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Journalist. International Affairs Junkie. Gladiator in a Suit.

In March, activists and politicians met at the UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) at the New York headquarters. The conferences topic: Prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. According to the UN, globally 7 out 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes with most of the violence is taking place in intimate relationships.

Lana Finikin, 59, from Jamaica was one of the activists attending the conference that took place March 4th to 15th 2013. She reported that public safety for women and girls is improving in Jamaica although there are still many problems. “The saying is, when women and girls are safe, then everybody else will be safe,” she said.

In 1977, Finikin co-founded the Sistren Theatre Group, which uses performances to explore problems concerning poor women in rural and urban communities in Jamaica – issues include violence, HIV/Aids, domestic work, housing, land tenure, environment and unemployment. Today she acts as the group’s executive director.

Finikin uses drama as a tool to share experiences and to empower communities on a grassroots level so they can resolve their own problems. Sistren develops the stories for its plays out of people’s experiences and narrations. At the UN conference, Finikin showed her approach in a two-hour-long condensed workshop.
By Dominik Wurnig and Mikhael Simmonds

(2013) RDACBX is a hip-hop community center focused on training young artists in the Hunts Point, South Bronx. Despite the work done in the community, the group is unsure of their future in one of the country’s poorest congressional districts.

Intro
The abrupt closure of a community center at The City College of New York sparked massive protests on campus. Two people were arrested, pepper spray was used and the main building was locked down for hours.

Reporter mick-EYE-elle Simmonds has been exploring the story and has more details for us now.


Students and alumni were demanding the opening of the Morales Shakur Community Center.

Students and alumni were demanding the opening of the Morales Shakur Community Center.


Actuality (5 secs): Crowd chanting, “Let her in.”

This isn’t the Middle East, Latin American or even Occupy Wall Street. This is Harlem.

City College to be exact.

Actuality (6 secs): Crowd chanting, “The whole world is watching.”

Students, alumni and even professors were demanding the opening of the Morales Shakur Community Center.

Even Ydanis Rodriguez, council member of northern Manhattan and CUNY alumni, joined in the protest.

(Actuality 18 secs: Ydanis Rodriguez)
“NAC 3-2-0-1 for 24 years has been used as a student community center. I hope that that center will continue serving that purpose and that’s why I’m here today to be sure that as the chairman of the education committee I will be sure that student rights be respected.”

In those 24 years, the center has been used as a base for community leaders, LGBTQ activists and charity work all around Harlem.

(Actuality 9 secs: Shepard McDaniel)
“The community really came in. Utilized the center for our programs, particularly our community program the people’s survival program where we actually feed the community…”

This is Shepard McDaniel speaking. He is the chairperson for the coordinating committee for the center.

(Actuality 9 secs: Shepard McDaniel)
“We provide fee clothes, free medical screening. We do classes here at the center teaching them African history and the culture. We have political education classes at the center.”

But on the weekend of October 20th everything changed. The once active center was forced out of their home. Campus security had cleared out the center’s 200 square foot room on the third floor of the main building. Computers and furniture were all seized. The once iconic bright red door with a black power painted on it was now… well…

(Actuality 10 secs: Shepard McDaniel)

“NOW, the place has been painted white. (Laughter). Ironically. The doors were white washed. It’s sterile now. It doesn’t look like what it was.”

For years, City College officials insisted that the space is needed. In hope to expand their career development program. Though officials didn’t respond to requests for their side of the story, the school’s president did release a statement. The letter acknowledged the protesters’ concerns but insisted that the expansion would benefit all students.

The reason for the closure wasn’t the only thing that made protesters, like McDaniel, angry. They also disliked how it was done.

(Actuality 23 secs: Shepard McDaniel)

“This passed Saturday we had a hip-hop concert. After that concert most of us went home. It was four-five in the morning. Tired. Sleepy. So the school knew this. They know students generally don’t come to school on Sunday, particularly around midterms. They knew it was an opportune time to sneak in like thieves in the night and confiscate our property.”

