25 November 2007

Migration and activism

Last Spring I told someone that I needed to choose my battles. I was talking then about my involvement in a grassroots organization called the Spanish Speaking Education Network (SSEN <http://www.ssencanada.org>). This dedicated group of parents and educators from the "Spanish speaking" community of Toronto was created as a reaction to a report from the local public school board (better known as TDSB) in which high school students from "our" cultural-ethnic-whatever group had an increasing trend in terms of drop out rates. In other words, compared to other groups whose drop-out rates might or might not be increasing, Hispanics / Latin-Americans / Spanish-speakers drop-out rates were increasing at a faster pace.
Of course this is an alarming trend. Through a recommendation by my friend SZ I was able to participate on a round-table and give a talk on the first congress of the SSEN in September of 2006. In the second congress, this past September, I participated as a moderator in one of the small groups of parents discussing the talks given during the day. I am just happy I was able to help. But my commitment to the organization couldn't go further... there might be time constraints and personal situations of this year that made me think about saying no (I have a problem with "saying no"). So I chose not to pick that battle. I am aware now that my motivation in part decayed because I am not a parent. I do work in research in child development and parenthood is part of my interests from different perspectives. But I have no problem with the TDSB and/or "the system", because I have no children yet.

Last July I went to the screening of an early version of a documentary called "Migrants: Those Who Come From Within" from Mexican filmmaker Aaraon Díaz (left), and sponsored by the NGO Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW). Both the documentary and J4MW are trying to give voice to temporary or seasonal migrant workers here in Canada. Since the 1960s people from the Caribbean and Latin America have been coming to work in Canada, mainly in farms but also in other "seasonal" activities, through treaties (or "convenios" in Spanish) between the governments of Canada and the country of origin of these individuals. This issue caught my attention probably during my first couple of years in Canada when it was featured on the news or some sort of investigative journalism programs on TV. I found it, originally, interesting because (1)the workers being showcased were Latin American (I will stop doing the whole hyphenation thing soon, I promise): they were Mexicans working in Leamington, Ontario; and (2)it reminded me of my social studies classes in high school and other sources (like "La Patria del Criollo") that described the "herding" or workers, mainly indigenous people, from the highlands of Guatemala to the Pacific Ocean coast where they were needed for harvesting whatever. Thus, the post-colonialists neurons I've developed immediately were alerted of an issue that instead of having been resolved it just evolved into some sort of globalized version of the "herding" including useless bureaucracy and lack of planning that such 21st century international treaties are well known for.

I saw "Migrants" again this past Friday... Aaraon's documentary presents a handful of seasonal workers from Mexico and their families, whose lives were affected by coming to Canada. Marital problems, cancer, brain damage, death... a second time around keeps making my activist self thinking about waking up. I was able to talk and socialize with Aaraon and some friends from J4MW after last Friday's screening. He thinks I might be able to help him with a project he has in mind for the workers here in Ontario. I hope that if that is so, I will have the determination of giving a little bit of my time to this cause. Would I pick this battle? Does it have to be a battle or just the much needed volunteer work I think I have left for others to do? Because, you see, 21st Century Canadian citizenship implies this type of community involvement. The judge that makes us swear loyalty to Her Majesty tells us so... We are bombarded by charity organizations asking us, not only for money, but for time, that precious currency we cherish so much for ourselves.

Migration is a topic that touches an inner chord in me. I am myself a migrant, a hybrid by choice. I am lucky though. The lives of people I love have been affected by immigration policies. I've been thinking recently on my weekly (sometimes daily) dose of "what if's" about the effects in my life as it is now if my tourist visas to Canada would have been rejected. Illegal "staying" in Canada has a face now for me as well, for reasons I cannot disclose here. The refugee status system seems to be flawed and with unacceptable amounts of Type I and Type II errors. That is, both letting people in that don't meet the criteria (or even lie about their situations) and denying status to those who will be persecuted once they return to their motherlands. People come to this country with technical and academic training that is not recognized, while there is a cry for skilled and unskilled workers.

