Category: Newsletter

JHISN Newsletter 10/16/2021

Dear friends,

May this Fall weekend find you in good health and spirits. 

JHISN continues to learn and find inspiration from the resilience, diversity, and creativity of local immigrant communities. We hope that by sharing what we learn, this newsletter plays a small role in strengthening solidarity with, and among, immigrants.

In this week’s newsletter, we report on a new stage in the struggle of New York taxi drivers to secure debt relief and justice. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has been demonstrating in front of City Hall around the clock for a month.

Our second story details the ongoing challenges facing residents of flooded basement apartments in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Many immigrants are confronted by extreme housing insecurity and serious health risks.

1. Taxi Workers Battle De Blasio Sellout

The struggle for debt relief by New York’s immigrant yellow cab drivers has entered a dramatic new stage. For almost a month, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance has held a continuous, round-the-clock demonstration outside City Hall. NYTWA leader Bhairavi Desai has declared, “We are not leaving the streets until justice is served.”

In our May 15 newsletter, we described how city agencies ripped off thousands of owner-drivers. First, they knowingly created an unsustainable bubble in taxi medallion prices and encouraged predatory loans, leaving drivers drowning in debt when the bubble burst. Then the city let tens of thousands of unregulated, no-medallion Uber and Lyft cars drive off with their fares. The pandemic delivered a final blow. Amid a wave of forced medallion foreclosures, nine drivers died by suicide.

Finding himself under mounting political pressure to correct this ongoing injustice, Mayor De Blasio continues to turn his back on the comprehensive, cost-effective plan for relief put forward by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance—a plan widely supported by local progressive politicians. Instead, he’s made a backroom deal with bankers, hedge fund owners, and unelected bureaucrats at the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission—the same body that enabled the crisis to begin with. The resulting “TLC Taxi Medallion Owner Relief Program” includes some debt relief. But it falls far short of what the drivers are calling for, is structured to serve the lenders, and would cost the city more than the drivers’ plan. It’s being rolled out in a rush, before its own rules are even finalized, to try to stifle criticism.

The average debt of individual medallion owners is $550,000. The TLC plan proposes to give tens of millions to the banks in return for writing down a portion of this debt. As they are well aware, this would still leave unsustainable loan balances of hundreds of thousands of dollars for most owner-drivers. The city has declared that it hopes to get many driver payments down to “only” $1,600 a month. According to the NYTWA, that would keep drivers’ net income well below the minimum wage. More bankruptcies would be inevitable.

The drivers’ plan calls for restructuring all driver loans down to no more than $145,000, with monthly payments at or below $800. If there is a defaulted loan, the city would take over the medallion, and resell it. It would then pay any remaining balance owed to the mortgage holder. Most of the cost of the NYTWA plan would be borne by predatory lenders, not the city. Cost estimates of the taxi drivers’ plan, verified by the city comptroller, are around $3 million a year, compared to the $65 million short-term costs of the De Blasio plan. The NYTWA plan also includes provisions to help older drivers to retire, as well as to give drivers who have lost their medallions through foreclosure a chance to regain them.

NYTWA cab drivers, almost all immigrant workers, are fighting for a real debt relief solution, refusing to be manipulated or diverted by the mayor. They’re out in front of City Hall all day and all night, rain or shine—picketing, chanting, giving interviews, and lighting candles at memorials for their deceased fellow drivers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Join the NYTWA 24/7 protest at City Hall (Broadway & Murray)—stop by, take pictures & tweet at @NYCMayor and tag @nytwa.
  • Donate to support NYTWA organizing, and sign NYTWA’s online petition
  • Call Mayor De Blasio and tell him that we need real relief for drivers. Click here for a phone number and script. 

2. Living and Dying Underground

They’re often immigrants, they’re often people of mixed-status families. They are the essential workers. They are the lowest wage earners … The most vulnerable New Yorkers live in basement apartments.Annetta Seecharran (executive director, CHHAYA)

The news headlines have faded, but fallout from the torrential rains brought to NYC by Hurricane Ida on September 1 continues to accumulate. While the shadow economy of underground basement apartments in Queens has been invisible to many of us, the devastating effect of Ida’s flooding on basement residents is impossible to ignore. At least 11 people in Queens died during the unprecedented storm, drowned in basement dwellings, trapped in rising floodwaters. Now, uncounted numbers of immigrants, many of them undocumented, find themselves without their belongings, facing potential homelessness and health threats from mold and fungus, as the effects of the storm slowly unfold.

An estimated 100,000-200,000 New Yorkers live in unregulated basement dwellings. Local community groups like Chhaya have fought for years to legalize and bring up to code the vast network of underground rental units in Brooklyn and Queens. But while that struggle for safe, affordable basement housing continues, many low-income people, including tens of thousands of essential workers, don’t have any good options. They are forced—literally—to move underground to survive economically and maintain a roof over their heads. On September 1, that survival strategy turned fatal for some, while thousands more now endure the slow disaster of post-flood life. 

Oscar Gomez and his family are Queens residents whose basement home, belongings, and cash savings were largely destroyed in the flooding and its aftermath. “Swarms of fruit flies, first drawn by the mold growing on the basement walls, have now migrated to the floor above.” More than a month after the disaster, as the family continues to search for an affordable rental, the psychic trauma also lingers: “‘The fear is there, the worry, the uncertainty,’ Gomez said. ‘As soon as it starts raining, you can’t sleep’” (gothamist, 10/13/21).

