Category: Stories

AudioStories

Stunning Comeback in Mexican Elections: FI2W’s Diego Graglia on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show

Feet In 2 Worlds web editor Diego Graglia was interviewed Tuesday on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, New York public radio.

Together with David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute and assistant professor of political science at the University of San Diego, Diego spoke about the mid-term elections in Mexico, where the PRI, the party that controlled the country for seven decades until 2000, has made a stunning comeback.

You can listen to the interview below or go to the show’s webpage.

[audio:http://audio.wnyc.org/bl/bl070709epod.mp3]

The election had a turnout rate of less than 50% and it saw almost 6% of voters casting nullified ballots as a protest against the political party system.

In a poignant gesture in this age of democratized communications, Twitter user @priscilliana decided to vote for the social network’s Fail Whale:

(Photo: Priscilliana/TwitPic -- Click on image to visit.)

(Photo: Priscilliana/TwitPic -- Click on image to visit.)

Stories

Where is Their Vote? Iranian-Americans in New York Join the Debate over Iran’s Contested Election

By Aditi Anand, Feet in 2 Worlds

As turmoil continued in Iran over last month’s contested presidential election, several hundred people gathered in New York City’s Union Square last Wednesday for a vigil in support of those protesting the vote’s results. The vigil was organized by the NYC arm of Where is My Vote, an Iranian diaspora organization, largely over Facebook and other social media sites.

Participants dressed in green or wearing green armbands lit candles, stood behind large swaths of green fabric and held signs reading, “Where is My Vote?” and “RIP Neda”— the latter in reference to Neda Soltan, whose gruesome death was seen around the world after she was reportedly gunned down by pro-government forces during protests in Tehran.

Many in the crowd chanted “Down with the dictator” in English as well as other slogans in Farsi.

Watch video footage of the vigil:

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Stories

Arriving Without an Invitation: New Book Offers Unique Perspective on the Life of an Illegal Immigrant

A FI2W Essay

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer
A Mexican migrant in the Arizona desert - Photo: Valeria Fernández.

(Photo: Valeria Fernández)

“The route is full of dangers. In summer there are usually soldiers guarding the footpaths who arrest anyone trying to get through illegally. There are just as many armed bandits lurking too, waiting to pounce and rob the illegal migrant of what little he owns. Whoever refuses to empty his pockets gets the thrashing of his life. In winter there are fewer soldiers, fewer bandits. Instead it’s a toss-up between dying in the snow or being eaten by wolves.”

Change a few details, and this could easily be a description of the perils facing undocumented immigrants as they cross from Mexico into the U.S. But the writer is Albanian, and the route he describes is his own passage from his native country to neighboring Greece, which he entered illegally in 1991.

Gazmend Kapllani

Gazmend Kapllani

In the current debate over immigration reform it is easy for Americans to loose sight of the universality of human migration. Around the world, national borders are constantly being crossed, both with and without governmental approval, as people facing difficult –sometimes desperate– circumstances search for safety, economic security and opportunities they can’t find at home.

“A Short Border Handbook” (published in the U.K. by Portobello Books), a new book by journalist Gazmend Kapllani, reminds us that the experiences often associated with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are endemic to all who leave their homeland and show up in a new country “uninvited.” Using a blunt style and, at times, dark humor, Kapllani’s short book tells the story of walking to Greece in 1991 after the government of Albania opened its borders following the fall of the country’s totalitarian Communist regime.

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Stories

News Analysis: Obama Launches Immigration Reform Effort, But Lines Are Already Being Drawn

By Suman Raghunathan, FI2W consultant
President Obama at Thursday's meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform - Photo: The White House.

President Obama at Thursday's meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform. (Photo: The White House)

Finally, the much-expected meeting on immigration reform between President Barack Obama and lawmakers from both parties took place Thursday. Participating legislators said the president promised to put his energy into moving forward right away.  The response from some reform advocates was “Game On!”  But the various sides have already started drawing lines in the sand — spelling out what they will and will not accept.

Reps. Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.) and Joseph Crowley (D.-N.Y.) reported that President Obama began the meeting by promising to “use whatever political capital he has left” to enact comprehensive immigration reform this year.

