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Another Holiday in Exile

Guest blogger: Nicole Salgado

Querétaro, Mexico, October 18, 2011. You know the year-end holidays are approaching when the stores starting filling with decorations. From here on in it’ll be an endless blur of pumpkins, tinsel, and Santas from Halloween to New Years. Except I’ll also find candy skulls and praying Virgin Marys. And I won’t be sharing a table spread with turkey with my family. This is because I’ll be spending my fifth holiday season in Querétaro, Mexico, where in addition to the popular U.S. holidays, they also celebrate Día de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day.

When I met my husband in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, my life changed forever. At the time, he was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and because of him I learned how much the rules had changed since the days when my own ancestors came to America from Mexico and Germany. Because he’d left and come back more than once and stayed to work for longer than a year, my husband had what is considered the permanent bar, leaving us limited options to make things right with his immigration record. Although we wanted to stay in the Bay Area because we had good jobs and a fulfilling life, we lived in fear that our lives would be turned upside down by an unexpected deportation. Our only option for his adjustment of status was to leave the U.S. and apply for a waiver in 10 years, from Mexico.

I finally made the difficult decision to leave the U.S. with my husband and move to his home state of Querétaro, Mexico in 2006. We have no guarantee we will ever be able to return to the U.S. together. We used all our savings to build a house here, and good-paying jobs in our fields are hard to come by. Underemployment for the last 5 years has left us struggling economically. Despite all this, we did not want to put our dreams of getting on with our lives or starting a family on hold indefinitely. We had a daughter last year and she is a blessing.

We are currently halfway through our waiting period. Visits with family and friends from the States are rare. I’d like to spend the holidays with family, but I cannot afford to travel very often. Even if I could, my husband, her father, cannot join us. Luckily, my parents will visit this Christmas. But my husband hasn’t seen my nearly 90-year old grandmother since we were married in 2004, or my brother since we left the U.S. Although my daughter and I have become dual citizens, it’s uncertain whether her father will ever become a welcome member of American society, I am not sure how I will explain that to her someday. My family and I have suffered in the wake of this situation. As a result of legal technicalities, I struggle with stress-related disorders and the task of redefining myself professionally and culturally.

After several years of relative isolation from the online and social activist community, I have decided to make our story public, and am co-authoring the book Amor and Exile with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman (amorandexile.com). Despite coming face to face with plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, I have also been heartened by all the support growing from people who recognize the need for true fairness, justice, and equality. Many other brave people, who’ve had to make choices like me, decided that love and integrity are more important than their own personal comfort level. I hope people and governments worldwide will come together and make the changes necessary so that families can reunite to celebrate the holidays in peace and joy.

National award honors three Arizona winners for immigrant rights

From our B-listed blog:

This came across our desk – check out this event today!

On Wednesday, September 28th, the Freedom From Fear Award will hold a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix to celebrate Arizona’s three winners of the award, which honors “15 ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees—individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to action or awareness.” Arizona has more winners than any other state and was also represented on the Selection Committee by State Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona’s winners are:

Erika Andiola, Leader of the Arizona DREAM Coalition (Mesa)
Jack Harris, Former Police Chief of Phoenix
Gene Lefebrve and Sarah Roberts of No More Deaths (Tucson)

The awards, produced by Public Interest Projects, were originally announced on June 18th at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. This is the first regional event to recognize winners. More information about the award and all the winners is available at www.FreedomFromFearAward.com.

Norway killings reveal politics of hate

A 32 year old Norwegian man is behind the brutal killings of 76 people in twin attacks that have shocked the world. We mourn the loss of those that lost their lives in this senseless violence. And as the shock wears off, we are slowly beginning to learn the motives behind the attack, much of which has been linked to a hatred of immigration and multiculturalism.

The man, Anders Behring Breivik, left behind a 1,500 page manifesto where he talks about the need to start a revolution against multiculturalism, fueled by the failure of Norwegian politicians in protecting the country from the influence of outsiders, with a particular focus on Muslim immigrants. The main target of his attacks were government buildings and a youth camp run by the ruling Labour Party, symbols of the government he felt were the largest obstacles to his ideal society- one without any immigrants.