Excluded from federal storm relief, undocumented New Yorkers hit by the storm learned in late September that they could apply for aid through a $27 million fund set up by the state and the city. In the first week of October, the City Council passed a bill requiring City Hall to create a comprehensive plan addressing the growing threats of climate change. The legislation highlights the vulnerabilities of working-class neighborhoods—like those in Brooklyn and Queens most damaged by Hurricane Ida—and not just the Financial District and coastal Manhattan. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • For undocumented New Yorkers excluded from FEMA assistance, check out local resources here. Contact Make the Road NY/Jackson Heights for direct assistance, or call the NYS hotline at 1-800-566-7636. Application deadline for NYS disaster relief for undocumented households is November 26. 
  • Both homeowners and tenants can access FEMA assistance and other flood resources on Chhaya’s website here

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 10/02/2021

Dear friends,

We offer you this week, with collective hope, two promising stories about immigrant politics and creative power here in NYC. First, we report on a bill pending in the City Council that could grant municipal voting rights to almost 900,000 immigrant New Yorkers. Next, we look at the public art series designed by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya that centers Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the very meaning of ‘America.’

At the same time, with sorrow, we mourn the death and honor the life of Tarek Aziz, a delivery worker and member of DRUM who was killed on August 23 while biking after making a late-night delivery. Tarek is one of five food delivery workers who have died on the job in Brooklyn over the past year. Over 200 people gathered last Friday to remember Tarek, and to strengthen the larger movement where ‘deliveristas’ are supporting each other and fighting for safer working conditions. Just a week earlier, the NYC Council passed a first-in-the-nation slate of bills to guarantee minimum labor protections for deliveristas, an initial step toward economic justice; the grassroots immigrant collective Los Deliveristas Unidos–which co-organized the vigil for Tarek–has mobilized since winter 2020 to demand such protections, and more. Please help support Tarek’s family with a GoFundMe donation of any amount. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Immigrant voting expands democracy
  2. Celebrating AAPIs in Times Square public art

1. NYC Voting Rights For Non-Citizens

“The more folks who are in the process participating in our democracy, the better it is for the entire city. This is an opportunity for New York City to really lead the country and lead the conversation in protecting and expanding voting rights.”  —Paul Westrick, New York Immigration Coalition

Approximately 900,000 green card holders, DACA recipients, or people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) live in New York City. They pay taxes, use city services, and send their children to NYC schools, but they can’t vote for city officers or influence city laws.

That could change this year: The NY City Council is considering enacting Intro 1867, Our City, Our Vote, which would give those non-citizens the right to vote in city-wide elections.

The chief sponsor of the bill, Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (representing immigrant-heavy Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill), has proposed that lawful permanent residents, or persons authorized to work in the US who have lived in New York City for at least 30 consecutive days, be able to vote for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, council member, and any city ballot initiative. Non-citizens would not be authorized to vote in state or federal elections.

The bill is supported by more than 50 immigrant-rights organizations. During the September 20 hearing on the bill, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (representing Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst) emphasized that non-citizen New Yorkers contribute about $10 billion in taxes every year: “This is taxation without representation, which stands contrary to the very principles on which our country was founded.”

Because 35 council members support the bill, the council could override any veto from Mayor DeBlasio, who has opposed it. He and other opponents of the bill question its legality, alleging that it violates the state constitution. However, there is nothing in the constitution barring non-citizens from voting. In contrast, Eric Adams, the likely next mayor, provided written testimony at the September 20 hearing in favor of the law saying that it is fundamental for people to be able to have a say in who represents them in elected office. 

In fact, there is ample precedent for this kind of legislation. According to research by Ron Hayduk, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, early in US history, 40 states and federal territories allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections. But by 1900, after years of anti-immigrant campaigning, only 11 states allowed non-citizens to vote. Hayduk says, “There are a number of studies that have shown when immigrants participate, there’s increases in and improvements in education policy and outcomes.” New Yorkers may remember that non-citizens were permitted to vote in school board elections from 1968 until 2002 when control of schools passed to the state. As of June 2021, several cities in Maryland and two in Vermont permit non-citizens to vote in local and school board elections. Illinois and Washington, DC, are considering municipal votes for non-citizens.

Paul Westrick, senior manager of democracy policy with the New York Immigration Coalition argues, “This is a population of folks that we have classified as essential to our city. New York City cannot run without them. So how can we ask these New Yorkers to quite literally risk their lives, to keep us healthy and to keep this city running, while also denying them the right to vote, on how their taxes are spent and who represents them in government?” 

 

Several people have expressed concern about the ability of the Board of Elections to handle two different ballots when there are Federal elections at the same time as city elections. But Board of Elections executive director Michael J. Ryan said, “Of course there are challenges when you’re maintaining two systems as opposed to one, but it has been done before and, from an operational perspective, there is absolutely no reason to think it cannot be done again.” 