After staging speeches the protest went on the move. It quickly turned violent as 5 young students broke away from the march and attempted to enter the building.

(Actuality: 7 secs)
“Whose CUNY!
Our CUNY, so why can’t we get in!”

Eventually, two persons were arrested and one person was even pepper sprayed. Campus security along with NYPD prevented students from entering or leaving the building. The main building was placed on lockdown. Scores of protesters pushed and shoved in an attempt to enter the building. A main door was even bent out of place.

Two hours into the clashes protest leaders and college staff were seen entering the main building. Days before they had set up a meeting to address the issue.

Protestors then regrouped at the school’s quad.

The scene had died down hours later but tensions were high. Campus security remained on alert.

A deal between the school and the community center isn’t definite but protesters are sure of one thing.

(Actuality 6 secs: Shepard McDaniel)
“We want the center back and we want continue what we’ve been doing.”

This is Mikhael Simmonds for New York City News Service.

HOST INTRO
It’s been two weeks since super typhoon Hai-yan struck the Philippines. The latest estimates say that thousands are dead and many more remain homeless. Aid is just getting to the most remote areas of the island nation. Here in New York, the Filipino-American community is collecting money and goods to support the relief effort.

Mikhael Simmonds finds out how one Brooklyn business in the Ditmas Park neighborhood is helping out.

Brunch at the Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn

Brunch at the Purple Yam restaurant in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

—————————
REPORTER
IT’S A BUSY NIGHT IN CHEF ROMY DOROTAN’S KITCHEN.

ROMY
(Chienese noodles. Can you hear that.)

REPORTER
DOR-O-TAN IS THE HEAD CHEF AND OWNER OF THE PURPLE YAM RESTAURANT IN BROOKLYN.
AFTER TYPHOON HAIYAN STRUCK THE PHILIPPINES HE DECIDED TO DO WHAT HE DOES BEST.
COOK.

ROMY
“There is always a connection between food and helping people.”

REPORTER
TOMORROW, HE’S EXPECTING 120 PEOPLE FOR A SPECIAL BRUNCH. ALL PROCEEDS WILL BE DONATED TO THE NON-PROFIT GAWAD KALINGA.

ROMY
[“In a way this fundraising creates an occasion for us to band together and help each other.”]

REPORTER
GAWAD KALINGA MEANS “TAKING CARE” IN TAGALOG [TU-GA-LUG], THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE OF THE PHILIPPINES.
THE GROUP IS KNOWN FOR BUILDING FREE HOMES IN THE COUNTRY’S POOR COMMUNITIES. IT PLANS TO USE THE FUNDS TO BUY FOOD FOR DISTRIBUTION THROUGHOUT THE AFFECTED REGIONS.

REPORTER
THE NEXT MORNING, THE KITCHEN STAFF IS ONCE AGAIN WORKING WHILE VOLUNTEERS WALK FROM TABLE TO TABLE COLLECTING DONATIONS.

“Hi may name is P.K Cortez …” (fade out)

REPORTER
CORTEZ IS ONE OF THE VOLUNTEERS WHOSE FAMILY WAS PERSONALLY AFFECTED BY THE TYPHOON

“My mom and my dad are still there. And I have a brother and a sister also that’s living there now and all my nieces and nephews are there and my grandma.”

REPORTER
WITH CELL TOWERS DOWN AND PHONE LINES CUT, THERE WAS NO WAY FOR HIM TO KNOW IF HIS FAMILY WAS SAFE.

“It took us two days after the storm to communicate with them.”

“There was no way for us to talk to them. No way for us to call them. And two days after we finally spoke to our dad. And you know, it was tough.”

REPORTER
[CORTEZ WAS RELIEVED TO FIND OUT] EVERYONE HAD SURVIVED BUT

“We lost almost sixty five thousand heads of chicken. We lost everything. The building, all the chicken we have over there and also the pig farm. And my dad really invested 12 years of his life even before retiring to have at least security after retiring. Unfortunately now, he lost everything”

REPORTER
BACK IN BROOKLYN MANY OF THE RESTAURANT’S REGULARS HELPED OUT THE TYPHOON VICTIMS BY SUPPORTING THE BRUNCH.

