Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

City's Muslims Report Harassment by Police


Photo (cc) //www.flickr.com/photos/57121341@N00/1265484066/" target="new">threecee

Coming from a family with members who work in law enforcement, Yasmin Nasser used to look at police officers as honest, upstanding and there to protect all members of society. Today, though, Nasser said, she feels uneasy when she walks by cops and, for a brief period, tried staying away from them altogether.

The 20-year-old American citizen who resides in Saudi Arabia had come to New York City to visit family. Her trust in New York City's finest eroded the day she claims a police officer pulled her by the arm, told her to leave Rockefeller Center, where she had gone to see the Christmas tree, and called her a "terrorist." She was asked to provide identification to the officer, was subsequently accused of having phony identification and allegedly told, "Leave you terrorist, you shouldn't be here."

"It's so hard for me to believe that a cop could do this," said the Muslim woman who covers her head with the traditional headscarf (hijab) worn by some women who follow the Islamic faith. "I couldn't get over it. I was in shock," she said.

Nasser has reported the matter to the Council of American Islamic Relations and plans on filing a report with the city Civilian Complaint Review Board once she returns to Saudi Arabia. She fears that making a complaint prior to her departure could disrupt her travel plans.

Advocates say that Nasser's story is not an isolated incident. Monami Maulik, executive director of Desis Rising Up And Moving (DRUM), an immigrants' rights organization in Jackson Heights, said that she has heard many similar stories. Several other organizations say police harassment of Muslims is a genuine problem.

Encounters with Police

The Council of American Islamic Relations analyzed civil rights cases in 2008 by circumstances of occurrence. The group found encounters with police ranked sixth, following schools and prison. "Underreporting of hate crimes and police misconduct cases remains a real issue with American Muslims," said the council's New York civil rights director Aliya Latif.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, law enforcement officials have worked on building a cooperative relationship with the American Muslim community in an effort to obtain valuable information related to terrorism and safety issues. Muslim groups worry that allegations of misconduct by law enforcement damage the fragile ties between the two groups. "We are concerned that incidents like these further alienate community members and contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust with law enforcement authorities," Latif said.

Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, agrees. "The evidence of any problem with law enforcement undermines any cooperation they may seek from Muslims," she said. "Even if there is a perception of harassment, it very naturally leads individuals to be cautious and reluctant to seek help from law enforcement, let alone report any suspicious activity."

A police officer, though, may see the situation differently. "Police officers may not always realize how they have come across to a civilian," said Graham Daw, a spokesperson for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the all-civilian board that investigates civil complaints about alleged misconduct on the part of the New York City Police Department. "Civilians are not always aware of the pressures under which police officers work or the powers with which they are vested in order to do their job."

The New York City Police Department was contacted numerous times to comment on this issue but did not respond.

According to DRUM, many Muslims have complained about being randomly approached by members of law enforcement in their own neighborhoods and apartment buildings and being asked about their whereabouts and about what they did for a living.

Maulik said that her organization has received hundreds of accounts of cases regarding police misconduct since Sept. 11, many from blue-collar workers such as street vendors and taxi drivers. She also hears stories from youth.

Slurs and Questions

In 2006, DRUM and the Urban Justice Center Community Development Project surveyed 662 South Asian youths living in Queens, most of them Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims, about the impact of school safety policies on them. The report revealed that nearly a third of the youths reported having seen harassment by police officers or experienced harassment. The study defined harassment to include "verbal abuse or harassment such as racial slurs and names, yelling and cursing; physical abuse or harassment, including physical harm, grabbing, pushing, forcing to do something the person does not want to do; and intimidation, including asking for identification or calling over for no reason, threatening to report person or their family to immigration and bullying."

"Since 9/11, there are a lot more security agents and police," said one young person. "They treat us differently."

"There is more hatred against South Asians [post 9/11]. The police pay more attention to you; they think you are suspicious. They wait for you to screw up," said another.

DRUM received a report on one incident in which a teenage girl who wore a hijab on the streets of Times Square was allegedly asked by a police officer if she was a terrorist.

Ayesha Mahmooda, who works with DRUM, spoke to at least 100 South Asian families in Flushing during an outreach effort and found many reported experiencing harassment by law enforcement. She said that many South Asians described feeling scared while being questioned by officers. She mentioned the case of a Muslim man who was questioned by law enforcement officials inside his own apartment. They asked him numerous personal questions, such as where he was born, what his immigration status was and if he smelled anything funny in his building, an apparent reference to possible bomb-making activities.