In many ways, the killings have focused attention on the anti-immigrant rhetoric voiced openly in Europe. As a BBC article ‘Norway and the politics of hate’ reports,

Some of Europe’s leaders, from Angela Merkel to David Cameron, have questioned multiculturalism. The danger, of course, is that such statements can encourage extremism. Others say that in Europe the debate needs to be had, openly and transparently about immigration and multiculturalism.

A Reuters article ‘Norway massacre exposes incendiary immigration issue’ explains an even more extreme version of this questioning.

Many far-right European groups have shifted away from overtly racist rhetoric and have instead focused their argument on stressing what they see as the incompatibility of Islam and European values….Anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties have gained traction in Nordic and Scandinavian countries in recent years, tapping public anxiety over the relatively recent phenomenon of mass migration, particularly of Muslims, to their region.

It goes on to explain the political scenario in Sweden where the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, despite having roots in neo-Nazi movements of the last two decades, were elected to Parliament for the first time. And although “there may be no direct link between violence and comments by politicians, the rhetoric creates a fertile environment for ethnically motivated attacks.”

The attacks also spotlight anti-Muslim thought in the U.S. as Breivik’s manifesto credits many American bloggers and writers who talk about the dangers of Islam to the west, with angry posts creating fear and hatred.

His manifesto cited Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture…Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik’s violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counterjihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of an individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of an international landscape that is often angry, divisive and intolerant. As the world churns with change, globalization has led to the shrinking of the world, often placing different cultures together. And yet, while divisive rhetoric thrives, little attention seems to be paid to the importance of diverse societies, the richness offered by immigration, and the necessity of their contributions to growing economies.

As the world reels from this violent tragedy, we must remember that the responsibility for not allowing the politics of hate to spread lies with each and every one of us. If anything, this tragic moment should become a turning point for a more honest conversation that uplifts each other and upholds the rights for everyone to live fairly with dignity and equality and justice.

Photos courtesy of nytimes.com

Watch “A Better Life”- a powerful film about an undocumented family from the director of “Twilight”

From our b-listed blog-

We know you’ve been waiting for Harry Potter forever, but make sure you support the film A Better Life!

Undocumented stories are being told. Just recently, award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out of the shadows.  For years, the Dreamers – the students actively fighting for the Dream Act – have been sharing their stories.  And now,  A Better Life is bringing the story of an undocumented family to mainstream theaters.

A Better Life is a beautifully told story about an undocumented Mexican gardener named Carlos Galindo (played by Demian Bichir) who does everything that he can to give his son, Luis (played by Jose Julian) a better life.  As an undocumented immigrant living in a rough East L.A. neighborhood, Carlos tries to stay invisible and struggles to work outside of the system while simultaneously trying to keep Luis in school and away from gangs.  The film captures how being undocumented may chip away at one’s inner being. “All he does is work,” director Chris Weitz said of the character Carlos. “He is invisible — and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble.” (LA Times.) To see a full trailer, click here.

In an interview with director Weitz, he calls A Better Life “the “biggest movie he has ever made,” considering he has directed hits such as “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”, “About a Boy,” and “The Golden Compass.”  However, Weitz explained that the subject matter is far more important than any other he has addressed as a filmmaker.

Click here to see a full list of cities showing A Better Life.  Enter your zipcode on Fandango here, or Movietickets.com here to find showtimes near you!

Check out A Better Life’s Facebook page here.

Click here to listen to an interview with Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir on their own thoughts on the film!

Photo courtesy of IMDB

America 2049 special agent (who is also our summer intern) on the history of Ellis Island and July 4th

staff_ellis1

Guest blogger: Maya Bhattacharjee, Breakthrough’s summer intern.