So, the seasonal workers program, in paper, might sound like a solution. It might even be for the most part for the employer. And for the workers it most definitely is a chance of earning a "first world" salary for a part of the year. But is not a solution to illegal immigration, when this latter has the advantage of more freedom to chose from the different underground jobs that are available and in need of filling, whereas seasonal workers are still being "herd" across borders. Someone made the point last Friday of asking about the prevalence of problems like those shown in the documentary. For me (and I am a Stats guy, believe me) numbers don't matter. Particularly when, if a Canadian gets hurt or dies abroad, let's say in Cancún, it becomes an international incident.

Is there a double standard in the value of one human being's life over the life of another? You bet!

December 18th will be International Migrant's Day. You can check this website <http://www.december18.net> for activities and campaigns that might be occurring on your neck of the woods. And if you happen to be in Toronto at the time, you can check J4MW website <http://www.justicia4migrantworkers.org/>
for details on another screening of "Migrants: Those Who Come From Within" on that day.


AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

Manolo, check you email I sent you something related to the migrants.

CarmenDeBizet said...

When I taught Kinder I had parents come up to me and tell me, "Thank you for letting us know you were from Guatemala, we don't feel so alone now." There has been panic in the communities of immigrants, particularly the Central American one near Downtown Los Angeles.
When the news spread that the LAPD was acting as the INS, a lot of the parents stopped sending their kids to school. As a teacher, I was both mad and powerless. What kind of police state tactics were these? How can you deny education to anyone?
Right now, there is a lot of talk here about immigration. There always is when voting time rolls around. I have had immigrants tell me that it's time to close the door. Well, that's convenient. They are already inside.
I had a fellow teacher tell me that the "wetbacks" were taking all the jobs away. Aside from thinking that she/he was in the wrong field of work I had to ask:
"Really? When was the last time you cleaned a garden, stood outside a Home Depot hoping someone would give you a job for a day, or got on your knees and cleaned toilets the whole day to then pray you would get paid and not be left out in the cold?"
The issue here (in California at least) is this. Will the people who will be affected in one way or another come out and vote? That is always the question.

Manolo said...

Rudy Thanks for the "something" I am sure it will come handy for my posting about Dec. 18th...
Carmen Up here immigration is also a hot topic, but maybe the racial tension component is less. I strongly believe that borders are idiotic and an anachronism. However, I do believe in the law and what in Spanish we called "estado de derecho". Yes, there are jobs that nobody is willing to do and there are the illegal immigrants to do them. Today it was an upsetting day for me... someone I know won her refugee status claim (i.e. she has been allowed to stay in Canada) under the false pretend of something horrible that didn't happen to her. I am mourning immigration laws today...
I hope immigration is right up front in your upcoming election south of the border and let the best wom... ahem.. person wins...

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

All my brothers and sisters and cousins and third cousing and their friends will be voting for the best woman in the upcoming elections in the good old US of A.

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

Manolo, you've got to remember there's institutionalized discrimination in the laws and in el estado de derecho.

Remember the O-man that LD talks about and his visa denial to visit Canada.

Remember that in Guatemala (as an example) out of three jovenes, 1 will find a job in Guate, another in the big white north and the last one will be part of the delinquency problem in chapinlandia.

Remember that ever since Lucy decided to leave Africa, many katuns ago, humankind has aspired to survive in better conditions.

If the laws are flawed and full of slant and discrimination, people will find a way to overcome them.

C'est la vie!

Manolo said...

Rudy actually I was thinking about the first situation you point out... how come one university educated individual from our Guate is denied a visa as a tourist and another university educated individual that didn't require a visa for being born just one more border closer and who HAD a job back home gets in and then claims "rape" to stay here and gets away with it... it delegitimizes the whole process AND those women who have been really raped. Like my grandma says: "O todos hijos o todos entenados"... yes the Canadian system sucks
On a lighter note... there is only one True North Strong and Free... and White too... and it is not the good ol' U.S. of A.