An alarmed South Asian woman asking Mahmooda why her husband was stopped and questioned by law enforcement on his way home from working the late shift. "I told her that it was because of the color of his skin, he is not white. He is a person of color," Mahmooda said.

A Reluctance to Protest

Those questioned are often afraid to protest, according to DRUM. Latif of CAIR, though, urges Muslims to exercise their right to have a lawyer present if questioned by the FBI or police. "Refusing to answer questions without an attorney present cannot be held against you and does not imply that you have something to hide," she said.

Few Muslims take their cases to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Of the 14 allegations of offensive language based on religion reported to the board in 2008, only two involved Muslims or Islam, and the board was unable to conduct a full investigation in either case. One complaint was withdrawn by the complainant, and the complainant in the other case did not respond to requests to be interviewed by board.

"100 percent of the cases that we've ever gotten, no one has ever called the CCRB," says Maulik. "We really don't have faith in the CCRB. It is not a mechanism that has worked for many years in New York, so for the most part, Muslim immigrants don't call the CCRB and file complaints.

People do not think the board will hold police accountable for harassment or profiling, she said adding that Muslims who are undocumented immigrants are particularly hesitant to report any instances of misconduct to the complaint board. Instead, she said, they live their lives in fear.

Daw said the board would be glad to make a presentation to the Muslim community to educate them about its work, but Monami has no plans of reaching out to them. She has been working on a project to create a formal complaint process with CUNY School of Law.

Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council encourages Muslims to report all instances of misconduct to whomever they feel comfortable with, whether it be to Muslim organizations or city agencies . "Without individuals sharing their experiences, we do not have leverage to make change," she said.

Meanwhile, Yasmin Nasser thinks about what happened to her on her most recent visit to New York. "People in Saudi Arabia ask if people discriminate in New York City, and I always say 'people are nice,'" said Yasmin Nasser. When she lands in Saudi Arabia this time, though, she may offer a different answer.

School Holiday Issue Sends Muslims to City Hall


Photo (cc) Adrian Miles
Evening prayers at a midtown mosque. Many Muslim parents want the religion's holiest days to be included in the list of school holidays.

Isabel Bucaram of Astoria, Queens, didn’t want her 6-year-old daughter, Huyam, to miss her class trip to the Nutcracker ballet, but she could find no other alternative. The trip coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, one of the holiest days in Islam, and Bucaram wanted her daughter to participate in the day's religious festivities. "It was upsetting for her not to share in that field trip with her teachers and friends," Bucaram recalled.

Not wanting her daughter or any other Muslim child to miss out on a day of school because of a religious holiday ever again, Bucaram last winter become involved in the movement to have Muslim holidays recognized by the New York City Department of Education. Until then, Bucaram’s political knowledge had revolved mostly around national politics. But once she started working with the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, a group of over 80 labor, community, faith, and civil rights organizations, she was meeting with City Council members James Gennaro and Peter Vallone Jr., and learning about what it takes to change policy.

Bucaram is not alone. More Muslims are getting involved in the political process than ever before, many spurred by the Muslim school holiday issue, according to Faiza Ali, community director for the Council on American Islamic Relations and a member of the coalition’s steering committee. "The issue of Muslim school holidays has mobilized the community in a great way," she said. "Across the five boroughs, community members have participated in the civic process testifying at hearings in City Hall and lobbying their elected officials, some for the first time, to support this cause."

Muslims in the Schools

The Muslim population in New York City numbers around 600,000 according to a study by Columbia University. Peter Awn, the dean of Columbia’s School of General Studies, characterizes Muslims as one of the fastest growing religious communities in New York City. Muslim New Yorkers hail from all parts of the globe, and an estimated 10 percent of the city's 1.1 million public school students are of the Muslim faith. Approximately 90 percent of Muslim children in the city attend public schools.

The movement to make the New York City Department of Education recognize the holidays of Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, and Eid-ul-Azha, which is the culmination of the yearly hajj to Mecca, began a few years ago when concerned parents like Bucaram decided that they should not have to choose between their children’s education or their religion.

This summer, the City Council's education committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding resolution to close all public schools on Eid-ul-Azha and Eid-ul-Fitr. The full council approved the resolution in a voice vote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though, indicated his opposition to the proposal. "One of the problems you have with a diverse city is that if you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school," he said last summer.