If the City Council doesn’t pass Intro 1867 within the next three months, the law will have to be re-introduced, because most of the current council members will be replaced in 2022.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Public art – a bold anti-racist statement in the city

Anyone visiting the area around Times Square after May 1 will have noticed many of the 40 distinct artworks and typographic designs displayed in 120 locations. The public art is part of the We Are More project by Brooklyn-based artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (pronounced PING-bodee-bak-ee-ah), celebrating the power and solidarity of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  

We Are More echoes elements of Phingbodhipakkiya’s previous campaigns: I Still Believe in Our City, which addressed the rise in anti-Asian racism during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as With Softness and Power, which appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in March, 2020. Bold flat colors, flower motifs, Asian women (though this time she includes men) with expressions of strength and purpose, juxtaposed with short forceful slogans.

Times Square Arts, the public art program run by the Times Square Alliance which displays this work, notes the series uses “the language of sorrow and anger to show that, despite what AAPI people have faced in New York and elsewhere, they remain undeterred and steadfast members of the cities they call home.” An interview for Shondaland about I Still Believe in Our City revealed, from February to December 2020, 205 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination were reported to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, nearly a sevenfold increase from the 30 incidents reported during the same time period in 2019. 

And today, with Phingbodhipakkiya’s images throughout Times Square challenging New York to “Stand With Us” because “We Too Are America”, we are reminded of the closing line I, too, am America, from Langston Hughes’ poem published almost a century ago. That poem, which opens with “I, too, sing America,” presented readers with the stark reality of racial inequality that Walt Whitman’s famous, “I Hear America Singing” had failed to recognize as he wrote of working-class Americans.

As Phingbodhipakkiya notes in an eastwindezine interview, “Public art is widely accessible. You simply happen upon it as you go about your daily life, and that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t sit behind gallery windows or an entrance fee.” Her images become beacons of fortitude and belonging which compete with the density, crowds, and grunge of Times Square. They present the hope to 130,000 daily visitors to Times Square to see more than helpless refugees, computer hackers, nail ladies, and straight A students. Hope that the cursing, pushing, spitting, kicking, stabbing, and shooting will end. Hope that we will stand with these images that stand with us.

Possibly those visitors will scan the QR codes on the ground level We Are More posters and come to learn that “The peony symbolizes solidarity and friendship, the chrysanthemum signifies resilience—it’s one of the few flowers that blooms when it’s cold—and the hawthorn berry represents longevity and protection.” Art, activism, and social change after all do happen in the worst of times.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

JHISN Newsletter 09/18/2021

Dear friends, 

Welcome to our new readers! JHISN has been sharing our newsletter leaflet the last few weeks at the Jackson Heights Green Market. We are excited to build out our free subscribership to the newsletter — beyond the 500 loyal folks (amazing!) who are already with us. Please circulate our newsletter subscribe link to your neighbors and friends who might want to join. And please contact us at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org if you have a good idea for a local immigration story.

Today’s newsletter offers a look at the emerging demographic picture in Queens after a surprisingly successful 2020 census count, thanks in part to months of work and outreach by immigrant justice organizations. We then try to understand the deepening crises around state borders and mobility, as tens of millions of people are forced to leave their homes seeking–but often not finding–refuge and a safer haven. 

Newsletter highlights

  1. Census results: NYC immigration groups shape who counts  
  2. Refugee crises deepen in the US and globally 

1. Immigration Advocacy Groups Helped Save the NY Census Count

Last year, as the 2020 Census count began in earnest, there was widespread concern that a population decline over the last ten years, combined with a typical undercount of hard-to-count populations, might cause New York State to lose 2 of its 27 seats in the US House of Representatives. But thanks to heroic efforts by grassroots community groups to count everybody, the city exceeded its expected self-response rate and the state only lost one seat. No seats would have been lost had just 89 more people been counted! 

This past week, 2020 redistricting data became publicly available, and local organizations can start to see the results of their work encouraging people in their communities to complete the census forms. A more complete picture will emerge about the demographics of our community, supplementing the information already available about Queens: 

  • In 10 years, the Queens diversity index grew by an insignificant half percentage point to 76.9%.
  • Queens is still the most diverse county in NY State, but fell from the 3rd to the 6th most diverse county in the US.
  • A 5% drop in the white population, replaced with a 5% growth in the Asian population, has led some to forecast a growth of Asian political influence
  • The Hispanic/Latino population is now the largest in Queens, with the Asian population just a half percentage point behind. The white population dropped from the first to third-largest group.
  • Queens’ overall population growth of 7.8% since 2010 was higher than the 7.7% of NYC overall, but lower than Brooklyn’s 9.2%.

There are always concerns about the impact of a census undercount when using the Method of Equal Proportions, which has been in place since 1941, to determine how many congressional seats each state gets; it is the fifth approach to apportionment since the US census began in 1790. In addition to the regular challenges every decennial census faces to count every person, there were extra factors including the pandemic putting an accurate 2020 count at risk. The Supreme Court had to block the Trump administration from including a citizenship question, which would likely have prevented many immigrants from participating. After that failed, Trump released a memorandum instructing the removal from the apportionment base of people without legal immigration status. There was no practical way to meet that memorandum’s empty directive this time, but the future possibility of such a threat remains. 