EILEEN
“As soon as it happened I decided I would check in with the restaurant.”

REPORTER
EILEEN AND HER FAMILY LIVE JUST AROUND THE CORNER. LIKE MANY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD THEY’RE NOT FILIPINO BUT STILL WANTED TO CONTRIBUTE IN THEIR OWN WAY.

EILEEN
“We did check the Ditmas Park blog and that’s when we saw that they were doing a benefit. That’s when we made reservations right away because we knew it would be busy.”

REPORTER
SHE WAS RIGHT.
A PRINTED SIGN OUTSIDE THE RESTAURANT READ “BRUNCH SOLD OUT.”
OVER SEVENTY-SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS WAS RAISED JUST IN 3 HOURS.
BUT AS AID GOES, THIS WAS JUST IN A DROP IN THE BUCKET.
THE UK HAS PLEDGED 60 MILLION POUNDS TO HELP WITH RELIEF EFFORTS. A US MILITARY FLEET BROUGHT HUMANITARIAN AID AND TECHNICAL SEARCH AND RESCUE SUPPLIES.

MANY MORE SUPPLIES, SUCH AS CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL AND MEDICINE ARE STILL NEEDED FOR THE LONG TERM REBUILDING PROCESS.
DESPITE THE UPHILL TASK CHEF ROMY STILL FELLS LIKE HIS CONTRIBUTION WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE
AT THE END OF THE BRUNCH HE WALKED THROUGH THE BUSTLING RESAURANT TO TAKE A BREATHER.
HIS WHITE SHIRT STAINED WITH SAUCES FROM THE DAY’S MENU IS STILL ON. HE POSES FOR PICTURES WITH DONORS AND VOLUNTEERS.

REPORTER
“Romy, would you say it’s been a success so far?

ROMY
“Yes, very good. (Laughter!) I am very happy today. People seem to very happy and giving very generous today. People are feeling very generous.“

REPORTER
HE COULDN’T STOP SMILING.
HE PLANS TO THROW ANOTHER BRUNCH NEXT WEEK. SAME TIME. SAME PLACE.

THIS IS MIKHAEL SIMMONDS IN BROOKLYN NEW YORK.

In a sterile Manhattan courtroom three men sit against the wall with chains around their wrists, orange jumpsuits on their backs and nervousness on their faces.

This is just another day in New York’s immigrant court. They are here to see the judge but only two have lawyers.

The vast U.S. immigration legal system can be especially difficult for immigrants –such as those from the Dominican Republic – to navigate. For deportation proceedings, immigrants are not entitled to a government sponsored defense lawyer. Since many cannot afford private legal help most enter the court alone. But New York City is trying to change this by having court appointed defenders through the pilot program Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP.)

“When you look at this and you see that an immigrant only prevails at a rate of three percent when they go up against the government attorneys on their own it shows the lack of fairness and the lack of justice in these type of proceedings, ” said Angela Fernandez, the executive director of North Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and one of program’s key organizers.

The pilot program’s goals are ambitious by legal standards. It aims to provide immigrates on trial for criminal deportations with public defenders. The city council has set aside half a million dollars for this pilot program which is meant to serve approximately 200 persons through February 2014.

Fernandez says that the project was badly needed in the city and is especially important to the Dominican community – the immigrant group she works most closely with.

“Many of the members of our community – many of them who are green card holders – many of them face judges in deportation proceeding without attorneys. Number one because they cannot afford them.”

This may be the main reason 44 percent of detainees last year were not represented by a defender. The cost of a private immigration defense attorney can be anywhere upwards of $10,000. Fernandez says that for many in the Dominican community the financial burden is just too great.

The attorneys provided by the Immigrant Family Unity Project are free. To be eligible for the service immigrants facing deportation must be a resident of New York City, not have a lawyer and have a low income.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have detained over three thousand Dominican immigrants in New York from 2005 to 2010 latest studies show. Only Mexican and El Salvadorian communities have larger numbers.

