibit specific groups of immigrants, and understand how such practices today or in the future will only damage our social framework.

Watch a message from ‘M,’ the masked leader of Divided We Fall, the presumed terrorist group in America 2049. ‘M’ speaks about the the importance of dissent and difference of opinion to nurture a healthy democracy, especially as authorities in 2049 sanction the use of SerennAide:

*Be sure to check out the ferry schedule to allow for more time to arrive to the Immigration Station. For more information on ferry, tickets and schedule, visit AIISF’s event page.

Click here to “Like” the America 2049 Facebook Page.

Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Fox News’ awkward reaction to SNL’s “Fox & Friends” spoof

“Fox News: Coffee, smiles, fear and terror!”

On April 9, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) actors Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan played the presenters of Fox News’ morning talk show ‘Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade, respectively. The cast discussed several current issues starting with the federal budget showdown last week to Mexican immigration and the issue of anchor babies. They barreled through the topics with humorous irony, proving that these issues are very much pertinent. As recent events around the country regarding anti-immigrant laws and challenges to birthright citizenship indicate, the opinions they spoofed do in fact exist in our country.

In one of the many digs at Fox News and their conservative alignment, Moynihan as Kilmeade talks about how close the U.S. government came to a shutdown last week, with: “We almost had the first government shutdown in the history of this country!” When his co-host Carlson asks if that’s true, Kilmeade gleefully responds, “Oh I just assumed.” At another point Carlson, expressing her strong objections to Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, asserts that “When American kids get too skinny, chubby Mexicans will take American acting jobs. Just look at the kid on ‘Modern Family’!” With this skit, the SNL team joins a growing number of mainstream media that are explicitly addressing the issue of immigration, with another recent example being ABC’s ‘The Good Wife’ that broke stereotypes when representing an immigrant Latina nanny. The SNL team takes this further by spoofing the attitude of Fox News towards this issue, with a particularly spirited appearance by Helen Mirren as a “border war expert” who shares her fears about “undercover Mexicans in America, you know, known as A-merx-icans.”

The following Monday, April 11, the real ‘Fox & Friends’ reacted to the SNL spoof by very carefully steering clear of any of the issues that NBC’s cast had addressed. The hosts discussed the impersonations done by the SNL cast but avoided any mention of how the spoof challenged Fox News’ stance on many pertinent issues. Gretchen Carlson (the real one), then concluded their discussion on the spoof by saying-

“Thank you, SNL, for saying that we mean something in this business. After being number one all this time, why not do a skit on us?”

While SNL’s spoof is timely and a much needed take on the issues in the mainstream pop culture space, it’s also an indication that immigration debates (as well as other socio-cultural topics that were raised) are intensifying. The perspectives that the SNL team mocked do exist, which makes it all the more important that we keep pushing to raise awareness around the issues at hand. The SNL spoof also plays along the lines of Good Day Every Day, the news/curriculum element of Breakthrough’s groundbreaking new human rights Facebook game, America 2049 (”Like” the Facebook page here to learn more). Watch the host of the future – Fox Williams – discuss a range of issues including immigration, sex trafficking, religious intolerance and racial profiling, and discover how the discussions tie into the mission of the game.

We look forward to the next major mainstream take on these issues. Until then, play America 2049 and watch SNL’s take on “Fox & Friends” here (our readers in the US can watch it in its original version on the NBC site):

Photo courtesy of rawstory.com

The winner of the I AM THIS LAND contest is…

From our b-listed blog-

(DRUMROLL PLEASE…)

The judges have spoken!

We’re pleased to announce that the winner for the I AM THIS LAND contest on diversity is Role Call!

Role Call was created by a team of students and alumni from Flushing International High School (FIHS) in Queens, New York under the supervision of FIHS Media Arts Teacher, Dillon Paul. The MTV-style video – of a student in class daydreaming about gender, cultural expression, and racial stereotypes – won the judges over.

Watch below!