The coalition’s Faiza Ali disagreed. "Giving days off for the Eids does not mean fewer days in school," she said. She maintains that recognition of the holidays would alter the school calendar only slightly since Muslims follow a lunar calendar. Thus, the holidays may fall on a weekend, on a school holiday or during a recess in any given year, as was the case this year when Eid-ul-Fitr fell on a Sunday.

Ali acknowledged that there will be instances when the Eids will fall on what would normally be school, but said the Department of Education has various methods to close for the two holidays and not decrease the overall amount of time in school.

In Ali's view, the benefits of observing the holidays outweigh any inconvenience to the school system. "Although incorporating the two Muslim holidays would have a minimal impact on the calendar, recognizing them would help foster a better understanding of Islam and reaffirm that Muslims are an integral part of this city," she said.

Fatima Shama, the city's commissioner of immigrant affairs, who is herself a Muslim, insists the administration is still considering the matter. "This is a complex issue, and we are not taking it lightly," she said. "We have sat with the Coalition of Muslim School holidays at least three times with Deputy Mayor [Dennis] Walcott, and we have never said no. It is an ongoing evolutionary process."

Shama said that the Bloomberg administration wants to review every aspect of how incorporating the two Muslim holidays into the school calendar would affect the school system and its 1.1 million students before making a decision. "We are not doing policy on the fly," she said. Shama says she "couldn't say" when a decision about this issue would be made.

Political Muscle

Muslims must be resolute in order to achieve victory on the holidays, according to Amy Sugimori of La Fuente, an organization that advocates for workers’ and immigrants’ rights. "They must demand an answer from Mayor Bloomberg," she said.

The New York Civic Participation Project, which works with La Fuente and other groups, played a major role in educating Muslims about voting and the political process. The project has organized voter registration drives in collaboration with neighborhood mosques in Queens and Brooklyn. Sugimori, who oversaw the voter registration drives, said Muslims "were really into the idea that they needed to be full participants in civic participation."

La Fuente's members, most of whom are of Latino descent, have shared their experiences with Muslims members. Sugimori believes that hearing the stories of how other communities overcame injustice "resonated with the Muslim community." "We have all fought to be able to vote," she said. "We all should exercise this right."

Prior to November's municipal election, the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations held 10 voter registration drives to encourage Muslims to vote and fielded calls from community members asking for information on how to register to vote, the primaries, the candidates and elections.

Shamsi Ali, the director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, spiritual leader of the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan and a strong supporter of closing schools for Muslim holidays is optimistic that Bloomberg will eventually come around on this issue. If Muslims register and vote, then they will be valued by politicians even more," Ali said.

"This is what I tell my kids to do. If you see something that either needs to be changed or can be improved, work to make that change -- vote, write letters, speak with those elected," said Bucaram.

Second-grader Huyam sent Bloomberg an Eid card decorated with Hello Kitty stickers and on it excitedly told the mayor how glad she was that last Eid landed on a Sunday. "If that could happen more often, that would be great!" she wrote. Huyam, along with other members of New York's Muslim community eagerly await his response.

The Citizen


While turnout may have been low and much of the electorate disengaged, this year's city elections reflected gains for immigrants in New York. John Liu, who moved to Queens from Taiwan with his parents as a young boy, became the first Asian American to win citywide office here, becoming comptroller.

When the new City Council convenes in January, Margaret Chin, an immigrant from Hong Kong, Peter Koo, also from Hong Kong, and Ydanis Rodriguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, will join the immigrants already on the council.

"In some ways, slow-moving New York City politics are catching up with the changing dynamics of the city itself, as the number of immigrants continues to rise and the idea of dividing the political pie three ways, among blacks, whites and Latinos, seems obsolete," the Washington Post reported.

The results came even as the Asian American Legal Defense Fund foundthat a number of Asian Americans encountered obstacles as they tried to vote. For example, the group said, some Asians trying to cast ballots in Bayside were denied language assistance. In the council racethere, Dan Halloran defeated Kevin Kim, a Korean American after a bruising campaign.

Meanwhile the economy continues to take its toll on immigrant communities, with scams against both workers and employers on the rise. The economy has affected families, too, as in many Korean families, both parents now must work. That's not the case among many Filipino immigrants though, where, in a reversal of their roles in their native country, many men stay home while their wives hold demanding and well paying jobs as nurses.

These and other stories from or partner, Voices that Must Be Heard.

From Voices that Must Be Heard

John Liu's Next Step?, Sing Tao Daily
Comptroller-elect John Liu, the first Asian to win citywide office here, clearly has higher aspirations and, with his victory this fall, running for mayor is a real possibility.