These numbers do not include apprehension by other city and state departments. Organizers say that through the NYPD’s stop-question-and-frisk policies and ICE’s Secure Communities Program – a program that requires local justice authorities to report immigrants to ICE – Hispanics see immigration courts at higher rates than any other ethnic group.

“Some of these arrests over the years can range from very serious offenses but we’ve also seen ‘failure to signal correctly while driving,” said Marianne Yang the Immigration Unit Director of Brooklyn Defenders. “If police stop them and they don’t have proper ID they can be arrested at that point.”

Brooklyn Defender Services along with their counterpart, Bronx Defender Services, are the attorneys working on the pilot.  Both groups say that the program – which has been up for two months now – cuts down on court time, reduces case backlog and can trim detention time by months.

But critics are worried about the concept of the taxpayer-funded programs being used in civil court. Since citizens are not required to a public defense in civil court some, Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, says that immigrants shouldn’t be entitled to such perks as well

But studies produced by NYU and pro-immigration groups say that the program will in-turn save local immigrant communities and the city millions of dollars.

“The success of this pilot hopefully would prove that it’s not about taking resources away,” said Brooklyn Defender’s Marianne Yang. “It’s about providing council. Providing access to justice, due process and a day in court while at the same time saving resources for the government.”

Despite their already packed workload the defenders seem committed to the success of this pilot.

“It’s very rewarding to help clients apply for those benefits when they are in a very dire predicament,” said Brooklyn defense attorney, Ruben Loyo. “Detention really affects their morale and their willingness to fight further chance to stay here.”

Loyo was the lead defense for the pilot’s first success story. He couldn’t get into too many details about the case but did say that it was an older man from the Dominican Republic who was challenging his deportation case. ICE picked him up for committing a crime 20 years ago.

“I identified him as an individual who has a really strong defense to deportation. He’s been a green card holder or lawful permanent resident for many decades,” Loyo said.

“This is one of the benefits of having an attorney early on because where there is a defense to deportation you can resolve a case quickly.”

3rd. October 2013 - Mikhael Simmonds

3rd. October 2013 – Mikhael Simmonds

In the middle of Times Square, people from all walks of life stood shouting at the top of their lungs and blocking the sidewalk. But these weren’t the regular performers or panhandlers trying to get the attention of passers-by. These were Dominican immigrants expressing shame and disgust towards their government for what many see as the latest in a string of racialized laws aimed at discriminating against the country’s Haitian population.

The protest of about 50 people armed with orange placards, national flags, megaphones and makeshift instruments chanted in both English and Spanish in front of the Dominican Republic Consulate off of 44th street.

“Yo no me voy, Haiti! Yo no me voy, Haiti!” could be heard over and over again. It translates to, “I am not going to Haiti!”

 

The Law

The Dominican Supreme Court recently passed a law stripping citizenship from everyone born of Haitian heritage after 1929. The law is based on the idea the Haitians born in the D.R. after that year cannot be citizens since their parents were ‘in transit’ during the time of their children’s birth. Under the new law, over the next year the country’s Central Electoral Board will prepare a list of those born to Haitian parentage. They will lose their citizenship. This can be up to 10% of the Dominican Republic’s.

But this unprecedented ruling has many Dominican–Americans calling foul.

“If we don’t like the treatment we get in the United States then we should really think about how we treat Haitians in our country,” Manuela Arciniegas said at the march last week.

Dominicans make up the largest immigrant group in New York City with 269,200

people and Haitians the 7 largest at 135,836 people. Despite these numbers Arciniegas and others expressed disappointment in the lack of enthusiasm against the recent ruling.

“People have not realized they have the power to take action, I wish there were more people here,” Arciniegas said.

Dominican-American artist Reynaldo Garcia Pantaleon was also at the protest. He was born in the Dominican Republic but now lives in New York City. He is just shocked at the move to retroactively revoke citizenship.

“That basically wipes out 3-to-4 generations of Dominicans. That makes me even, and my family probably not a Dominican!” Pantaleon. “It’s a stupid point of view.”


