Month: November 2018

Eyewitness Account: Solidarity with the Migrant Caravan

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By Sifa Kasongo

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, students and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Amherst joined the International Socialist Organization (ISO) at 6:30 p.m. in the Campus Center to hear a firsthand account of the struggles of the migrant caravan and how people can show solidarity and support.

The firsthand account came from Fermin Valle, a queer South American activist, an ISO member and a doctoral student in higher education at UMass.

Valle discussed his experience traveling down to Mexico City, where he met some of the migrants, asylum seekers and people who are a part of the caravan.

According to the New York Times, the migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with fewer than 200 people; but as people got word of what was happening, “the mobilization quickly grew”. The migrants are leaving their countries in search of better wages and a better future for their families.

The migrants, who mostly come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are travelling thousands of miles through South America and arriving at the US-Mexico border, planning to either stay in Mexico or cross the border. According to BBC News, they are staying in temporary shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.

The path migrants have taken over the last two months (Source: BBC News)

“I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I had to go and figure out what’s going on,” Valle remembered saying to his brother before heading down to Mexico City with him.

When Valle arrived he saw around 1,000 people, most of whom were from El Salvador, taking refuge in a church. While he was down there, he soon noticed the press leaving, but he stayed behind to talk to the migrants in order to understand their situation and be able to share their stories. Through these conversations, that was how he met Daniela*.

Daniela is a mother of four, with a daughter who got accepted into a university in El Salvador. She had lost her job due to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement signed by the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Daniela left her country and joined the caravan in hopes of crossing the border and finding a better-paying job to pay for the costs of university for her daughter.

Valle wanted to talk to more of the migrants and hear their stories, so he organized a discussion where over 30 people showed up. Xenophobia was the topic of discussion, which the migrants were aware has spread across the world.

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. It has not only created divisions between Mexicans and the world but also created divisions among the people who live in Mexico.

What some of the migrants didn’t know was that while xenophobia is prevalent, resistance exists. Valle shared with them about the time when millions of people gathered to protest against Trump’s inauguration and the ongoing rallies in support of the migrant caravan.

When they received this news, joy erupted and their morale improved. However, while broad supports of the migrants exists, Valle wanted the attendees to think about how we all can organize and have a bigger turnout in support for the caravan.

“There’s so much history in this caravan,” Valle said. “They want to know where in the U.S. we are going to organize the broadest support not only to resist Trump, resist white supremacy, but to meet them at the border.”

Valle asked the attendees to fight the xenophobia they hear about brown and black people here at UMass, in the U.S. and around the world.

He further said that in the U.S., people have a responsibility to identify with and “break with the chains of racism and white supremacy that pull us to align with the rich and powerful who are running this country.”

Moving forward, Valle wants us to figure out in classrooms how people are humanizing the struggles and lives of people who are looking for a better future to send money back to their families.

He says that a socialist solution is that there needs to be open borders and the government needs to “let them all in.”

“We already live in a world where borders are open to capitalists and so they should be open to the working class,” Valle said.

Below are some ways Valle says you can help show support for migrants in the caravan:

  • Fight against xenophobia
  • Build solidarity across the U.S. for the individuals and families in the caravan, because currently those migrants aren’t seeing that there is a lot of support.
  • Put pressure on the government to provide migrants with fair hearings, safety, etc.

The International Socialist Organization meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Campus Center in room 804-08.

*= ‘Daniela’ was a pseudonym used by Valle to preserve the anonymity of the migrant woman he spoke with.

Domestic Workers Building Dignity and Power, Past and Present

By Brie Bristol

On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Feinberg Series at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst presented “Domestic Workers Building Dignity and Power, Past and Present”.

The academics on the panel were Linda Burnham, senior advisor at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA); Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of the Matahari Women Workers Center, and Jennifer Guglielmo, history professor at Smith College.