New Bronx Machine Flexes Its Muscle, EDLP
With the slogan "The Bronx is not for sale," this borough's Democratic machine, headed by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and State Sen. Rubén Díaz, demonstrated its incredible political power at the polls when Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost the "Borough of Salsa" by 37 percent to 61 percent.

Behind the Koo Victory, Sing Tao Daily
Running in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one, Republican businessman Peter Koo faced an uphill battle in his campaign for City Council but, according to his campaign manager, won because of his personal charisma, ability to assemble a rainbow coalition of supporters and solid background.

Once in the U.S. Filipino Couples Switch Roles, Filipino Reporter
With many Filipino immigrant men staying home to care for children while their wives work, one woman fro the Philippine reporter a common joke: "If you meet a Filipino man at the grocery store with kids in tow, especially in the middle of a working day, and you ask him what he does for a living, the common reply will be, 'My wife is a nurse.'"

Troubles Abound for Fujianese Children Returning to Brooklyn, World Journal
Many Fujianese immigrants send their infant children back to China to be raised by grandparents or relatives, but when the children reach age 4 or 5 and return to the United States to start school, problems arise.

Crime Increases Among Young Koreans, Korea Times
Recent reports from some Korean organizations indicate that Korean youth in New York are being increasingly exposed to -- and involved in -- crime. While both parents work, their unsupervised children engage in destructive or illegal behavior, such as drinking, drugs or gang activity.

Workers Call for Saving City's Garment Industry, World Journal
The city's manufacturing and garment industries have been outsourced along with the lax enforcement of city zoning laws has led to the shrinking of the garment district in New York, according to garment workers and their supporters.

Beauty Salons Without Licenses Face Penalties, Korea Times
The Korean beauty industry faces a crisis as Koreans licensed in beauty skills and operating shops in their homes face huge fines, loss of their licenses and demands for payment of income tax.

Undocumented 9/11 Workers Caught in Double Bind, El Correo de Queens
With immigration reform postponed and a health reform that does not include them, the workers who cleaned up after the 9/11 attacks find themselves in limbo as they do not know who they can trust out of fear of deportation.

Mass Held for Polish Ground Zero Workers, Nowy Dziennik
Each year, more Polish asbestos workers die as a result of work they did at Ground Zero back in 2001. In early November, families and colleagues of those who had passed away prayed for them at a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the second annual Mass commemorating the deceased members of Local 78.

New Program Aims to Reduce Attacks on Taxi Drivers, El Taxista
The attacks on taxi drivers in the city have become less frequent since the launching of a program that allows the police to randomly detain vehicles and approach passengers to interrogate and search them, with the driver's consent.

Anger Rises Over Chinatown Employment Agencies, World Journal
Reports of labor disputes between job seekers and Chinatown's employment agencies have been on the rise following the financial crisis, with immigrant looking for work charging that the agencies hoodwink them and take advantage of their lack of knowledge.

Temporary Workers Scam Their Korean Employers, Korea Times
Being without Worker's Compensation insurance leaves many Korean businesses vulnerable to fraud by one-time workers.

Advocates Seek to Protect Rights of Immigrants in Prison, La Voz Hispana A coalition recommends that the city Department of Corrections restrict immigration agents' access to prisoners awaiting trial, not share digital fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security and protect the rights of all New Yorkers in prison.

Making New York 'Immigrant Friendly'


Photo from nyc.gov by Spencer T Tucker
Bloomberg upgraded the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to become a charter agency, which provides direct access to the mayor. He appointed Fatima A. Shama as Commissioner in August.

Elick Bloomberg, a native of Balvan, Russia, moved to the United States before the turn of the 20th century. According to his World War I draft registration card, he settled in Chelsea, Mass., and was employed by Metropolitan Life as an insurance agent.

His experience was shared by tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe at the time. However, it was one of his grandsons, Michael, who gave the family name a household recognition. Mayor Bloomberg is proud of his immigrant heritage in a city where 40 percent of its residents are foreign-born.

"Immigrants are why New York City became America's economic engine," said Bloomberg in a recent press conference where he announced his campaign platform for immigrant communities. "The next time you walk or drive over the Brooklyn Bridge, remember that it was designed by an immigrant engineer. The next time you ride the subway, or pass the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Center, remember they were all built by immigrant hands," he said.

"Economically, culturally and socially, we need more immigrants, not less," added Bloomberg.