The History

Many experts call the ruling simply racist toward Haitians and steeped in colonial biases.

Though the entire island won its independence and emancipation from the French and Spanish in 1801, the Eastern end of the island – what would now be considered Dominican Republic – fought to return to Spanish rule. After successfully reuniting with Spain, Haitian forces again liberated (or occupied depending who you ask) the D.R.  In 1844 the country permanently gained independence from all external powers.

More recently, in 1937, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo massacred thousands Haitians along the countries’ shared border. Trujillo was on a campaign to ‘whiten’ his nation despite its strong African history. He himself was of Afro-Haitian heritage.

Over the past two decades many Haitian immigrants were not allowed birth certificates and other paperwork needed to get jobs, travel or further their education despite being born in the Dominican Republic. In some cases this has caused a cycle of poverty among the immigrant group.

That political and racial dynamic is still at play today. Haitians are generally considered having darker skin and more West African features. Activists in New York say that this coupled with recent increases in crime and food prices has made the population in D.R, an easy scapegoat for blame.

Haitian-Dominicans were pseudo citizens, now they are not even that.

Wider View
There is more at stake than just the Haitian/Dominican relations. Various branches of the United Nations are alarmed at this latest ruling. They have even questioned its legality.

“I am very concerned by the potential adverse impact of this ruling,” Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for the U.S. and Caribbean said in a press release last week. “It’s a basic principle of international law that no one should be deprived of a nationality if that action leads to statelessness.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also weighed in with its spokesperson saying, “We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights.”

The spokesperson goes on to say, “We urge the Dominican Government to take all necessary measures to ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations.”

The United Nations ultimately is worried about the humanitarian fallout. Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is still healing from the effects of the 2010 Earthquake, poor governance and unfair trade disparities with its neighbors. As it stands, it is effectively a welfare state.

An influx of immigrants, some who may not even speak the Haitian Creole or French, may be too much for the country to bear and too much for the U.N. to handle.

This is all assuming that the country will accept these immigrants, especially the third generation Haitians.

As it stands the Haitian government has recalled its ambassador from Santo Domingo but has sent an envoy to negotiate with the Dominican government. Since the bill was passed, the Haitian government has not issued any statements. The consulate in New York does not expect any statement from the government until some sort of deal is met.

 

artworks-000043164095-x40kpp-t200x200-1In a poorly lit room in Hunter College Peggy Robles-Alvarado recited a poem about, rape, alienation and abuse. Those were her years as a teenage mother. She was 15 years old when she became pregnant. The audience hung onto every word.

In New York’s Hispanic community her story is not unique. The demographic has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in the United States. Academics and activists say poor education and poverty is to be blame for the high rates. Others, like Ms. Robles-Alvarado think the problem is more nuanced than that.

“The problem in my community is silence,” Robles-Alvarado said. “Parents don’t usual discuss sex with their children. Nobody talks about birth control, nobody talks about rape, [and] nobody talks about sexual violence.”

Robles-Alvarado’s, now 36, finished high school and later acquired two master’s degrees. She is a poet, writer and a fifth-grade teacher in a Washington Heights school. On all fronts she talks about her own experiences having been a teen mother.

Conversations with My Skin – By Peggy Robles-Alvarado

Through her poetry, books and classroom she warns parents and students about being silent.

“Being honest and breaking that silence is very important to youth. They already hear the usual, ‘You must go to school you must succeed,’ they want to her the truth.” Robles-Alvarado said. “They know that they can overcome poverty they know that they can overcome abuse, they can overcome any situation if they know someone in front of the classroom can do the same thing.”

Ann Marie Benitez, a senior manager of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: Latino Initiative says that silence is not just an issue in the Hispanic community.

“The issue is not necessarily cultural,” Benitez said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s an issue for all parents. They just don’t know what to say, how to say it and where to start. Overall, all parents need help and guidance in talking about this topic.”

“The topic isn’t a one time kind of talk the way we use to think about it,” she went on to say. “But now it’s more of a conversation and relationship with your child that happens not just once.”

