Erick De Leon
AudioStories

A Mexican Immigrant Wears Detroit’s Golden Gloves

A gym in Southwest Detroit serving the Mexican immigrant community has cultivated a star, 18 year old Erick De Leon. But as a non-citizen, De Leon’s opportunities are limited.

Iraqi refugees – Photo: Chaldean Federation of America

Thousands of Iraqi Refugees Overwhelm Arab Community Service Agencies in Detroit

Arab community groups in Detroit that stepped up to help thousands of Iraqi refugees settle in the area now say they are overwhelmed by the task of assisting them. They also say they get little to no support from the local, state or federal governments.

Detroiters Literally Dancing In The Streets For America’s First Black President

DETROIT – Martina Guzman, FI2W reporter

Detroiters cheered in bars, honked their horns and literally danced in the streets when Barack Obama became the president-elect.

Detroit is considered a black city: the population is more than eighty percent African American. It has had a black mayor for decades, black City Council members and elected officials. But as a veteran of multiple presidential and local campaigns, I have never seen an outpouring of joy over an election like I saw last night — there’s no precedent to compare it to.

This was not the kind of celebration that takes place after a major sports victory. And it was nothing like the usual party after winning an electoral race. This time, people in bars sobbed openly as Obama spoke to the nation. At the Park Bar, one of Detroit’s newest hangouts, no one was allowed to talk while Obama gave his speech — and no one did. People sat in silence, beaming, listening to every word he said.

“Oh my God, what a great country we live in,” said 42-year-old Louis Aguilar after Obama’s victory speech. Aguilar was one of the thousands of people who came out last night to watch the results roll in.

As the states turned blue, a trickle of cars honking their horns turned quickly into a midnight parade.

(more…)

"One Who Can Really Appreciate Voting": A Black Voter Remembers the Old South

DETROIT – Martina Guzman, FI2W reporter

John McDowell sat in his lawn chair at the Kemeny voting center in Detroit. He passed out Obama literature and smiled at the young people who came to vote.

“I’m one of the ones who can really appreciate voting,” McDowell said.

McDowell is originally from Louisiana but moved to Detroit in the 1960’s. He said he voted for the first time in 1955, but that was a humiliating experience.

“I was asked what party I belonged to and I told them Democrat,” he said. “They asked me to spell Democrat… I got one letter wrong, so they refused to register me.”

McDowell went home and looked up the word in the dictionary, swearing to never get it wrong again. He went back to the polling place, spelled the word correctly and registered to vote.

“I was lucky,” he said. “Some black people were asked to recite the Constitution.”

As McDowell told the story, 18-year-old Eric Ford stood by and listened. Ford was voting for the first time and said he was excited to make a stand and vote for change. He said that at his age he’s already worried about his future. “I look out here now and it’s scary,” he said.

Ford politely shook McDowell’s hand, then went inside to vote.

(more…)

Long Lines Don't Stop Latino Voters in Southwest Detroit

DETROIT, MI – By Martina Guzman, FI2W Reporter

Undeterred by long lines, Latino voters in Southwest Detroit came out in droves today to cast their ballot for president.

“This is the election where Latinos are really going to count,” said 77-year-old Bill Ojeda, a Korean War veteran. Ojeda was a little shy about saying he voted for Obama, but quickly remarked that he liked Obama’s philosophy in dealing with global conflict.

“I don’t mind taking care of the world but I think we should take care of America first,” Ojeda said.

The unusually warm weather for November made voting seem like a community event. Neighbors exchanged friendly ‘hellos’ and asked each other about whom to vote for in local races. Latina mothers, grandmothers and first-time voters arrived together. Twenty-year-old Eliseo Fuentes was thrilled to be voting for the first time. He was well informed, articulate and said immigration is the most important issue for him.

“Neither candidate is talking about immigration,” he said. Ultimately, Fuentes made his decision based on who he though would be better equipped to handle America’s financial crisis. “We live here and we need someone who can take care of the economy now,” he said.

(more…)

Economy a Bad Joke: George Lopez Campaigns for Obama Among Detroit's Latinos

Detroit Free Press.)

Lopez campaigns for Obama in Detroit (Photo: Freep.com|Detroit Free Press)

It was George Lopez doing the talking, but this time the punch line wasn’t funny.

“You cannot be happy with the last eight years,” the comedian said. “Do you like waking up everyday to banks closing?”

Lopez was speaking at a voter registration rally aimed at Detroit’s Hispanic community, held on Sept. 20, to discuss the important role Latinos will play in this year’s presidential election.

Polls in Michigan show Senators Barack Obama and John McCain in a statistical dead heat, with the Democrat enjoying a slight edge. The state is home to more than 400,000 Latinos, and Latinos make up only 4 percent of the electorate. But in an election that seems too close to call, they could decide which candidate wins Michigan’s 17 electoral votes.

Latino voters are the focus of much attention in the battleground states of New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida — but strategists are beginning to see that smaller burgeoning Hispanic communities in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio could have a hand in deciding the winner.

Latinos drove two and three hours to get a glimpse of the famous comedian and listen to what he had to say about his support for Obama.

(more…)

Former President Fox in Detroit: A Mexican Viewpoint on Immigration Reform and the US Presidential Election

Vicente Fox at Wayne State University
Vicente Fox at Wayne State University. (Photo: Centro Fox)

A capacity crowd of activists, politicians, students and intellectuals from the Detroit metro area gathered at Wayne State University Sept. 12 to listen to former Mexican President Vicente Fox give a lecture on “Globalization and Immigration.” Those attending the highly publicized event were eager to hear Fox’s thoughts on immigration from the Mexican perspective.