See a White House video of the meeting:

Thursday’s meeting and the White House’s creation of a working group on immigration reform –to be headed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano– were lauded by immigrant rights groups such as America’s Voice, which called Thursday “a turning point” and declared: “Game On”.

The renewed commitment from the Oval Office might allay advocates’ fears that the current economic crisis, as well as Obama’s high-profile efforts to enact health care reform would prevent the President and Congress from dealing with immigration this year.

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AudioStories

Immigrant Family Torn Apart in Arizona Raid

Sheriff Arpaio has arrested 248 immigrants in raids allegedly aimed at unlawful hiring, but no employer has been penalized.

PHOENIX, Arizona — Katherine Figueroa was playing outside her home Saturday morning when she overheard the news coming from a nearby TV. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had just raided the car wash where her father and mother worked.

She rushed to see her dad’s image on television. His expression looked worried, his hands were tied with plastic cuffs.

Her eyes filled with tears, the 9-year-old made a plea to President Barack Obama to return her parents home in a video produced by Arizona activists and reports on the Univision network.

“I want my parents back, is not fair for me to be alone,” said Katherine who was born in the U.S. and is a U. S. citizen.

Katherine Figueroa saw her father's immigration arrest on TV. (Photo: Valeria Fernández)

Katherine Figueroa saw her father's immigration arrest on TV. (Photos: Valeria Fernández)

Listen to Katherine in an interview with Feet in 2 Worlds:

[audio:http://www.jocelyngonzales.net/FI2W/fi2w_valeria_katharin.mp3]

Although the federal government has announced changes to its policies regarding work-site immigration raids, not much has changed in the Phoenix area, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is implementing what critics call “his own brand of law.”

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Stories

Advocating for Immigrants: Filmmakers Tell the Story of the Hispanic Press in America

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer

For many Americans, May 1, 2006 was when they first began to comprehend the power of the nation’s Spanish-language media. Hispanic radio and TV played a key role on that day, urging Latino immigrants to take time off from work to demonstrate for immigration reform. Millions participated in the protests in cities across the country.

But while Hispanic media was credited for its role in bringing out the masses on the “day without immigrants,” most people remain unaware of the long history of the Spanish-language press in America, and its tradition of advocating for Latino interests.

The first U.S.-based newspaper for Spanish-speaking readers – El Misisipi – made its debut in New Orleans in 1808, nearly two centuries before the historic marches of 2006.

La Cronica, published in Laredo, Texas, served Mexican exiles in the early 20th Century.

La Cronica, published in Laredo, Texas, served Mexican exiles in the early 20th Century.

By the mid-19th Century Spanish-language newspapers were editorializing and covering news in New York, California, Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Among the causes they supported were independence for Mexico and Cuba, which at the time were Spanish colonies.

The nation’s oldest continuously-published Latino newspaper, – La Prensa – was founded in New York in 1913, and exists today as the daily El Diario/La Prensa.

“We’ve been around for years. We’re not a new media,” said Juan Gonzáles, who chairs the Journalism Department at the City College of San Francisco.

Gonzáles is producing a film that tells the story of America’s Spanish-language media, Voices for Justice: The Enduring Legacy of the Latino Press in the U.S. Along with fellow filmmaker, Félix F. Gutiérrez, a professor of Journalism at the University of Southern California, Gonzáles recently showed a preview of the film to an audience of ethnic media journalists in Atlanta.

Gonzáles told Feet in Two Worlds that the film intends to dispel myths about Latinos both among Hispanics and in the wider society. ” Through the pages of our newspapers we really get an impression of what Latinos are like,” he said. “Mainstream media always shows negative stories (about Latinos) — about gang activity and crime.” Gonzáles noted that many Latinos don’t know the history of the Spanish-language press. “We’re feeling a big gap of knowledge,” — he said — “the film is going to fill a void in telling the story of a people.”voices_logo

The film project is also a way for Gonzáles and Gutiérrez to prod the Hispanic press to be more aggressive in the way it reports the news.

Today there are hundreds of Hispanic newspapers and magazine across the country. Spanish-language radio is a huge business, and Hispanic TV networks Telemundo and Univision have become as mainstream as their English-language counterparts.