Breakthrough got the chance to meet the winners at FIHS and we were quite taken with their story.Watch our interview with the high school team HERE. “The video was created in response to several incidents of violence in our school, and our desire to use media to promote respect and tolerance in our school and beyond,” said teacher Dillon Paul. “Our students come from approximately 40 different countries and speak 20 different languages. Like most high schools, however, cultural differences, sexual and gender identity can be sources of discomfort and fear, leading to bigotry, bullying and violence.”

Paul worked with current students and two alumni, Jean Franco Vergaray and Osbani Garcia, to introduce the Gay Straight Alliance, that promotes respect and equality for LGBTQ youth, at the school. Said Franco, “That we could portray one person being all these different personalities, all these different identities, was just a way to say, diversity is okay. People shouldn’t be labeled.”

We’re also pleased to announce the first runner up: What Are You? created by Genevieve Lin of Seattle, Washington.

Second place runners up (of equal ranking) are: I’m Coming Out and  American Girl by Eliyas Qureshi of Jersey City, New Jersey; American Dream by Suhir Ponncchamy of Belle Mead, New Jersey and Listen by Luke McKay of Fenton, Michigan. And check back for interviews with some of the other participants!  Visit I AM THIS LAND, to see all the amazing entries!

Send these videos on to your friends, post on your sites, share and discuss!

Comments on Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND give great insight and hope for the future

From our b-listed blog-

Thank you for all your amazing submissions to the I AM THIS LAND contest. The contest is now officially closed for entries but stay tuned as winners will be announced on Feb 1!

While the videos themselves were overwhelming and impressive, we were also amazed at all the viewers who posted engaging and insightful comments.

From looking at the production value of entries to discussions on diversity and the editorial content of the submissions, I AM THIS LAND’s comments section is informative, inspiring and encouraging. They are as important as the videos submitted! As one mentioned:

“If we believe the aphorism that “two heads are better than one,” then a multitude of traditions, values, and ideas can only be a tremendous resource as we face the challenges and opportunities of this century.”

Viewers suggested looking beyond the physical appearance of a person, beyond their clothes, the color of their skin and their accents. Many discussed how perceptions are formed, the way we quickly form an idea based on preconceived notions.

“If each one of us were to trade places with another race, culture for a period of time, this world would be more understanding to each other.”

Many left personal anecdotes and stories, and had a platform to express their own emotions. The attempt by some of the filmmakers to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of certain communities and issues of sexuality was applauded by others.

At first I had tears in my eyes – “Gay, straight, crooked” – but then it was hard not to laugh “Eyes like Bobby” etc. I’m stunned – such a simple, loving, hysterical coming out should be had by any and all who want one. This message will help to make it so. I’m sure of it. Bravo!

We are proud to have hosted I AM THIS LAND hope these conversations can continue. Check out all entries and feel free to continue write to us with comments and feedback.

How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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Hadn’t we decided on equal education for all?

It was like discovering gold.

When she was in college, Sandra Mendez discovered something about her past that changed the way she looked at her parents forever. An American of Mexican-Puerto Rican descent, Sandra grew up unaware that her brave immigrant parents had been responsible for paving the path to racial desegregation in schools.

65 years ago, this month, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez joined four other families to fight a lawsuit against Orange County, California because their Mexican-American children were not allowed to attend white schools. They won the case, Mendez vs. Westminster, which then set the stage for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1954. Although Sandra had not been born at the time, her elder sister Sylvia remembers it well:

I remember being in court every day. They would dress us up really nice…And I’d be there sitting very quietly, not really understanding what was going on….

It was only later that she began to understand that she would have to continue fighting even after her parents had won the case. In a conversation between Sylvia and Sandra which was recorded as a part of the StoryCorps Historias project, Sylvia describes the vivid memory of having a white boy at school tell her that she did not belong there and that “they shouldn’t have Mexicans here.” When she cried to her mother that she didn’t want to be at that school her mother would have none of it. “Don’t you realize that this is what we fought for? Of course you’re going to stay in that school and prove that you’re just as good as he is.”

