What about the maid?

2011 July 14
by admin

An article, reposted that can originally be found at:


By Dan Moshenberg

Monday was World Population Day. At some point in October, the world population will hit seven billion. How is one to focus on seven billion people? Some say, focus on “trafficking”. In particular, focus on African women trafficked to other countries.

For example, Makeda. Makeda is Ethiopian. She works as a domestic worker “somewhere in the Middle East.” She has a hard life, a life largely defined by workplace abuse and exploitation, and by abuse and exploitation by “traffickers.”

The issue of “trafficking”, of coerced and abusive transport of workers, is critical and contentious. At the same time the trafficking framework too often displaces all other narratives.

So, let’s return to Makeda, but with a difference.

Makeda is an Ethiopian woman. She works as a domestic worker in another country. As a woman, as a worker, she has a hard life. How have African and African – derived domestic workers responded to such conditions?

Across the continent, domestic workers are on the move. For example, since 2000, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, SADSAWU, has been organizing, securing new legislation, new conditions, new consciousness. SADSAWU builds on decades, and centuries, of South African household workers organizing.

Domestic workers across the continent have organized since the invention of paid domestic labor. And African and African-derived domestic workers have been organizing in the United States.

This year, New York passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Who made that happen? Domestic Workers United, “an organization of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers”. Women like “Esmerelda”, nanny, elder care provider, housekeeper, originally from Zambia.

Out of Domestic Workers United came the National Domestic Workers Alliance, organizing across the country. Yesterday, they brought 800 organizers and supporters to Washington to launch the national Caring Across Generations campaign.

Among the 800 were Dora Tweneboah and Margie Obeng, two young women just out of high school. Both Dora and Margie are from Ghana. Dora has been in the United States for four years, Margie was two years old when her family arrived. They are both youth organizers in the Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia, and they have something to say about “the plight” of domestic workers.

Dora commented: “Coming from a country where there is suffering and poverty, I noticed the hardships of people, especially young women and children, who are forced into labor and commercial sexual exploitation. In Ghana, trafficking is local, and it mostly involves children and young women. Every day, children and young women are forced to labor in agriculture, street hawking, fishing industries; to work as porters; or to beg, most often for religious instructors.  Girls are mostly trafficked within the country for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. They work 24 hours a day without pay and often without food. As a youth organizer, I think a discussion about women and trafficking is needed. Women here work for other people every day and don’t get enough money to support themselves and their family. They’re told to stay silent, not to reveal the secret of being forced to work. Otherwise, it’s back to the street or back to their countries. Trafficking is an issue for domestic workers and care givers.”

Margie replied: “Coming from a culture with strong teachings of respect for adults and people in general, I think care hits home for me. Several of my aunts and family friends work in areas where care is the entire basis of their jobs: RN’s, LPN’s, CNA’s, live-in nurses, nannies, day-care owners. These people care so much about the work they do, and take such good care of their clients, but too often their work is unrecognized. That needs to change. Around here, so many African women do care work. They are loving, caring, hard-working women trying to earn an honest living. Like so many other immigrants in this country, these women do the work that many don’t respect or recognize … but need. If Ghanaian and immigrant workers generally become aware of such campaigns, they could spread to the home countries because care jobs are international, not just in the US. The rights of the worker should be recognized wherever they are.”

Want to focus on African women domestic workers? Fine. Focus on the struggle for dignity and the challenge to care. Leave “plight” at the door, please.

Who’s part of Alexandria’s future?

2010 June 28
by admin

MyView | Lucero Beebe-Giudice
Alexandria Times
Friday, JUNE 25 2010
By Lucero Beebe-Giudice

The Alexandria City Council recently released a draft of the city’s strategic plan. The seven broad goals and many of the objectives outlined in the plan to improve public health, well-being, environment, diversity and transportation, etc. show forethought and insight as City Council seeks systemic solutions.

One example is the approach to enhancing community health, which incorporates expanded services — preventative care and investment in the environment, public space and education. As noted in the Plan, all of these things are linked and imperative to making Alexandria a better place to live and work.

Whereas most of the goals intersect and build on each other, the document’s “Goal #1” is strikingly singular and insular in its objective of “quality development and redevelopment, support for local businesses and a strong, diverse and growing local economy.”

Success for Goal #1 is achieved through enhanced competitiveness, recruitment and a balanced commercial tax base, which hints at the further erosion of business contributions to public infrastructure through taxes and fees. In other words, business is welcome to profit off of Alexandrians with little responsibility for the community’s well being.