Despite the numbers, Gonzáles, who founded El Tecolote, a bilingual community newspaper in San Francisco, laments that there’s “a lot of fluff” in journalism aimed at Latino audiences. “It does a disservice to the community,” he said.

“When it comes to hard stories, it’s something I continue to push for,” he said. “However much you don’t want to do it, you have to do it. Your simple existence is not enough. You need to help the community change conditions through your solid reporting.”

Stories

Music as Medicine: Sevdalinka Songs Help Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees Remember and Heal

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – Second of two installments.
Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

The name of Bosnia and Herzegovina –a small, heart-shaped country in the Balkans– is rarely associated with love.

The country made headlines in the mid ’90s as a place where ethnic hatred resulted in the death of 100,000 of its people and the exodus of many more. In addition to the photo albums and coffee grinders refugees packed in their suitcases as they fled, they also brought with them parts of their culture including sevdalinka, a traditional Bosnian song of love and longing for all that was left behind.

Now as Bosnian communities strengthen their roots in the United States, England and elsewhere, younger generations are growing up having little contact with their parents’ homeland. For these children, sevdalinka is perhaps a way to maintain a link. Mary Sherhart, director of Sevdah North America –a cultural organization dedicated to the study and preservation of this music– has seen the powerful connections sevdalinka can make.

“The little girls especially are enamored with it,” she said. “When those kids go home and hang out with their parents –in particular with their grandparents– the grandparents start singing, it gets them thinking about their youth. It is so healthy for these elders who feel particularly traumatized and isolated, as they often do not speak English.”

Listen to “Tamburalo Momce u Tamburu” (Youth was playing tamburitza) by Mary Sherhart, John Morovich and Balkan Cabaret:

[audio:http://www.jocelyngonzales.net/FI2W/05_Tamburalo.mp3]

From the CD “Somewhere Far Away” (2006)

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Stories

Sevdalinka, a Melancholy Soundtrack for Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S.

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – First of two installments.

NEW YORK – When Mary Sherhart first sang the traditional Bosnian songs known as sevdalinkas at a concert in 2004, a woman stood up and started weeping. Her bare arms, emblazoned with scars from the war that ravaged Bosnia in the early nineties, rose toward the ceiling.

Mary Sherhart, the president of Sevdah North America. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

Sevdalinka is “a bridge to home,” says singer Mary Sherhart. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

At that moment, Sherhart knew that to be a “responsible artist” she would need to learn more about this song and its people, as the music extracted from her audiences the most private of emotions.

The emotion was evident on the faces of those who came to listen to Sherhart and Sakib Jakupovic, a Bosnian musician, this past April in Queens, NY at the tenth-anniversary celebration of the Bosnian-American Association. At midnight, grateful guests lined up to personally thank Sherhart for coming. Many of them were older Bosnian men and women, self-conscious about their broken English, but nevertheless eager to express their gratitude.

Sevdalinka is a song of love in all its manifestations, but for Bosnians living outside their country, one feeling predominates — nostalgia.

“Sevdah takes a new meaning in the diaspora,” said Sherhart, who is the president of Sevdah North America, an organization dedicated to the preservation and study of this music. “It is a bridge to the time when they were happier, a bridge to home, a bridge to their children for whom those ties are not as strong.”

Listen toSnijeg Pade na Behar na Voce” (Snow has fallen on blossoms, on fruit) by Mary Sherhart and Omer Pobric:

[audio:http://www.jocelyngonzales.net/FI2W/08_Snijeg.mp3]

From the CD Srce Puno Bosne, Amerika i sevdah, Mary i Omer

(2005, Institut Sevdaha)

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AudioStories

Immigrant Business Owners on Staten Island Struggle Against the Recession: FI2W Reporter Aswini Anburajan on WNYC

By Aswini Anburajan, FI2W reporter

Immigrant business owners have breathed new life into the North Shore of Staten Island, New York’s least populated and least diverse borough.

Feet in 2 Worlds partnered with WNYC, New York public radio, to produce a profile of Victory Boulevard, one of Staten Island’s major thoroughfares, for the Main Street NYC series, which examines the recession’s impact on neighborhoods across the city.

