Tag Archives: Migrant Workers

On Being a Super-hero

Late at night in some real estate offices of the Bay Area, one may sometimes spy a young adult in a three-piece suit, vacuuming the carpets and emptying the trash. It isn’t a costume–it is a reality.

I should get best-dressed janitor award.

Inspired by the biggest ‘illegal alien’ superhero (Superman), an Dulce Pinzon seeks to recast the often-demonized undocumented immigrants as superheroes:

The Mexican immigrant worker in New York is a perfect example of the hero who has gone unnoticed. It is common for a Mexican worker in New York to work extraordinary hours in extreme conditions for very low wages which are saved at great cost and sacrifice and sent to families and communities in Mexico who rely on them to survive.

The Mexican economy has quietly become dependent on the money sent from workers in the US. Conversely, the US economy has quietly become dependent on the labor of Mexican immigrants. Along with the depth of their sacrifice, it is the quietness of this dependence which makes Mexican immigrant workers a subject of interest.

The principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.

My mom is a real hero. She keeps the house clean and several of her client’s offices too. Without her meticulous cleaning work, many would succumb to using dirty bathrooms, overloaded trash cans and breathing in unclean environments.

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Made in LA Humanizes the Immigration Debate

I recently had the chance to view this documentary at the Immigrant Solidarity Network in Chicago. And now I have the opportunity to blog about it.

Made in L.A. is an Emmy-award winning film that tells the story of three Latina immigrants working in garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections while finding their way in the U.S. It’s a very personal story of each woman’s self-empowerment, and it humanizes the immigrant experience and draws parallels between today’s immigrants and those whose families came to the U.S. generations ago.

What I particularly liked about this particular work was that the focus was not on discerning whether the migrant women workers in question were legal or illegal. That was not the point of the movie. The binaries of legal-illegal were torn down in the narrative as it explored the trials and tribulations of three Latina women working in a sweatshop in Los Angeles.

Between April 15th and May 31st (and beyond) national organizations, grassroots groups, faith-based congregations and individuals are coming together in a nationwide effort to share the Emmy-winning Made in L.A. and put a human face on the issues of immigration, immigrant workers’ rights, and supporting humane immigration reform.

It’s always important to tell our stories. And especially the stories of migrant women given the trend towards feminization of migrant labor.

Will you join or support this effort?  You can:
1. Host a screening

2. Send an e-mail to your friends and lists, about the campaign or spread the word through the film’s Facebook and Myspace pages.

3. Post the banner and button on your blog or website, and get the new Immigration Headlines Widget featuring Made in L.A.

By creating a climate of empathy and understanding around immigration reform, we can use Made in L.A. to help lay the foundation for change. Join the movement at www.MadeInLA.com/MayDay!

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Filed under Human Rights, Immigration

Global Migration Forum: What would happen if all undocumented migrants disappeared?

“California will collapse before breakfast, London before lunch, and most of Europe just before dinner.”

Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation.

The Global Forum on Migration and Development opened in Manilla today with delegates from 151 countries in attendance.

Obviously, the United States mainstream news media is not about to pick up on the message of migrant rights being human rights. We are also too engrossed with domestic elections and ‘voter purging’ from rolls (a ‘legal’ Republican tactic to disallow ‘certain’ demographics of people from voting) to be bothered about 40 million undocumented workers around the world. (Is this a ‘third world’ under-developed country where we cannot even determine which voters are eligible or not eligible to cast their ballots?)

For the nativists that call on restricting immigration in times of crisis, here is why such a call would propagate contradictory results. Burrow states:

“In a global financial crisis, if jobs are threatened, if regular channels of migration are constrained, then clearly we will see an increase in those desperate to make an income working without documentation in many nations,” she said.

The forum signifies how the subaltern cannot speak. None of the delegates are really migrant workers.

Joshua Mata, Salag spokesman, denounced the forum for failing to highlight the need to protect and defend the rights of migrant workers. “They kept talking about the significance and importance of migrant workers, when in fact there is no migrant worker at all in the forum,” Salag said.

No, as usual the migrants are on the outside, protesting for their rights and the right to be included in decisions about their lives.