Exclusionary attempts to remove immigrants from the census were not unique to the Trump administration. Since its creation in 1979, the hard-line restrictive immigration group with the ironic acronym FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) has pushed the government to ignore its constitutional duty to count all people in the US. To date,  such efforts have been successfully countered by actions to effect a true count of all people.

The brazen attempts to undermine a true count underline the significance of the massive grassroots census activism that took place in New York. In particular, local immigrant justice organizations adopted the Census as a central priority to be sure their communities are seen. There has been extensive media reporting on the funding distributed to several local immigrant support groups by the federal, state, and city governments to assist with those grassroots efforts. But in reality, organizations such as Adhikaar, African Communities Together, Asian Americans for Equality, CIANA, Chhaya CDC, DRUM, and Make the Road NY–many of them groups serving immigrant communities in central Queens–ended up spending their own money and time to encourage the people in their communities to be counted.

The government did assist with multi-lingual printing costs and hard-to-miss t-shirts. But there were significant limits placed on what else could be funded. Certain types of groups could receive money, but bureaucratic criteria prevented many other groups from applying. Those who did apply had limits on what they could spend. No software could be purchased, no awards could be given for filling out the census, and no mobile computing devices worth more than $500 could be bought. Any money spent before March 10, 2020, for those groups who started early, was not reimbursed.

In the end, these local efforts resulted in census numbers that exceeded expectations. Some speculate that post-census redistricting will bring positive changes, such as the possibility for Little Manila, currently split between three districts, to have better representation. However, we have to wait until people can dive into the newly-released data  to understand the changes and to see what impact there might be from knowing, for example, that “300,000 New Yorkers said they belong to two or more races, roughly double the number from 10 years ago.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Refugee Crises Out of Control

The statistical picture is unfathomable. In 2020, over 82 million people worldwide are geographically displaced by war, violence, climate catastrophe, and persecution. Girls and boys under the age of 18 make up 42% of that total. Forty-eight million people are internally displaced within their own country. Over 26 million are refugees, fleeing across borders. Just over 4 million people are asylum-seekers. And one million children have been born as refugees from 2018-20.

 As the pandemic started to rage in 2020, 160 nation-states closed their borders, with at least 99 countries refusing to accept migrants seeking protection. Refugee resettlement has plunged dramatically, with only 34,000 people resettled worldwide last year. Nine in ten refugees are now hosted by low and middle-income countries with limited resources and infrastructure.

 Despite the declarations of the United Nations’ 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and despite the ambitions of the UN’s 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, in 2021 there exists no formal global recognition of refugee rights, nor even a legally binding international definition of “refugee.” In many of the world’s refugee-hosting countries, refugees have no legal status at all. Their rights are under increasingly vicious attack in many countries, even as the conditions that force them to leave their homes become more dire.  

 Just this week, the Global Strategic Litigation Council for Refugee Rights was launched. They aim to establish transnational legal standards for addressing the plight of refugee populations, and to establish the right to be free from immigration detention, which has become widespread in the US and globally.

 But. The news on the ground is not good. By FY 2020, the Trump regime lowered the refugee admissions ceiling in the US from 85,000 in 2016 to a mere 18,000 (with less than 12,000 refugees actually admitted), and then set the FY 2021 admissions quota at 15,000. The Biden administration initially maintained that ceiling but, under political pressure, raised it to 62,500. Yet as of July 2021, only 4,780 refugees had been admitted to the US.

The US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has set off a massive refugee crisis. As the headlines blare, tens of thousands of Afghans have entered the US, temporarily ‘housed’ at US military bases. Tens of thousands more remain precariously in transit in Qatar, Spain, Germany, and Kuwait. But the largest population of Afghan refugees are those left behind in the implosion of the US’s decades-long military occupation. Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children are fleeing their homes to seek safety from civil war and right-wing terror in another part of Afghanistan, or in neighboring countries, including Iran and  Pakistan. 

The refugee situation among Haitians, while garnering fewer headlines, is also grim. Under pressure from serial climate disasters and the political assassination of Haiti’s president, Haitian migrants are surging along the US-Mexico border in search of refuge. In the border town of Del Rio, Texas, in just the past few days, thousands of Haitians have gathered under a bridge for protection from the sweltering heat, sleeping in the dirt, without food, sanitation, or clean water. The Biden administration has announced it will begin putting migrants on return flights to Haiti starting Monday, September 20, to “signal to other Haitians that they should not try to cross the southern border.”

Immigration rights groups have slammed the Biden administration for continuing to use an obscure Title 42 regulation, put in place in March 2020 by the Trump regime, to expel tens of thousands of asylum seekers using a phony “public health” pretext. (News flash: A federal judge has just ordered a halt to this practice.) And the Women’s Refugee Commission along with over 100 other groups, has demanded that the Administration stand up to the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the (misnamed) Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), popularly known as the “Remain in Mexico’ policy. The policy has to date prevented over 70,000 people from claiming asylum in the US while stranding them in inhumane and dangerous conditions in Mexico.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Attend Rise and Resist’s Thursday immigration vigils protesting Biden’s extension of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  
  • Donate to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). RAWA has organized resistance to the Soviet and US occupation and also to the Taliban and other right-wing criminals. They establish underground schools for women and children in Afghanistan, and provide education, medical care and other support for families in Pakistani refugee camps and for internal refugees.
  • Sign the Domestic Workers Alliance petition to stop Haitian deportations. 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 09/04/2021