While the immigration debate has mostly been put in the back burner -as opposed to the economy and the Iraq war- during the 2008 campaign, Fox said he believes the issue will be front and center and could be used as a wedge issue as we get closer to the November 4 election.

When asked about his thoughts on the current debate, Fox said the discussion was “misleading, full of destruction and lack of factual information.” He went on to say that the immigration debate needs to be more objective and that the American people, as well as the media, are uninformed.

According to the Employment Policy Foundation, the United States has a systemic labor shortage that is expected to transform the workplace over the next 25 to 30 years, as baby boomers retire. In this context, while the United States needs and benefits from immigrant labor, Fox said, Mexico suffers from the northward migration in the long term, losing its human capital.

“All this energy, all this talent is needed in Mexico for the development of the nation and the competitiveness of the economy,” Fox said.

Immigration regulation is key to changing the current dialogue. Fox said he supports legislation like the failed McCain-Kennedy bill, proposed in 2005. The plan would have allowed illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before Jan. 7, 2004, and who have jobs, to work legally for an additional six years and eventually become citizens, after paying fines and meeting certain citizenship requirements.

(more…)

Rashida Tlaib wins in Michigan: Now the Arab candidate must mend fences with Latinos

Rashida Tlaib is poised to make history. The Palestinian attorney overwhelmingly beat eight other candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Detroit, and appears on her way to becoming the only Arab-Muslim woman in the Michigan House of Representatives. The majority-Latino neighborhood where she campaigned borders the largest concentrated Arab community in the US.

Although this was only the primary election, the district is more than 90 percent Democratic and there is rarely a credible Republican candidate.

As we noted earlier this week Tlaib’s candidacy was controversial from the start. Latino leaders in the district felt the seat in Michigan’s 12th House District belonged to them. The mostly Mexican community has a long history in Detroit going back almost 100 years, yet has no political representation in the state legislature.

Community leader Elena Herrada of the Centro Obrero criticized Tlaib in an interview with Feet in Two Worlds. “Rashida actually represents the majority of white voters,” Herrada said, “the new people, the younger people who came into the narrative very late.” Herrada also claims Tlaib is a protégé of current 12th District State Representative, Steve Toboccman, who is the Majority Floor Leader in the Michigan House, and who did not seek reelection because of term limits.

Tlaib also was attacked for being a Muslim Arab.

“Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian Muslim extremist whose candidacy was touted across the country on extremist Muslim and anti-Israel mailing lists, is unfortunately a viable candidate for this seat,” posted Debbie Schlussel, a conservative blogger based in Michigan.

Schlussel want on to say, “Tlaib was a top official at ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, the agency that gets millions in your tax money to help illegal aliens, fight immigration laws and supports Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Despite the attacks Tlaib won, and won big. She captured 44 percent of the vote, beating her closest competitor by 770 votes.

Her campaign team and volunteers were ecstatic. “We were so tired but when we found out we won I felt that all of that hard work paid off,” said 17-year old Latina Cynthia Carrillo. Carrillo had never worked on a campaign and says it empowered her as a young woman. “I thought politics was a bunch of rich men giving their opinions,” she said. “I learned that women could be in politics too.”

Tlaib’s story is also significant because, some believe, her success also helps break stereotypes about Arab women. “We’re fed up with seeing the same recycled images of Muslim women in the mainstream media, images that repeatedly depict women as passive and helpless,” wrote filmmaker Jolene Pinder. Pinder produced a film called Election Day featuring Tlaib.

Although Tlaib is celebrating her victory, she now must work with Latino leaders who did not support her candidacy. She also must deal with the troubles of a culturally vibrant yet economically distressed community. The district is rampant with drugs, crime and blight, and as part of Detroit, suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the country for any metro area.

Southwest Detroit is home to Michigan’s largest immigrant community. Before running for state representative, Tlaib built her career working on immigrant isssues. “She comes from an immigrant rights background, and that is a tough message in a post 9/11 world,” said Rep. Toboccman.

This article was written by Feet in Two Worlds reporter Martina Guzman.

Cross-Cultural Campaigning: In a Heavily-Latino District, Rashida Tlaib Runs to be the First Muslim Woman in the Michigan Legislature

Michigan’s 12th House District is predominantly Latino, but the district borders the largest concentrated Middle Eastern community in the United States. Arab American, Rashida Tlaib, grew up on the Latino side of the district. She is running for state representative in today’s Democratic primary in one of Detroit’s most contested elections, and is the front-runner in a race that has 9 candidates vying for the seat.

Tlaib’s campaign strategy is simple, walk the entire district twice and knock on the doors of more than eight thousand voters. Her approach seems to be working. Residents call her by her first name, and her unassuming demeanor and easy smile can disarm residents of some of the toughest Detroit neighborhoods.

Her grassroots approach has also inspired a core group of college-age Arabic and Latina women to faithfully volunteer on her campaign. The young women walk the district along with the candidate, make phone calls in Arabic and Spanish, put up signs and organize fundraisers.

Although Tlaib has inspired a faithful following, not everyone in the Latino stronghold is excited about the young Palestinian attorney running for office. Local resident and community activist, Elena Herrada says the district is predominantly Mexican, and a Latina like former State Representative Belda Garza should hold that seat. Garza was the first Latina elected to the Michigan legislature in 1998 and served two terms before losing to current State Representative Steve Tobocman in 2002. Garza is running again in this election.

(more…)