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Karma’s immigration story: “Life in New York was no crystal staircase”

From our awesome intern, Karma D., from Flushing International High School. See her on our Tumblr and on our I AM THIS LAND story-telling project.

I am a girl from the faraway lost land of Tibet. I ran with my parents, older brother and my small baby brother resting in my mom’s warm womb in search of freedom and a better life. I am a girl who struggled to find her own identity especially after knowing my birth country is now a place that cannot be reached or seen. In search of independence and better opportunity, I came to America with very limited English but with great hope. I also carried the blessings of my grandparents from Tibet and the memories of my loved ones from Nepal and India throughout the journey.

My feet landed in this foreign land of liberty in 2006. It took me years to realize that life in New York was no crystal staircase, that there weren’t trees and leaves made of money, nor was there the easy independence that my fellow Tibetans and I had been searching for. I struggled every morning to wake up because I wasn’t use to the timing, then I would try to get on the yellow bus on time. I made sure my brother and I sat on the front seats, so the other students might not make fun of us. We looked different from them.

For an immigrant like me, whose mom was jobless for three years due to her lack of English, and whose dad worked in a Sushi store for eight years, constantly fearful of not being able to support my two brothers and me, the United States was more struggle than freedom. My life turned 180 degrees. At the age of thirteen, I realized I had to step up and contribute to my family financially, and I’ve been working ever since.

Read the rest of this entry »

Native American identity & rights – past, present and 2049

“Nothing is as sweet as self-determination.” – Zia, a character in Breakthrough‘s America 2049.

This week, in Breakthrough’s Facebook game America 2049, players continue their mission in the fictional country, Independent Pueblo Nation, that has seceded from America. Players meet Zia, the Secretary of State for the Pueblo Nation, and discover the plight of the Native Americans historically as well as in the future. Zia is fighting for the right to self-determination of the Native American peoples.

The theme stems from the very foundations of our country and the periodic mistreatment of Native American tribes since then. The future in America 2049 may be dystopic, but it synthesizes our past with a potential future where history not only repeats itself but is also reversed. The Independent Pueblo Nation in America 2049 forms in what is now the American southwest and enforces strict immigration regulations against Americans trying to enter the newly formed republic. Among the many artifacts of Native American struggles in the past, a painting depicting ‘The Trail of Tears’ provides the most notable bridge to history. Starting in 1838, the Cherokee nation was forced to relocate from their home in southeastern United States to internment camps and Indian Territory, which is present-day Oklahoma. Their treacherous march over such a long distance and through harsh conditions claimed the lives of an estimated 4,000 people. In 1987, Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and since 1993, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Trail of Tears Association have been working together to remember and commemorate the struggles of the Cherokee people.

Watch a message from ‘M,’ a character in America 2049, as she speaks about the historical treatment of Native Americans and their condition in America of the future:

Native American rights have come a long way today and the various tribes and communities proudly contribute to the diverse fabric of America. Most recently, the Chahta tribe in St. Tammany Parish, New Orleans, have received an award from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, for its support in “raising awareness of and inspiring participation in the 2010 census.” Chief Elwin ‘Warhorse’ Gillum of the Tchefuncta Nation was happy with the outcome of the 2010 Census, and emphasized the importance of allowing Native Americans to be self-identify their tribal affiliations. Gillum emphasized that more work still needs to be done, in time for the next census, so even more Native Americans can be identified in the count. Stressing the importance of holding on to American Indian heritage and identity, Gillum said-

If a chicken laid an egg, I don’t care if a duck sat on it, it’s still going to hatch a chicken. My grandmother was Indian, I am still an Indian today…If they can change a chicken into another bird before it hatches, I’ll let them change my race… People have fought all their lives to tell their children who they are. We are not altering history, we are confirming it. We’re eliminating racial barriers [to document all the Native American tribes].

It is important that we maintain the progress on the rights of Native Americans in our country, to avoid a return to the past or an even more troublesome future, such as the one America 2049 alerts us to. Despite many positive moves towards ensuring equal rights for these communities, some incidents do threaten this progress. In a recent development in New Mexico, for example, members of a Navajo group are claiming that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s granting of a uranium mining license on land surrounded by the Navajo Reservation is tantamount to human rights violations. The Navajo group claims that the mining will contaminate their water supply, causing them long term health problems. Such issues hint at a past where Native American rights were regularly infringed upon for the sake of development. In an ongoing climate where the situation is considerably better than it was in the past, such incidents must be addressed swiftly and fairly to ensure an even better future ahead.

We leave you with a Pueblo Indian prayer that speaks of faith and resolve, a sentiment that applies to each one of us as we work towards a future of equality, dignity and justice-

Hold on to what is good, even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.”

Photo courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.

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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.

I AM THIS LAND submissions show diversity, talent and sensitivity

From our b-listed blog-

As we approach the last day to submit on videos (midnight EST, today, Jan 21st!) for I AM THIS LAND, our contest on diversity, we are overwhelmed with the creativity and thought behind the submissions.

From a young girl challenging our tendency to categorize people, to an Indian-American man trying to come out to his parents, to a young Muslim girl defining what it is to be American, I AM THIS LAND has managed to highlight important issues in the debate on diversity in the United States.

This past November, Breakthrough launched the I AM THIS LAND contest.  We asked people to make a video on diversity using the phrase “I AM THIS LAND,” and enter to win a grand prize of $2,500 and more (including a day’s internship at SPIN magazine).

The resulting characters in these videos are rich: a young man literally hungry for diversity, a student trying on many different identities to prove the different kind of people there are in this land, a girl with multicultural backgrounds.