Dear friends, 

As the full story of the damage and human loss from Wednesday’s storm is emerging, we are–with you–startled and horrified. The torrential rains, carried here on the winds of Hurricane Ida and climate change, created deadly flooding in our neighborhood and across the city where at least 13 people were killed. Caught in basement dwellings as the floodwaters cascaded, many of the victims are immigrant, working-class, and undocumented neighbors, of all ages, who never imagined they might drown in their own home. Invisible to many New Yorkers, the basement apartments are part of a shadow economy of rental units that have existed for years here in Jackson Heights and other Queens neighborhoods. Housing and immigrant justice advocates have been fighting to formally legalize the units so that residents can be better protected from catastrophes like this. We extend our solidarity, and our collective sorrow, in the face of this intimate disaster. 

Please see JHISN’s recent blog post listing resources and information for folks applying to the $2.1 billion NYS Fund for Excluded Workers. Our JHISN newsletters on 8/21/21 and 4/3/21 explain more about the historic Fund. 

This week’s newsletter looks at how immigrant communities are using the Open Street on 34th Avenue, which offers space, social connection, and joy for so many of us in the neighborhood. We also report back on the rally in Diversity Plaza to support Potri Ranka Manis, a local health care worker from the Philippines who was recently attacked on the subway.    

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Support Jackson Heights Open Street@34th Avenue
  2. Mobilizing against Assault on Jackson Heights’ Filipina Activist

1. The Blooming of 34th Avenue Open Street

(Thanks to Jim Burke, co-founder of 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition, for contributing to this article.)

Back in May 2020 when the 34th Avenue Open Street became fully operational, few people in Jackson Heights imagined how important this 1.3-mile stretch would become.

Jackson Heights/Elmhurst is starved for park space. Travers Park is the only park with green space within walkable distance in JH. Although Flushing Meadows Corona Park is big and beautiful, it became largely out of reach for many people during the pandemic lockdown. So in April 2020 a small group of residents blocked off a portion of 34th Avenue and pushed the mayor to make the whole avenue available as a respite from the confines of the pandemic. When that happened in May, suddenly things got less lonely in the streets of Jackson Heights.

A group of volunteers, the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition, maintains the street barriers and the median plantings, picks up trash, runs a food pantry, and organizes activities for kids. The Open Street has been amazing for seniors, kids, and everybody in-between, including immigrant communities. There are classes in Zumba, Salsa, and Yoga for adults. There is the ESL Conversation Club for all ages that meets every Tuesday and Thursday. The Friday Family Fun Ride visits nearby parks and attractions and includes all ages. There are kids’ races, kids’ slime-making class, arts and crafts, and Baile folklorico lessons for all ages every Sunday.

“I see various cultures, especially older folks in traditional garb sitting in the median having little picnics. I see especially East Asian girls and women, in traditional garb, riding bikes up and down the avenue. I have never seen so many women from traditional cultures breezing down the street before.” —Laura Newman, volunteer, Open Streets Coalition

A nightly soccer game at 70th Street attracts players of all nationalities, ranging in age from 3 to 75. The game was begun last year during a tough part of the pandemic by a Bangladeshi man who simply gathered some kids and started to play. Most of the participants are men and boys, but girls play too.

Violeta Morales and her husband came here from Mexico. They have three kids: Alex, Daniel, and daughter Arlen. 12-year-old Alex created one of the Open Street’s most popular kids’ events: Thursday at the Races. The informal foot races were held all winter long every single Thursday. Alex also shows younger kids how to play chess on 34th Avenue on Sundays. Violeta, Daniel, and Arlen participate in the Mexican dance lessons and arts and crafts events on Sundays.

Oscar Escobar hails from Colombia and has given Salsa lessons on the Open Street for the last 15 months. On Mondays, he works with a group called CSOC uniting immigrant volunteers from various countries including Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, and more. They distribute food to up to 1000 families every Monday on 34th Avenue. Mauricio Miraglia, originally from Chile, but educated at Columbia University, leads an “English as a Second Language Conversation Club” on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Avenue. Students in his club have come to Queens from Russia, Mexico, Tibet, China, India, and Colombia. 

The 34th Avenue Open Street enables immigrant families, many of whom are essential workers, to spend more time together and to access vital services. Besides food distribution, a number of legal and social services geared to immigrants are available right out on the Avenue. And for workers and caregivers with limited time for recreation–maybe even just an hour or two here and there–the Open Street allows family fun without having to travel. Local families can bike together right outside their door. Before the Open Street, participating in exercise classes, ESL classes or many other activities required pre-registration or mandatory attendance and travel. But now the 34th  Avenue classes and events are all “drop-in”–no pre-registration required, and free for everyone at all levels. 

According to a recent survey of likely voters commissioned by Streetsblog, “the overwhelming majority of voters who identified themselves as Latino or Hispanic support open streets.” And, indeed, a majority—nearly 58 percent—of the people who live in Census blocks that straddle 34th Avenue identify as Hispanic or Latino. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Hate Attack on Local Filipina Activist

Potri Ranka Manis, an Indigenous Filipina nurse, artist, public health worker, and community activist who lives in Jackson Heights, was assaulted on August 10 on the E train. The incident started when Manis offered face masks to an unmasked couple who had a young child with them. According to Manis, the masks were thrown on the ground. “Mind your own business, Ch..k,” they yelled. “Go back to your dirty country.” The couple hit Manis; they also tried to grab her phone and bag.