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Filed under Human Rights, Immigration

The Invisibles that Made the Beijing Games – Dark Side of the Olympics

I mentioned earlier that the computer-generated 55-second video footage of giant fireworks on film at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was pure simulacrum–with no relation to ‘reality.’ It turns out that there was more “staging” than meets the eye at the 2008 Beijing games.

First, a 9-year old lip-synced the song “Ode to the Motherland” because the original singer was not considered pretty enough.

Then, we had reports of a pre-recorded “live” fireworks display as aforementioned.

Chinese officials also admitted to deploying cheer squads (legions of spectators wearing matching yellow shirts) to ‘create’ atmosphere and hide the empty seats. (Why were there empty seats at this major world spectacle? We will come back to this point soon).

Now Beijing officials are admitting that children dressed in different ethnic costumes in China who carried the Chinese flag were not actually from those ethnic groups.

And all the while, the CCP has cracked down on Olympics piracy–the sale of ‘inauthentic’ Olympic gear. In order to move away from the perception of China as a “low class pirating country” according to CNN,

On April 26, World Intellectual Property Day, cities across China demonstrated the country’s commitment to quashing piracy by staging public exhibitions and destroying pirated goods.

This is the essence of hyper-reality, the fake crackdowns on pirated goods (the brand names also representative of nothing) to allude to a China that is indeed unreal; it does not exist.

Maybe these reports do not bother average viewers who understand that they are consuming images that are not necessarily representative of reality.  And this post is by no means condemning China for “faking” the Olympics–that would be far too juvenile and hypocritical and I will leave that to the Orientalists and hate-mongers.

In ‘postmodern’ society, the simulated copy has preceded the real and while I am not asserting like Jean Baudrillard did that “the real no longer exists,” I do hold that the mass profusion of images for consumption–the systemic act of the manipulation of signs–play a major role in masking and convoluting our perceptions of reality.

The most disturbing part of the Olympic spectacle does not have to do with the 55 second CGI, lip-synching or child actors; it has little to do with the spectacularly grand banquet of scrolls, drums, processions, songs and dances that were supposed to reflect 5000 years of Chinese civilization. This hyper-reality and idealized transposition blanketed the ‘real’ people of China, the people that would ideally occupy those empty seats, the ones in rural areas who would never even see the games but have their land taken away in an attempt to create the facade, those that toiled behind the scenes to make these Olympics a success, the ‘undesirables’ that China was all too eager to eliminate from the screens before the games begun even while appearing to extoll the values of its own historical laboring past and present during the staged simulation.

The migrant laborers that toiled hard with little-to-no legal and health protections, and built the Bird’s Nest are nowhere to be seen. They came, they built, and they left knowing that they would never have access to the amazing sites that they have put together, that the world may never recognize their amazing feats and reward them with medals. After all, we are glued to our screens watching and applauding people running, swimming, cycling and jumping for medals, sponsorships, and fame. But the true achievers are the migrant workers, the unsung heroes who made these games possible.
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Filed under Gender, Human Rights, Immigration, Nationalism, Political Theory

Deport Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo – Son of Undocumented Immigrants!

“I’m here and this is my dream. So it’s cool.”

Henry Cejudo - Son of Mexican Illegal Aliens wins Gold at the Beijing Olympics
Cejudo, crying the moment the match ended and wrapping himself in an American flag, defeated Tomohiro Matsunaga of Japan 2-2 on tiebreaker and 3-0 in the best-of-three match.

He is the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who bypassed college to pursue his dreams of being an Olympian and won the gold medal in the freestyle wrestling event–the first U.S. champion of the sport’s lightest weight class since 1960.

“He’s testament to the fighting spirit of America,” his coach Mike Duroe said. “This means so much to him. Gold medals are the American dream.”

At just 5-feet-4 and 121 pounds, Henry Cejudo is the the youngest of six children. The Denver Post reported on July 31:

Being the youngest, Cejudo said, “I always had to fight for things – blanket, remote control, food.”
In Phoenix, Cejudo remembers living in rough apartment complexes where crime was ever present, murders not unusual.
“I never forget where I come from,” he said. “The struggles, everything, I just use it as motivation.”
That fire comes out when he’s on the mat, even in a practice match here, where you can feel his intensity.
“You’re going to lose if you think you are,” he said. “I was always like that, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had that mentality.”