Another interesting note is that the plan’s success is partly measured by median household income, the percentage of the population below the poverty level and the number of residents with an advanced degree. These are noble measures of progress. However, truly shifting the trajectory of entire communities and registering increases to overall household income, education levels, etc., through systemic changes in public institutions, will take generations.

It can not be measured within the timeframe set by the plan of the next three to five years, unless it is achieved by the removing less educated, low income folks out of town and replacing them with affluent educated people — begging the question, “Who is this vibrant, diverse and beautiful city for?”

A walk from Old Town to the historically black neighborhood surrounding the newly built Charles Houston Recreation Center suggests that Alexandria’s future does not include low-income people or communities of color. Earlier this year the city began to evict families and dismantle their homes with the goal of replacing many of them with $600,000 townhouses. In truth, this pattern has been going on for the past thirty years.

In addition, public institutions responsible for the education, health and safety of communities like these are increasingly underfunded and continue to offer second-class services.

Last week was the 145th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day the news arrived in Galveston, Texas that “all slaves are free.” More than a century later, I wonder how far we have come. Our city’s strategic plan sets good goals, but falls short of mentioning who is going to be part of the plan. It is easy to gloss over the weight of history that defines Alexandria today with quaint language about well-being, diversity, and respect.

The shortfall of this plan is its omission of explicit goals around improving opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities. As we continue through this strategic planning process, we must decide whether our path to progress is one that displaces certain Alexandrians and replaces them with outsiders or one that nurtures the nascent potential of all people Alexandrian. The choices City Council and Alexandrians make will reflect our integrity and the kind of world we’re building for our kids.

The writer is director of communications for Tenants and Workers United in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood of Alexandria.

Youth Talk: Womens’ Rights

2010 June 25
by admin

Dear President Obama…a letter from COED, Ginno Huarroc

2010 June 24
by admin

June 21, 2010

Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C.

Dear President Barack Obama,

My name is Ginno Huarocc Sanchez. I am writing you this letter on immigration after having done my research for my US/VA History class, I have researched the controversial new immigration law in Arizona that is about to go into effect on July 28th of 2010. I am writing you this letter as the last part of my project with the hope that you will read my letter and perhaps feel the pain which the immigrant community and I are going through every day. I wish to share my experiences as a young Latino and what I think will happen in Arizona after the law SB-1070 goes into effect in July.

First let me briefly tell you my story. My family and I came to this country five years ago through a visa lottery program at the United States embassy in Lima, Peru. I was twelve years old when I arrived. I knew very little English but like every other kid I was enrolled in school, Francis C. Hammond middle school in Alexandria Virginia. I quickly learned English and climbed my way out of English as a Second Language classes. I finished eighth grade and went to Minnie Howard Jr. High- T.C. Williams’ campus. On the fall of 2008, I started high school at T. C. Williams’s high school, where I am now a rising senior preparing to graduate with an advanced Diploma and I plan to go to college to pursue my goal to become a pediatrician.

During the past five years I have encountered lots of discrimination due to my age and the fact that I am a young Latino immigrant. For example the many times I have gone shopping and I have been followed closely by security guards. Now there is the new immigration law in Arizona, SB-1070.  This new law asks police to stop undocumented immigrants but since it is not possible to identify illegal immigrants by appearance alone, racial profiling must result. It will increase racial profiling and discrimination.

The fact that many people have forgotten that Latinos are not the only immigrants coming into the United States will add to the unfair racial profiling of Latinos. Also people who are just giving a ride or picking up a day laborer who is an undocumented immigrant will get punished with charges of smuggling and trafficking in people. English teachers in Arizona are being re-assigned because they have heavy accents or cannot pronounce some words correctly, I understand that under the “No Child Left behind Act” teachers have to be fluent in English but after the Immigration law it becomes questionable if this is just a cover up of racist acts which will go on “under the radar”.

These things remind me of history class when we studied the times after the Civil War ended and the end of Reconstruction period. Following the civil war and Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were in force in the south and African Americans were deprived from their civil rights and human rights. Something not as obvious is going on in Arizona but will bring the same consequences. Even though this law does not affect me or my family, because we live in Virginia, it adds to the fear the of the immigrant community experiences by seeing lots of good, hard working people, with great moral values getting deported every day. Most have left their families behind to give a better-quality life to their families. Some have American children born here.

When I was in Peru I always heard “The United States is the land of opportunities” or “in the US the streets are paved with gold.” When anyone talked about the United States the stories were always positive and encouraging. This is why many people risk their lives crossing the border to come here to try to give a better brighter future to their families.