The focus of the panel was to shine a light on the importance of protecting domestic workers, who are mostly female, to a full multicultural audience of at least 70 people. The panel was moderated by Diana Sierra Becerra, followed by a brief overview of each panelist’ work and how it pertains to domestic workers, and then a “coffee-talk” forum of questions and answers.

It was defined by the women that domestic workers are mostly “poor women of color” who receive unfair wages, no sick days, no retirement, and no overtime. Linda Burnham described domestic workers’ conditions as the slavery of the present.

Burnham discussed that through the NDWA, the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” was drafted in order to create a floor of how to improve conditions today focusing on overtime rights and rights to form a union. The “Bill of Rights” was ratified in 2010 in New York during a Matahari rally, as an act of building a conversation about the importance of protections for domestic workers.

Matahari or Matahari Women Workers’ Center is an organization formed in Boston where, as Becerra describes, “women of color, immigrant women, and families come together as sisters, workers, and survivors to make improvements in ourselves and society and work towards justice and human rights”.

Through Matahari, Monique Nguyen said that members can build a conversation about facts that all people should be knowledgeable about concerning domestic workers; this conversation has successfully been built through the creation of booklets explaining the “Top Ten Things You need to know about Domestic Workers,” these pamphlets are available through Matahari members like Nguyen presenting information about workers rights.

Besides pamphlets, Burnham discussed that another way that domestic workers have been benefited by the domestic workers “Bill of Rights” is through an online platform called Alia, where domestic workers can receive employment benefits. The benefits given through the Alia software range from accident insurance, critical illness insurance, paid time off, and many others. Burnham further explained that through Alia, employers and employees can communicate through phone numbers and emails about accumulating credits that convert into Visa cards, insurance coverages, and benefit credits. It was explained by the panel that Alia is one way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today.

Another way that domestic workers conditions are being improved today is by the availability of working-class archives through funding from Matahari run by Jennifer Guglielmo. These archives have been made available online in order to use history to strengthen movements supporting for domestic workers. Guglielmo has made history accessible through a digital timeline of over 30 slides translated into Spanish and English focusing on minor workers history that was rooted in African American women’s history. She has devoted her work to these slides as an action to promote the movement focusing on domestic workers just like Burnham and Nguyen.

Overall the panel was very informative on a class of people who are our neighbors. It laid out the benefits that domestic workers need, and the ways that we – as a society – can help them achieve the rights that all workers have. You can listen to the audio version of the panel here.

“Stand United, Fight Hate” Lecturer Defines What It Means To Be Anti-Racist

By Ethan Bakuli, Brie Bristol, and Cynthia Ntinunu

On Wednesday night, November 7, over 500 people gathered in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center Concert Hall for a talk by New York Times best-selling author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. His lecture, titled “How to Be An AntiRacist” was part of the inaugural UMass “Stand United, Fight Hate” series. The title of Kendi’s lecture is based off the name of his forthcoming book, while the talk itself covered the topics to be explored in his second novel, Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History Of Racist Ideas In America”.

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A Space that Students Need but Do Not Receive

By Lucia Solórzano

As a student of color at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it’s never surprising to be asked: “what are you?” Full disclosure: I am half-Peruvian and half unknown Caucasian. Despite being an annoying question, I usually answer it because I can tell it’s well-intended or I’ll say something like “I am.. a person?” But in sophomore year, one random white guy walked up to me at a party and asked me that question. Internally rolling my eyes, I told him.

What he said next made me…very uncomfortable: “Wow, that’s so cool. White people are like a parasite to the earth and you being mixed is helping further the human race.”

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Power vs Powerlessness

By Isha Mahajan

As a senior in high school, I’d been working to complete an early decision application to New York University. Applying as a Political Science major, It was essential to have a recommendation from my Political Science teacher and after she’d agreed to write it, I had hoped that she would be responsible about it irrespective of the fact how much she disliked me because of my political opinions. She was also the chief advisor for the Model UN Society of which I’d been an active member and had held very large contributions with the work I had done for them.

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