The Mendez’s never really spoke about their monumental victory to anyone, so much that Sandra herself didn’t hear about it till she was in college. She came across her father’s name in a coursebook, and shocked at the coincidence, asked her mother about it. Her mother nonchalantly said, “Oh yeah, that was us. We did that”. Her reason for not mentioning it before – whenever they spoke about it they could be accused of bragging.

The Mendez’s story is like so many other moments in history that have been silenced or forgotten over the years, denying people a sense of shared heritage and community history. One of the largest oral history projects of the time, StoryCorps has launched the StoryCorps Historias, an initiative to record the diverse experiences of Latinos in the United States, capturing the stories and memories for generations to come.

While education has come a long way from 1945 when the Mendez’s won their case, and 1954 when racial segregation in schools came to an end, it is important to note that even today we face a number of problems with immigration education. Those opposed to immigration use the argument that bilingual educational programs hamper a child’s academic development, and that by allowing school children to retain their foreign language in school, the system is posing a threat to the future of English in the country. The controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which promotes English-only instruction, is based on this skepticism at bilingual learning and has resulted in the nation’s 5 million immigrant children being left behind.

In her new book, “True American: Language, Identity, and the Education of Immigrant Children”, Professor Rosemary Salomone counters these myths about bilingual education. She argues that in fact, bilingualism increases mental dexterity, creative thinking and problem solving. And as in the case of Europe, a push towards multilingualism would benefit the nation in the long run, politically, economically and socially. Isn’t it time that our lawmakers started embracing the strength of our diversity rather than burying their heads in the sand?

Photo courtesy of npr.org

Immigrant women defy odds on International Women’s Day

March is the month where International Women’s Day celebrates the strides women have made, in spite of all they have to endure. Like Rosa Morales, an immigrant woman who turned her life around and went from the brink of being deported, to being awarded a scholarship for her contribution to society.

Two years ago, what started as a 911 call to register a case of domestic violence turned into a deportation case for Rosa. Although her husband was a legal resident, she had been living in the U.S. as an undocumented resident. Rosa, then a 35 year old mother of two boys, was taken to an immigration detention facility where she was held for a month before she was given a deportation hearing and released after her husband paid a bond. While in detention, Morales looked back on her life, realized that she was frustrated with living under extreme financial hardship, and took the decision to turn her life around. Soon after her release, she earned her GED and joined Promotoras, a group of women volunteers who visit schools and churches to provide information on health and education to other women in the community. In spite of continuing financial hardship, both Rosa and her husband have enrolled in college and she aims to follow this up with a social work degree at Arizona University, a job, and then citizenship. Recently, in honor of her commitment to bettering the life of her family and community, Rosa Morales was awarded the Virginia Palmer Memorial Scholarship from the Tucson Branch of the American Association of University Women.

While Rosa’s story is one of hope, we also want to call attention to the hardships faced by many immigrant women as they struggle to provide for their families. From exploitation by employers to the denial of reproductive health, domestic violence to the constant threat of separation from their children, undocumented women face many challenges. Many will be in the March for America on March 21st, calling for just and humane comprehensive immigration reform to reclaim their lives and contribute to society without living in fear.

But not everyone is sympathetic to the cause. In a conference call two days ago, Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement discussed strategies to counteract the March for America, with the groups advocating an anti-immigration stance that targeted Latina women and even children. From our friends at Campus Progress who listened in.

CALLER 1: I would like to speak out on something. I feel the new welfare queen in America today is women coming from Mexico with a bunch of babies. So I feel they’re all coming over here and having all these babies, they are the new welfare queen in America…

CALLER 3: One piece of information would be, they aren’t babies, they’re dependents. Don’t use babies. It’s emotional to them. They have dependents. We have babies.

And the racist ball didn’t stop rolling, even though the accusations are unfounded and irrational. Callers discussed strategies to flood Congress with phonecalls and faxes “to create the perception that there was a grassroots opposition to immigration reform”. Perceptions are powerful, but so are the actions of hundreds of thousands of workers, families, and women calling for immigration reform. So get your voices out there.