Through parodies, documentary, animation and feature film style videos; videos featuring original songs; videos with poetic narration and graphics, filmmakers across the country have responded to our call!  Through a truly ingenious use of their time, budget and skills, I AM THIS LAND’s filmmakers have explored the role national and religious identities, sexual orientation, language and more have in uplifting diversity.  We are also proud of the hundreds of viewers that have contributed to the project tenfold by leaving comments with their thoughts on the issues and how diversity only makes America stronger.

Watch the videos, vote and comment at http://iamthisland.org/watch-and-vote. We are thrilled to see the amount of interest these videos have generated online, and hope they continue to foster debate and discussion.

We are also very happy that stars like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), Lisa Brescia (Mamma Mia)  and writers such as Ishmael Beah and Maria Hinojosa and more have lent their support to us for I AM THIS LAND.

Stay tuned for more contest details at I AM THIS LAND.org! There’s still time to enter!

Give me the DREAM Act in the lame duck session, says Obama

After a year of unfulfilled hopes and promises of immigration reform, it might finally be time for dreams to come true.

Delivering on the promise he made during his hard-fought re-election campaign, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced on Wednesday that he will bring the DREAM Act up for vote (as a stand-alone measure) during the final days of the 111th Congress. While this is not the first time that Sen. Reid has made such an commitment, this time the announcement comes with the added backing of President Obama. Obama has always been a supporter of the DREAM Act, but has never publicly or actively worked on pushing for it to be passed. This is why it came as a surprise when he told Democrats on Tuesday that he wanted the DREAM Act passed during the lame duck session of Congress, as a “down payment” on more comprehensive immigration reform.

This announcement came on the heels of a meeting between President Obama and leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, that took place on the morning of Tuesday, November 16th. Gutierrez, who had been in favor of a more comprehensive immigration reform bill up until this point, said that the meeting was both positive and productive-

Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now. With the White House, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every Democratic Leader in the House and Senate pulling in the same direction, we can pass the DREAM Act before the end of the 111th Congress.

The White House released a statement with the outcomes of the meeting-

The President and the CHC leaders believe that, before adjourning, Congress should approve the DREAM Act. This legislation has traditionally enjoyed support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and would give young people who were brought as minors to the United States by their parents the opportunity to earn their citizenship by pursuing a college degree or through military service.

In a noticeable departure from the Obama administration’s previous non-committal stance on immigration reform, the President put forth a commitment to work “hand in glove” to make sure the bill is passed, including a promise to pick up the phone and urge Senators to vote on the bill. At the end of the day on Tuesday, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez announced that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tentatively set November 29th as the date that the DREAM Act would be voted on.

If passed, the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for approximately 2 million undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. when they were very young, provided that they go through college or participate in military service. However, in order to prevent another filibuster, at least two Republican Senators would have to support the DREAM Act, something that might prove to be a uphill task given the number of Republicans who have turned their back on it over the past year.

This is the closest that the bill has come to being introduced. It is important that Congress hears from all of us who support the DREAM Act as intrinsic to the future of the country. Send a fax telling your Members of Congress to support the DREAM Act!

Stay tuned for more details!

Photo courtesy of Associated Press Photos

I AM THIS LAND says “enough is enough”

As an organization, we watched all the things that happened in 2010: From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections: it’s time for a do over. With I AM THIS LAND, we’re calling on you to make a video using the words, “I am this land” while standing up for the values that are supposed to define this country: respect for one another and our differences. You can make any type of video: an animation, short documentary, music video, any other genre or a mash up- just give us goosebumps!

As part of the project, we are very happy that stars like Michael Urie, from Ugly Betty fame, and Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, have come on board to support the cause. During the contest, we will be releasing many voices on the issue and hearing their perspective.

Our friend, Michael Urie from Ugly Betty said:

“We need to keep our minds and our eyes on the prize, and that is diversity and equality for all… We can’t just assume it’s happening without our work and our effort. People are still being profiled, people are still being bullied, people still don’t have the same rights as other people. A great leap was made in 2008, but we can’t give up just because. We have to keep working forward, keep moving towards this higher goal, which is equality.”

Info on entering:

From now until January 7th, upload your videos to the contest site www.iamthisland.org, and fans across the country will view, discuss and rate each submission.  Then a panel of high profile judges – John Jackson, director of social responsibility at MTV Networks; Liz Friedlander, award winning music video director for U2, REM and feature films; Malcolm Campbell, publisher of SPIN magazine; Julie Zeilinger, founder of teen feminist blog “F bomb”; Maria Hinojosa, award-winning journalist, and managing editor and host of Latino USA; and singer Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – will review the top 15 videos (top 10 as voted by the public and 5 selected by Breakthrough) and select the winners. Submissions begin November 16th and continue until January 7, 2011, and will be judged for overall impact of message, narrative, calls to action, and creativity.

The top winner receives a grand prize of $2500! Additional prizes include Activision games such as Guitar Hero, Band Hero, DJ Hero, a MTV goody bag, tickets to hit Broadway musical Mamma Mia and more.

We also want to make sure we include those in the Twitterverse in the conversation on diversity. Follow @breakthrough, and with the hashtag #iamthisland.org, tell us who or what symbolizes diversity to you. All are entered to win a DJ Hero by Activision.

We’re happy to have on board a list of key partners:  Activision (makers of Guitar Hero and DJ Hero), SPIN Magazine, Change.org, WITNESS, Mobilize.org, Parlour Magazine, Hollaback, HeadCount, Women’s Media Center, F-bomb, See3, Latina Lista, Vivir Latino and 20,000 Dialogues.

For full details, contest rules, and prizes, please visit www.iamthisland.org.

Enter to win now, and let us know your hope for the future!