On August 17, Manis, visibly bruised, spoke defiantly at a news conference at Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza organized by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), along with neighbors and other supporters. “I stand here not for myself, but for those who’ve been assaulted,” Manis said. “Anti-Asian sentiment has become a parallel virus to COVID-19. It is the virus that divides us people of color. We cannot allow this to continue.”

May Madrang of NAFCON reminded the attendees that Filipina nurses have borne a heavy burden during COVID-19, making up nearly a third of health workers who have died from the virus, while simultaneously facing widespread anti-Asian racism.

Anger and solidarity were expressed by speakers including Minerva Solla of the NYS Nurses Association, Assembly Representative Jessica González-Rojas, and representatives from the offices of Borough President Donavan Richards, Councilperson Daniel Dromm, and Mayor de Blasio. They demanded more community education and action to stop anti-Asian attacks. Boxes of free masks, sanitizer, and gloves were distributed to everyone in Diversity Plaza as a tribute to Manis’ public health activism.

The assault on Manis came two days after an August 8 attack against Filipino actor and director Miguel Braganza near his Manhattan apartment. In the wake of the two incidents, Philippines Consul General Elmer G. Cato urged Filipino Community members to “remain vigilant.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Take Bystander Training or plan in advance how to intervene safely and effectively in hate incidents using the tactics of the Five D’s.
  • Keep informed about AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) activism by visiting Movement Hub, which amplifies the work of Adhikaar, CAAAV, DRUM, and many other progressive community organizations.
  • Check out the website Stop AAPI Hate for resources and safety tips in 11 languages.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 08/21/2021

Dear friends,

​​Summertime is often a season of celebration, festivals, and sun-lit joy. We bring news this week of two recent celebrations organized by and for immigrant justice communities. On August 10, trans Latinx folks and friends, allies, and families gathered in central Queens to celebrate their community power and collective resilience. And on August 14, immigrant groups kicked off the opening of the Fund for Excluded Workers with a festive street fair. This hard-won victory promises a measure of economic justice for hundreds of thousands of mostly undocumented workers state-wide, including an estimated 58,000 immigrant workers here in Queens. Please check out our reports below.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. TransPower@CentralQueens 
  2. Launch of $2.1 Billion Fund for Undocumented & Excluded Workers

1.Rally for TransLatinx Power

Hundreds of people rallied in Corona Plaza on August 2 for the 10th Annual #TransLatinxMarch. The gathering is sponsored each year by the Trans Immigrant Project (TIP), as part of Make the Road New York’s commitment to TGNCIQ Justice, and the challenges facing immigrant, undocumented, and Latinx trans people.

TIP put forward three main demands: 1) dismantle NYPD vice units that disproportionately harass and criminalize trans women of color; 2) decriminalize sex work in NY state, and; 3) create a federal pathway to citizenship for all undocumented people.

Corona Plaza was full of colorful signs, posters, and balloons. A giant banner advertising the three demands was dropped from the subway platform high overhead. The crowd alternated chants of “Trans power!” and “Brown power!” A DJ and various cultural performances added to the liveliness of the event.

Several local progressive politicians attended the rally, including Jessica Ramos, Catalina Cruz, Tiffany Cabán, and Shekar Krishnan.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support Make the Road’s TGNCIQ (transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer) organizing for dignity and safety for all. Donate here if you are able.

2. Launch of Historic NYS Fund for Excluded Workers 

“This is what community looks like … We want everyone across the state to know about this fund … I want this fund to run out of money not because no one applied, but because everyone did.” –Brayan Pagoada, Excluded Workers Fund Launch Fair (Bushwick Daily, 8/16/21)

After over a year of grassroots campaigning and a 23-day hunger strike in March 2021, the historic $2.1 billion NYS Fund for Excluded Workers went ‘live’ in mid-August, marked locally by a Launch Fair in Bushwick. Along with food and dance, guidance about how to apply for the funds was featured at the well-attended street fair.

As the largest economic assistance package won by undocumented immigrants in US history, New York’s $2.1 billion fund has inspired similar struggles in New Jersey, Iowa, and California, as undocumented workers—excluded from federal forms of pandemic relief—demand state-level support for lost wages and economic hardship. 

Workers in New York excluded from unemployment benefits or stimulus checks can now apply for either the Fund’s Tier 1 benefits of up to $15,600 (equal to $300 weekly unemployment payments from April 2020-April 2021), or Tier 2 benefits of up to $3,200 (equal to 3 federal stimulus checks).

Immigrant justice groups rallied in July when the newly-released Department of Labor (DOL) regulations for accessing the Fund appeared to exclude many excluded workers from qualifying for assistance. Bianca Guerrero of the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition stated, “We demand that the Governor stop these shameful tactics and ensure that the program requirements allow workers who were the intended beneficiaries to qualify for the maximum benefit….The lives of thousands of excluded workers rely on this Fund.”