Organizations like Americans for Legal Immigration (a euphemism for Americans Against Latino Immigration), a site that advocates strict immigration levels, would also love to do-away with “birthright-citizenship,” which would have ripped a talent like Henry Cejudo from the United States. William Gheen does not care; for him, the issue is black and white:
“America and Spain are the only two countries left in the world that have birthright citizenship. And that is something that our organization and many others would like to see changed because of its wild and flagrant abuse by illegal aliens.”
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Residency Not Determined by Undocumented Status

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled today that an undocumented immigrant who was injured in Ada County was entitled to medical assistance from that county regardless of his immigration status, stating that “the concept of residency does not distinguish between citizens and those who have entered this country illegally.”

The ruling reversed a board opinion and resembles the approach ten states have already taken to giving instate-tuition to undocumented students. Namely, residency and citizenship are two separate matters and defined differently.

A resident of Idaho as defined as “a person with a home, house, place of abode, place of habitation, dwelling or place where he or she actually lived for a consecutive period of thirty (30) days or more within the state of Idaho. A resident does not include a person who comes into this state for temporary purposes, including, but not limited to, education, vacation, or seasonal labor…”

Following that definition, most undocumented immigrants with the exception of seasonal migrant workers, are deemed residents by the county or state in which they reside. Their immigration status has no bearing on their residency.

The Supreme Court Opinion is here

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Feminization of Migrant Labor – Situating Migrant Women in a more Global Context

There is no doubt that women bear the brunt of the toughest and lowest-paying jobs (not to mention UNPAID housework). From sewing garments in sweltering factories to changing dirty diapers to wiping counters to doing the dishes to serving as “sex slaves” — the overwhelming majority of workers in these occupations are women.


Take a look at the recent ICE raid at the Houston Action Rags USA plant–in effect a sweatshop rag factory where migrant workers–mostly women–would sort through used clothes that would later by exported to “Third World” countries. ICE officials said of the 166 workers they detained, 130 were females, including 10 who were pregnant.

The Houston Chronicle picked up on the gender disparity here:

Juana Maria Olvera, 35, was one of those detained at Action Rags USA and released because she is expecting a child.

”There are a lot of undocumented women working here, and a lot are single women who are working to support their families,” said Olvera. ”What is happening is a lot of the men come here and don’t go back to Mexico. They either bring their women, or find someone here.”

When ICE cracks down on migrant women workers, they devastate the mainstay of the family unit. But we need to situate the random detention of migrant women workers by the ICE in a more global context, as a global oppression of women. It is ironic that these migrant women were working in a “First World” rag-factory to produce clothes for “Third World” countries–countries that they have fled due to “First World” (neo-liberal) policies. For the most part, they would probably do the same jobs at home if the multi-national corporations came to them. Capital will go where it can seek the most profits–and what is more profitable than earning millions on the backs of women who have very little institutional support? Multi-national corporations like DKNY, Levi Strauss, Jessica McClintock to name just a few, have a mutable gendered labor workforce.

In coming to the United States, there is no hunt for the ‘American dream’ but sheer desperation for dollars. As Cynthia Enloe eloquently states in her seminal work Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, women who travel are not creatures of comfort or privileged. These migrant female underclass of workers do not get institutional support, work in increasingly deplorable conditions and are more susceptible to sexual harassment and abuse. Just take a look at this story about an Ecuadorean family suing a bakery over working conditions–

Antonio DiBenedetto [the employer] groped the female immigrants and pushed one woman into an office where he tried to take off her clothes and sexually assault her, but the woman escaped by calling for the help of a co-worker, the lawsuit alleges.

DiBenedetto also forced female employees to watch him undress and walked around naked in front of them, the lawsuit alleges. He was also accused of telling the female employees that he would loan them money or not charge them rent if they engaged in sex.

This is a rare example of an undocumented immigrant family coming out of the shadows to jot down abuses in the workplace. For the most part, women who are sexually abused, harassed or treated inhumanely, simply stay quiet and stay in the shadows. Sometimes they are compelled to do so in order to protect their families and keep nurturing their young, no matter what the costs. And with the ICE, IMF, World Bank, workforce and exportation laws, it is harder for female workers to unite and unionize.

What is the main point of this blog post? Any movement for the advancement of women’s rights or gender equality, MUST address the needs of women who are victims of neo-liberal globalization.

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Filed under Gender, Human Rights, Immigration, Racism