Angie Mane from Long Island agrees. When she was 16 she had her first child. Her eldest daughter is now 14 years old. Mane says she regularly speaks with her about sex and pregnancy.

“I tell her that right now I’m responsible for her life,” Mane said. “If she decides that she wants to go off and make a child then she is responsible for her own life and the life of another child.”

Even with these efforts by parents, teachers and activists the community still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any demographic. Though teen pregnancy in the city is at a record low it still causes a major economic and academic problem.

Over the years the city has implemented concrete measures geared towards lowering those statistics mostly through access to different types of contraceptives.

Now, New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to take the fight to streets with his new teen pregnancy prevention advertisement campaign.

The campaign focuses on displaying the economic disadvantages of having a child at a young age. The campaign is geared towards both boys and girls.

One poster with a young child reads, “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years.”

The mayor’s office says the goal is to shock and get teenagers thinking twice about having sex.

Since its launch, this campaign has been met with resistance from activist groups.

Planned Parenthood of New York City issued a press statement denouncing the, “fear-based messages that have been proven to be ineffective in preventing teen pregnancies.”

The organization also critical of the fact that the campaign does not, “provide information about access to health care or affordable and effective birth control options, which are proven strategies for addressing teen pregnancy.”

Some in the Hispanic community also views this campaign with skepticism. Mane thinks that this plan is futile.

“It’s not going to work,” she said. “Someone being young is not going to look at what a thousand dollars is worth, what ten thousand dollars is worth. They don’t see it like that.”

But what about the teenagers who are already mothers? Robles-Alvarado has some advice.

“Get a support system. Put yourself in an environment with other mothers who are doing positive things. Fight those statistics.”

Mali’s Next Conflict,

Malian immigrants in New York City get filled with trepidation every time news trickles in about the conflict in their homeland. But, even as France continues to defeat the militants in the North, Malian-Americans see this as just the first fight to save their democracy.

There are two main conflicts in Mali. Firstly, there is the fighting in the North. The conflict there is between some members of the Tuareg minority, who are heavily supported by non-Malian Islamists versus the Malian army and France. This conflict is not strictly divided along ethnic, religious or social lines. The second conflict is between the Malians and their supposedly democratic government, which is now controlled by Captain Amadou Sanogo who successful led a military coup last spring. The latter conflict has many Malian-Americans worried.

Captain Sanogo unofficially makes decisions for the current government. Though many Malian-Americans supported the coup and acknowledge his role in pushing back the Islamists from the south, they believe it’s time for him to go.

“I don’t know what he wants. He doesn’t know what he wants. He [is driving] the country the wrong way,” Idrissa Touré said in a phone interview. Touré is a Malian immigrant who grew up in Timbuktu, Mali. He now lives in New York City. He believes that Sanogo’s mere presence is causing a rift between the army and civilians but doesn’t expect him to hold onto power long. “I believe when France is done with rebels we’re [Malians] going to ask him to leave. The country welcomed him but he needs to go!”

Abdel Traoré, who was raised in Bamako, the capital of Mali but works as a systems analyst at the Montefriore Medical Centre in the Bronx agrees. “A year from now, Sanogo won’t be alive,” Traoré said in a phone interview. “I feel like he is heading towards a crash course with the Malian people. People are looking for a democracy in the country but he is thinking that he is still in the coup.”

Mariam Dagnoko, an International Studies and Sociology student at the City College of New York, agrees but notes that getting rid of him may be easier said than done. She says that he would use politicking to maintain his power as he as done over the past year. “[H]e’s been there for a while and when things don’t go his way, he goes and has that person arrested or has that person taken out of their position. If he stays he might make some trouble for those people, for the new government.”

Sanogo has already shown that he is willing to use force hold onto power. In the days following his initial coup, he forcefully quelled a counter attack by the Red Berets, loyalist to the previous government. Some were killed. Others are still in jail to this day despite requests from President Dioncounda Traoré for their release.

Despite these issues, Mali-Americans still seem optimistic about their country’s future. They still see a happy ending with peaceful elections.