You can listen to the story by pressing play below or visiting WNYC’s web site .

[audio:http://audio.wnyc.org/news/news20090511_main_st_staten_island.mp3]

A Mexican grocery store on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island.

The history of Victory Boulevard is like that of a lot of American Main Streets.

It was once part of a thriving downtown area until the development of suburbs drew the middle class community away from an urban center, and left areas like the northern end of Victory largely abandoned.

However, immigration to Staten Island over the past ten years has revitalized this part of the Island, which has stores that represent virtually every corner of the globe. While immigrants were once one out of ten residents in Staten Island in 1990, they are now one out of four residents. Ten percent of these immigrants own their own businesses, but the recent economic downturn has left many business owners struggling.

Wigs on display at A&C Beauty Supply

A&C Beauty Supply is a store that serves the Island’s African community, largely made up of Liberian and Senegalese immigrants.

Its owner, Adam, who is from Senegal, says that he noticed the downturn more than a year ago. Customers who were once avid purchasers of wigs and hair care products, now barely enter. On the day I stopped in, Adam had no customers in his store.

Island Roti's owner Kelvin Hanaf

Kelvin Hanaf is the owner of Island Roti, a Carribbean takeout joint that serves food from his native Trinidad.

When I spoke with him he was at his wit’s end. “No one’s coming in,” he complained, saying that he would usually see weekend traffic start to pile into his store on a Thursday afternoon.

He joked that customers are cutting back so much that if they want to eat chicken roti they order a roti and cook their own chicken. Hanaf has cut prices by 50 cents on every item, and says that he just can’t afford to take the prices any lower.

Mosen Ibrahim at Moe's Cafe

Mosen Ibrahim also complains that penny pinching by the Island’s residents has taken a toll on his business. Moe’s Cafe, which he started five years ago, is one of the few places on Staten Island where you can find Mediterranean food and other dishes from Ibrahim’s native Egypt.

He was lured to Staten Island for the same reasons that many immigrants came — affordable home prices, the chance to start a business on the cheap and a small immigrant community from his native country. However, since the downturn Ibrahim has had to turn to his bank to stay afloat. They extended his mortgage, but he doesn’t mince words on what business is like right now. “Times are tough,” he said. “They’re tough for everybody but for the food business, when 80 percent of the people stop eating outside…” He trailed off with a laugh.

AgainstDaGrain

So who is doing well on Victory? Some of the haircutting salons like Against Da Grain Barber Shop report that even in a slow economy you still have to look good. This is one of the few stores on Victory that was crowded with customers the day I visited.

A hair braiding salon, named after its owner, Bissou, also reports that business is slowly picking back up. “A few months ago we were sitting here doing nothing,” Bissou, a Senegalese immigrant, told me, “So I can say that business is getting a little bit better.”

Tulcingo Travel, one bright spot amid the crisis

The one success story on Victory Boulevard, and perhaps for the future of immigrant-owned businesses on Staten Island, is Tulcingo Travel, a Mexican paquetería that facilitates the shipping of remittances and care packages between the United States and Mexico.

Immigrant entrepreneurs usually cater to their own communities, and in recent years the Mexican population on Staten Island has spiked, providing store owners who serve this community a buffer in these tough times. A Tulcingo worker told me that business had dropped off for about two months when the crisis first hit last fall, but things are back to normal now.

Could this bright spot on this struggling street mean that there is a silver lining to this crisis after all?

Stories

FI2W Video: The Voices of Immigrant New Yorkers at May Day Rallies for Immigration Reform

Feet In 2 Worlds contributor Sooyeon Kim covered the immigration rallies that took place Friday in Manhattan.

The earlier Madison Square Park rally, which featured a text messaging campaign, was attended by immigrants from many different backgrounds. Kim reports:

Despite the pouring rain, hundreds of immigrant rights supporters started marching at 6 p.m. to City Hall, flaunting flags and chanting, calling for immigration reform.

You can read our story about the Madison Square Park rally here.

Kim later covered the second rally, which met in Union Square. Here’s a slideshow with images from both demonstrations.

You can see another FI2W video from the Union Square rally here.