Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor hosted a reception to celebrate the launch of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, a new national network of farmworker women and women from farmworker families. The mission of Alianza is to unify the struggle to promote farmworker women’s leadership in a national movement to create a broader visibility and advocate for changes that ensure their human rights. Alianza leaders and campesinas from around the country joined us at the reception to introduce their organization and recognize their supporters and Madrinas here in DC.
The Kalmanovitz Initiative provided financial support for three undergraduate students to attend the National Immigrant Integration Conference, held from September 22-25, 2012. In return, we asked for them to share with us their experiences on the trip. Below are the reflection pieces they wrote for us.
Francisco Gutierrez (MSB’13)
Attending the National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC) was a thrilling experience. I witnessed firsthand the Naturalization process of many aspiring Americans- all of which came from different parts of the world. I equally had the chance to exchange a few words with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley who continues to lead one of the most pro-immigrant states in the country. O’Malley was kind enough to photograph with our members and confessed that his daughter was a student at Georgetown University.
The most enriching experience, however, was learning about refugees in the U.S. The objective of the given workshop was not only to teach the uninformed about refugee advocacy, but also to debunk the myths about the divide between immigrant and refugee advocacy work. Presenters insisted that rather than looking at immigrants and refugees as two separate groups, we should think of them as one and should make an effort to build a network that benefits both.
Andres Rengifo (MSB’16)
The National Immigrant Integration conference, was one of the most enlightening experiences I have had. I attended the education for both days of the conference. The first education presentation, entitled Engaging and empowering students, families and communities, talked about what many different organization from across the country are doing to promote the integration of immigrants within the educational system. Organizations such as Mary’s center here in DC, which provide immigrant families with a charter school, as well as a health center, and even classes for the parents. Other communities such as a middle school in Brooklyn, NY encourage the parents to learn Spanish as well, as a way to help their children with homework. Also, they end information in multiple languages to ensure that each parent is able to understand.
The second education session was to spread the knowledge of the Dream Act and the Defer act. During this session, students, as well as activists, talked about their constant struggles, that immigrant and undocumented students may face. The panel also discussed deferred action, its cost implications and what the application entails. We heard what problems organizations are facing and how they are trying to overcome them. During both sessions I was able to see the different types of hardships students faced, and how difficult it is to overcome these challenges; I was able to see how lucky I am to be a legal alien in this country.
Kim Maima (SFS’15)
During the conference I had the opportunity to participate in focused discussions about race, ethnicity and the immigrant experience. The first discussion attempted to explore the Black Immigrant experience and the relationship between Black Immigrants and the African American community. The setting of the discussion was quite intimate, merely 12 people, and I was rather surprised to discover that the participants were extremely diverse. I interacted with Individuals from all walks of life, from a Los Angeles based Black Panther to a DREAM Act advocacy organizer. The discussion began with a brief presentation by 3 panelists. Each panelist spoke generally about different aspects of the black immigrant experiences and their personal experiences as black immigrants. While the discussion was informative, offering a breath of statistics and challenging some of the stereotypes associated with Black immigrants, it diverged from its original purpose. This is a sentiment that I and many of the other participants shared. In the question and answer section that followed, one woman expressed her frustration. She had travelled all the way from Maine, which she described as the whitest state in America, to find answers. And while she was intrigued by the presentation, she did not feel that it addressed the problems. Race is an important factor in how immigrants assimilate and are received by their host country. The presentation failed to address this issue completely and offered no practical models for improving race relations and integrating immigrant communities. There was little discussion about bridging the gaps between the Black Immigrant community and other minority communities and in particularly the African American community. And surprisingly, there was no representative from the African American community to shed light on their point of view.
Although I felt that the conference did not offer concrete solutions to immigrant integration, I left the conference with a new perspective on the immigrant rights movement. I believe that more recently immigrant rights has become a forefront issue. It was empowering to be in a forum with people from all over the world who commit their lives to fighting for immigrant rights.
Between the Great War and Pearl Harbor, conservative labor leaders declared themselves America’s “first line of defense” against Communism. In her new book Commonsense Anticommunism, historian Jennifer Luff argues that the AFL’s “commonsense anticommunism” tried to steer a middle course between the American Legion and the American Civil Liberties Union, defending unions while condemning communism. The outcome of that effort, she argues, shaped American labor politics in ways we continue to grapple with today.
Hear Jennifer Luff discuss her new book Commonsense Anticommunism with Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, George Washington University.
On September 20, 2012, the Kalmanovitz Initiative hosted a discussion with Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter, leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. The event was co-sponsored by the Workers Rights Consortium and the International Labor Rights Forum.
Kalpona Akter spoke about her own experience working in a garment factory from the age of twelve. At that time, she earned a wage of $3/month and worked for as many as 23 days in a row. At age twenty, she attempted to organize the workers in her factory into a union—and was promptly fired.
Today, 23 years later, garment workers in Bangladesh earn $38/month. But due to inflation, this translates to less than the $3/month that Akter earned as a child. Bangladesh pays the lowest wage of any garment-producing country, but they are now second only to China in the volume of apparel they supply to U.S. retailers.
She reported that workers still suffer from physical and verbal abuse, and they regularly face health and safety hazards in the factories they work in. In the past seven years, over 400 workers have been killed in factory fires. There have been repeated reports that locked gates prevented workers from escaping from fires, and as a result, workers jumped out of windows and to their deaths. [Read more…]
Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter, leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Solidarity, discussed the murder of labor leader and union organizer, Aminul Islam, and the struggles of labor rights advocates in a country where garment workers earn less than $40 per month and face deadly health and safety risks making clothes for American retailers.