Local immigrant advocacy groups–including in Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst where the pandemic ravaged the livelihoods of many undocumented workers–are mobilizing resources and building outreach. Their aim is to ensure that workers can accurately assess their eligibility for the Fund, and successfully apply to the DOL. Make the Road NY co-organized a livestream on August 10, drawing 1200 listeners, which addressed FAQs and protocols for making an application. Over 60 community-based organizations across NY State are ready to help workers apply for the Fund in the language of their choice.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Sign up to volunteer with the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition to assist immigrant community members in navigating the eligibility and application process for the Fund. 
  • Share FEW resource information, including an eligibility and document checklist, and multi-lingual video teach-ins, here
  • Circulate the NY Dept of Labor’s Excluded Workers Fund application FAQs website, available in 13 languages. 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 08/07/2021

Dear friends,

Warm greetings in late summer to all our generous readers. We begin with two pieces of good news. On July 29, the City Council finally passed legislation that protects over 300,000 domestic workers in NYC—mostly immigrant women of color—from workplace abuses. And this week the Biden administration, under intense grassroots pressure, extended a pandemic-related rent moratorium in areas with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ COVID risk (including all five NYC boroughs). The two-month extension defers the threat of eviction for 11 million people nationwide. In central Queens, thousands of immigrant households can, for now, breathe more easily.

This week’s newsletter features an in-depth article on the history of anti-Asian violence in the US. Even as the media spotlight dims, attacks on people of Asian descent continue. JHISN joins the collective call to #StopAsianHate.

Anti-Asian Hate: Roots and Resistance

Since the first wave of Chinese migrants came to the US in the 1850s, there has never been a single day that Asians have not experienced institutional and direct personal racism. But beyond this baseline level of white disrespect and systemic discrimination, US history has periodically witnessed particularly intense waves of social hatred against Asians and Asian Americans. We live in such a time.

There have been more than 6,600 reported attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But most attacks are not reported. Virtually every Asian family in the US has been subjected to verbal abuse or worse. Of reported incidents, the majority targeted women. The current wave of hatred is national, but it’s concentrated here, in New York City. According to a July NYPD report, this year anti-Asian hate crimes in the City increased by 400 percent from 2020. Queens, with its large Asian population, is a hotbed of these racist incidents. The 109th Precinct, which includes most of Flushing, has the second-highest number of reports in the City, after Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The statistics are brutal; the viral videos of street attacks are horrifying. But for AAPI people and those in solidarity with them, the challenge is to go below the surface of well-meaning “anti-hate” slogans. How to confront the deep social roots of anti-Asian racism and violence in this country, and find solutions based on building community power rather than increasing invasive policing and carceral trauma?

Asians make up about sixty percent of the world’s population, residing in some fifty countries, many of which have long and sometimes contentious interrelationships. Asian immigrants bring with them a wide range of histories, cultures, religions, and languages. But these complex realities mean little to many North Americans.

Fed into the meat grinder of white supremacy, Asians and Asian Americans emerge repackaged as a series of stereotypical identities to be slotted into the US racial hierarchy. In response, Asian Americans are fighting to construct a respectful, functional unity—unity that recognizes different national identities, repudiates racist stereotypes, and promotes mutual self-defense and power. 

In the mid-19th Century, as the US consolidated its hold on stolen lands in the West, and financial trusts laid the foundations for monopoly power, Asians were treated as exploitable, disposable workers by white capital. Chinese workers built the Transcontinental Railroad, working under abusive and incredibly dangerous conditions. Filipino workers’ arduous stoop labor helped turn California into an agricultural powerhouse. 

Today, in contrast, Asian Americans are often portrayed as an “almost white” “model minority,” who “prove” that there’s lots of opportunity for everyone in the US. And so if Black people or other people of color don’t succeed, it’s their own fault. This is pure mythology—not only because so many Asians continue to be exploited at the low end of the labor market in restaurant kitchen and delivery jobs, domestic work, sex work, salons, home health care, factory sweatshops, etc. But also because even “successful” Asian Americans endure routine discrimination and white aggression, as vividly described by writers like Cathy Park Hong and Viet Thanh Nguyen. And Asian Americans of all classes face abuse and threats of racist violence, both random and organized. 

The model minority myth is also dangerous. For Asians who buy into it, it promotes anti-Black racism, driving a wedge between African Americans and Asians, and making both more vulnerable to white power and white violence in the service of white hegemony.

Asians may have been assigned different functions within the US racial hierarchy over time. But of all the roles inflicted on Asian Americans by the white power structure, one has been consistent through the years: Scapegoat.