President Barack Obama, the immigrant community who has helped you in your campaign and is not seeing you make any progress about immigration. Therefore you are losing a big supporter. My suggestion to you, Mr. President, is to at least make a public speech directed to Arizona to stop their anti-immigrant ways because this country was wrought by immigrants. You should support the ending of laws like SB-1070 and programs like Secure Communities in Northern Virginia. Laws and programs like these only bring fear of interacting with the police. Also, you should draft a comprehensive immigration reform law and announce it to all the media so we, the immigrant community know you are on our side. When rallies comes to your front steps at the White house, the least you could do is take a couple of minutes from your busy schedule and just salute the people who have supported you and still have some hope left that you will listen and choose to help us people that like my family and me who support the work that you do. Never forget the people decided that you should be president. Don not let the people down because there is strength in numbers and the immigrant community is an increasingly big number.

Yours truly,

Ginno Huarocc
Rising Senior at TC Williams High School
Alexandria, Va

Alto Arizona: Notes from the Field

2010 June 2
by admin

TWU in Arizona to Help Stop SB1070

2010 June 2
by admin

Five TWU staff and volunteers headed to Arizona last week to throw down against SB 1070.  People came from all over the United States and Mexico to support the local organization Puente Arizona pull off a mass protest on Saturday May 29th.

Trail of Dreams at TWU

2010 May 11
by admin

Hundreds March to the White House to Push Obama for an Executive Order to stop the Raids

2010 May 11
by admin

People United in the Same Cause

2010 May 10
by admin

Tenants and Workers United Youth Leader Speaks at May Day RallyMargie Obeng, one of our Community Organizing for Education and Democracy interns (COED), spoke to thousands in front of the White House on May Day. Here’s what she had to say:

Hello and I would like to thank you to all of you that are here today. My name is Margie and I’m from Tenants and Workers United, a community organization in Virgina. My family and I came to this country in 1995 from Ghana because my parents wanted better opportunities for me. Being an immigrant does not mean you are a criminal. Even though we all come from different places, we are people united in the same cause. The new law in Arizona will result in discrimination against people of color. Politicians are using this law as a way of oppressing people of color. With that said, we need a change now. President Obama we are asking you to stop the raids and deportation of students and their families. And, Congress needs to begin work on immigration reform. This essential to upholding our democratic ideals.

Hola y muchas gracias a todas las personas que están aquí. Mi nombre es Margie y soy de inquilinos de trabajadores unidos, un grupo de base en Virginia. Mi familia y yo somos de Ghana, un país en el oeste África. Cuando yo tenía dos años mis padres y yo vinimos a los estados unidos porque hay mejores oportunidades. La palabra inmigrante no significa ser un criminal. Somos personas con sueños. Yo no soy latina, soy africana pero estamos en la misma lucha. Somos iguales, una comunidad de inmigrantes. La ley que paso en Arizona es resultado de discriminación. Los políticos están usando la ley como excusa para oprimir la gente de color como ustedes y yo. Entonces, necesitamos  un cambio ahora .Presidente Obama, exigimos que pare las redadas y ponga un alto a las deportaciones de estudiantes y sus familias. El Congreso necesita trabajar en una reforma migratoria. Esto es importante para mantener los ideales democráticos de los estados unidos.

–Margie Obeng, TWU COED 2009

Hundreds March from Alexandria to the White House to Push President to Act Fast on Immigration Reform

2010 May 10
by admin

As the country balks at Arizona’s harsh new law that creates a police state, subjects every Latino citizen to harassment and undermines community policing, hundreds of protesters marched from Alexandria to the White House on Saturday, May 1 to call attention to lack of leadership by the Obama Administration and the ongoing separation of immigrant families by DHS.

Local student, Margie Obeng, a junior at TC Williams High School will speak at an afternoon rally scheduled on May 1, 2010 at the White House. As a Ghanaian immigrant to the United States, the fight for immigration reform is relevant to her life and has inspired her to speak out about the urgent need for immigration reform.

“Principles of justice and freedom are important in our house,” says Margie Obeng, “Last I checked America meant all different kinds of people and was based on those same values.”

In addition, Tenants and Workers United’s Executive Director Jon Liss will participate in civil disobedience planned to call attention on the ongoing separation of families due to current immigration enforcement raids and the failure of the Obama Administration to provide leadership on this issue.

“President Obama can stop the suffering of families divided across the nation through an executive order to stop the raids,” says Jon Liss, “In Arizona the legalization of racial profiling is the cost of inaction at a federal level to enact immigration reform. We will not stand for that to happen in Virginia.