A couple of weeks ago, members of the Breakthrough team visited Ellis Island for an interactive tour for the final level of our human rights Facebook game, America 2049. (But remember, though it was the last level of our launch, the game lives on Facebook and may be played at any time!) Interning with the team at Breakthrough has been an extremely enlightening experience for me, and our trip to Ellis Island was nothing short of eye-opening and memorable. On the ferry, our Operations Manager, Julie Griff, recalled upon the team’s visit to Ellis Island exactly a year ago when America 2049 was still in its early stages, and here we were amidst the launch of its final level. As the ferry pulled into the dock and we set foot on the island, a woman beside me whispered to her son, “I can’t believe that Grandma Rose took this same step.” With that, I set foot on the island that twelve million immigrants came through in hopes of a better life in America.

ranger_bruce

We were met warmly by Ranger Bruce as we entered the Main Building, who brought us to the entrance of Ellis Island to help us re-live the immigrants’ experience. We first learned that those who arrived on Ellis Island were members of the “steerage class,” many of whom would be packed shoulder-to-shoulder into the steamships for sometimes up to eight days. First and second class passengers were processed on board on the ship, and thus it must be remembered that the count of twelve million processed on Ellis Island represents only members of the steerage class. Ranger Bruce reminded us that most immigrants were garbed in layers and layers of clothing, as they could only bring a small amount of luggage to their new life, and many of them received minimal food and sustenance on their exhausting journey. In John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants he wrote: “There were probably as many reasons for coming to America as there were people who came.” Whether these immigrants were escaping religious persecution, political strife, unemployment, or simply trying to make a new life for their families, there were countless circumstances that lead to the greatest migration of modern history.

Ranger Bruce then described the “processing” that immigrants experienced upon entering the building. Doctors would watch the immigrants as they climbed the stairs leading to the Registry Room and if they witnessed a limp, labored breathing, or suspected any other troubles, they would perform further medical exams. I could not help but ask: after standing on a packed ship for up to ten days, how could one not limp or breathe heavily? Ranger Bruce reminded me that immigrants were determined to live their new lives in America, and this alone would perpetuate their drive and energy to compose their exhaustion no matter their age or size. He then described the brief medical exam that each immigrant would experience, including an eye hook that would be used to pull back their eye-lids in search of eye-disease. If the doctors suspected an illness, they would send them to a nearby hospital before entering the country. Once in the Registry Room, inspectors then questioned each individual with 29 questions.Imagine days with over 2,000 people in the room to question!  They were asked where they were from, what they did for a living, where they were headed, the amount of money they were carrying, and if they suspected somebody to be a, as they called, “moron,” they would refer them to a psychiatric hospital. One of the hardest parts of the experience was hearing some of the case studies of immigrants who did not make it through– families who were separated. Ranger Bruce shared that they were deported—often back to lands where their lives were put in risk.  The judges, (inspectors chosen at random from the registry room,) would have a few minutes to make their decision, and much personal discretion was used.  He did share that the majority of immigrants did make it through and only two percent were denied entry.

As we recently celebrated our land of freedom and opportunity this past July 4th, I couldn’t help but think about what it means to be American today. We learned that America was an incredibly welcoming countryellis_exterior1 during this point in history, and now while we represent opportunity and the freedom to begin a new life, “welcoming” seems far from our description. In the 1920’s, federal laws set immigration quotas based on national origin and in 1924, U.S. consulates took over immigration inspection.  This was the beginning of a much more rigid immigration system. In later years, Ellis Island became a deportation center, a Public Health and Service hospital, and a Coast Guard station. For us, Ellis Island is now a memorial to all who have made this nation their adopted home, and the meeting point of the old world and the new.

This July 4th was a new one for me after our experience on Ellis Island. I can’t help but to think of everything that our country represented for those who came to Ellis Island, and to celebrate exactly what makes America so special. Yet, I reflect on the many struggles and obstacles that we still must surpass, and what freedom in America represents today. What does July 4th and our immigrant history mean to you? What does freedom in the United States really mean, and what can we do to uphold everything that we stand for? Please let us know your thoughts in our comments section below, on our Facebook page here, or on our twitter here!

“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

Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now…and in 2049

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Photo courtesy of seiu.org

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!

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New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org