  • Chinese workers were blamed for low wages in the late 19th century. Scapegoating by white workers in California led to numerous riots, massacres, and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The white labor unions that were first emerging at that time used anti-Chinese racism as a way to unify and organize white union members. The union label…was invented as a certificate on cigars, indicating that they had been made by White workers, as part of a campaign to force Chinese out of the cigarmaking industry.” –Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.
  • Chinese Americans were scapegoated for the bubonic plague of 1900-1904. San Francisco police encircled Chinese neighborhoods with barbed wire, refusing to let residents leave, while white authorities burned down “infected” homes.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated after Pearl Harbor. Approximately 120,000 people, mostly citizens, half of them children, were transported at gunpoint to bleak concentration camps, where they were incarcerated for up to four years. Their personal belongings, property, businesses, and farms were snapped up at bargain-basement prices by speculators, or simply seized by gratified neighbors.
  • Southeast Asian refugees were blamed for the US defeat in Vietnam, even when they had fought for the US. In 1979-81, the Ku Klux Klan launched vicious attacks on Vietnamese fishermen in Texas, opening a new front in white supremacist warfare.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated for the export of US manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 80s. An extreme expression of this sentiment was the murder of Vincent Chin—a Chinese American—in 1982.“The Japanese auto industry had begun booming then … [and] Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, had mistaken Chin to be a Japanese man, blaming him for the loss of jobs in the U.S. ‘It’s because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work,’ witnesses heard Ebens say. Chin died four days later” Huffington Post (June 2017)
  • Asian Muslims were scapegoated for 9/11: “In the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent – including Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim like Sikhs and Hindus – faced racial profiling, hate crimes, and discrimination. These groups were used as scapegoats for the attacks … One example of the violence these groups faced is the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was a Sikh American from India who was shot days after 9/11 by a white man who thought he was Muslim.” –theskimm.com

And now, we have the coronavirus. Which Trump calls the “China virus” and the “Kung flu.” In the background, a growing US rivalry with China stirs dangerous nativist passions. Murdered massage parlor workers are blamed for white men’s “sex addiction,” just as Asian women were accused of “sexual deviancy” in the 1870s. Once again Asian migrants are turned away or threatened with deportation. In this perilous time, it’s crucial to acknowledge the deep structural nature of anti-Asian scapegoating in the US, and how fast it can grow to monstrous proportions.

Asian Americans are united in grief and outrage, but less united on how to respond politically or practically. Many “Stop Asian Hate” demonstrations have been held around the country, including in Flushing, where over a thousand people marched on May 2. Community street patrols have been set up here and in several other cities, while whistles and alarms are distributed by non-profit groups. There’s been a huge jump in sales of guns to Asians. But nobody really believes that these actions are enough.

In the past year, Asians have debated the role of police in stopping abuse and violence. Many progressive activists oppose giving cops more resources and insist on fully supporting Black Lives Matter. They argue that hate crime laws expand the criminal punishment system and are sometimes employed to prosecute Black people for “racial bias” against white people, or even to fabricate “hate crimes” against the police

When local Congresswoman Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono introduced a federal bill in March aimed at amplifying the police response to Covid-19 hate crimes, grassroots organizations pushed back. Over a hundred Asian and LGBTQ groups signed a statement “reject[ing] hate crime legislation that relies on anti-Black, law enforcement responses to the recent rise in anti-Asian bias incidents.” On July 20, Meng announced she had secured $30 million to expand provisions in her COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Perhaps in response to criticism of the bill, the new funding supports community-based organizations that promote “non-carceral approaches to conflict resolution.” 

A deep grassroots strategy is epitomized by CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, a group of working-class migrants, mostly from China, Bangladesh, and Korea. CAAAV, which opposed the Meng/Hirono bill, has defended Asians in New York for decades. They’ve become outspoken proponents of basing Asian safety on community power and transformative justice. CAAAV is currently focusing on building Asian Tenant Unions in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Queens public housing, where they work closely with Black and Latinx allies. They are also building a CAAAV Youth Project. CAAAV is abolitionist—they oppose punitive hate crime enforcement. As one CAAAV organizer puts it, “There are no shortcuts to safety. The only safe community is an organized one.” 

Searching for effective solutions, some activists are studying a previous wave of Asian activism. Starting in the 1960s, anti-imperialist radicals inspired by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were the first people to use the term “Asian American.” Working closely with Black and Chicano groups, they were part of the large, militant Third World Liberation Front student strikes of 1968-9 and left-wing formations of people of color. Asian activists set up community centers and clinics and “serve the people” free food programs. They fought gentrification of working-class Asian neighborhoods, notably in the decade-long militant resistance to the eviction of elderly Filipino and Chinese people living in San Francisco’s International Hotel. That generation of Asian American radicals also organized within unions and women’s organizations and promoted the development of Asian American culture, including Asian American literature.

In the face of surging anti-Asian violence, lessons from the past are indispensable. As historian Courtney Sato says, “This is really not an exceptional moment by any means…It’s really part of a much longer genealogy of anti-Asian violence that reaches as far back as the 19th century.” On the other hand, many things are quite different from the 1870s, or the 1970s. What combination of approaches—from coalition-building to street self-defense patrols to mass mobilizations to cultural interventions to patient community organizing—can best build power and defend Asian American communities from the most recent incarnation of white scapegoating? How to build lasting solidarities that support Asian-led organizing? The answers are being invented in struggle right now.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Take Bystander Training or plan in advance how to intervene safely and effectively in hate incidents using the tactics of the Five D’s.
  • Check out the website Stop AAPI Hate for resources and safety tips in 11 languages. Look for news re: upcoming #StopAsianHate rally in NY’s Chinatown, co-organized by the Asian American Federation.
  • Keep informed about AAPI activism by visiting Movement Hub, which amplifies the work of Adhikaar, CAAAV, DRUM, and many other progressive community organizations.
  • Share the booklet, How to Report a Hate Crime, available in Chinese and English (plus seven other languages) and written for elder Asians in NY. 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.