As the election approaches, Bloomberg hopes to win votes in New York's immigrant communities. While his recently announced initiatives on immigration could be seen as campaign promises, over the last eight years he has been widely seen as a strong and outspoken supporter for immigrants.

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Immigrants have long been drawn to New York City because it provides many opportunities for all people, regardless of their immigration status. This remains true today, even in the face of the poor economy. As more cities and states have begun allowing their police to check people's immigration status, New York City remains a safe haven for those without documentation.

In September 2003, Bloomberg signed Executive Order 41 to reinforce that protection. The order prohibited city workers from inquiring about a person's immigration status when the person seeks services from a city agency or witnesses a crime.

Immigrants "have always been and will always be welcome here," said Bloomberg at the signing ceremony. "And the reason is simple: what's good for the city's immigrants is good for the city."

Found in Translation?

Because New York has welcomed immigrants, the city now is home to people speaking more than 170 different languages. In July 2008, Bloomberg signed Executive Order 120 to mandate all city agencies that provide public services translate and interpret in the city's six most spoken languages other than English: Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Russian, Korean and Italian.

"When he instituted the citywide language access executive order, [requiring] all city agencies ... to translate and interpret to all city residents, no matter what their language capability, I think that was received as a pretty precedent-setting policy around the country," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigrant Coalition. "That was an important accomplishment the city has done."

But some said the move, while important, was long overdue.

"We are very happy that the language access executive order was passed about a year ago but I think it is important to note that it took a lot of advocacy over the course of seven years to get the mayor to agree to do an executive order," said Wayne Ho, executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. "What I often wonder is that if the mayor has been so committed to immigrant populations, why does it take so much advocacy in order to get policies or funding passed?"

Learning English

At the same time he has increased translation services, Bloomberg has also looked at ways to help immigrants who do not speak English learn the language. To help immigrants with limited English ability improve their proficiency, Bloomberg proposed a 10-year plan to provide English as a Second Language classes with job-training opportunities to an estimated number of 50,000 immigrant adults. He said the city will initially commit $3 million to serve additional 5,000 people.

The problem of not speaking English seems particularly dire in the schools. According to a report released by the Department of Education, the dropout rate among English language learners is significantly higher than for other students. Only 30.8 percent of the English language learners graduated from high school in four years.

"Under mayoral control, while all student groups had their test scores and graduation rates increased, the dropout rates for English language learner students actually increased, and test scores and graduation rates for them decreased," said Ho. "While [Bloomberg] keeps talking about mayoral control being successful for the school system, that's not necessarily true for English language learners."

Bloomberg has said he will convene a task force in the hopes of improving academic performance for these students.

Supporting the Dream Act

The Dream Act, which stands for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, proposed legislation that would help certain undocumented immigrant youth gain legal status. The bill has been under discussion since 2001 and has been introduced to Congress at various occasions. Bloomberg has been an outspoken supporter.

"Why shouldn't our economy benefit from the skills these young people have obtained here in our public schools?" he said at a 2009 press conference officially endorsing the act. "It is senseless for us to chase out the home-grown talent that has the potential to contribute so significantly to our society. They're the ones who are going to start companies, invest in new technologies, pioneer medical advances. We need to welcome more immigrants, not deport those already here."

In the latest version, introduced in March 2009, undocumented immigrant youth would be eligible to apply for permanent residency if they have proof of having arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years. They must also have attended at least two years of American high school and have graduated from it. They will be given a six-year conditional status, during which period they must attend college or serve in the military for at least two years.

Bloomberg also cited the in-state tuition policy at the City University of New York as a model for other public institutions in the country. Currently any undocumented student who has attended high school for at least two years and graduate or earned a GED in New York State is eligible for the lower, in-state tuition at the City University if the person applies for a CUNY institution with five years of receiving their high school diploma.

Upgrading the Office of Immigrant Affairs

The Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, formerly known as the Office of Immigrant Affairs and Language Assistance, has existed under various names and forms since the mid-1980s. In November 2001, the office became a charter agency, adopted by voter referendum into the city's charter. This provides it with direct access to the mayor and makes it a permanent part of the city government. In 2002, Bloomberg appointed Sayu Bhojwani as the first commissioner. Currently, Fatima Shama, a former education policy advisor to Bloomberg, heads the agency.

In 2004, Bloomberg initiated the first Immigrant Heritage Week. It is an annual citywide celebration of immigrant cultures that includes more than 100 free or low-cost events in art, music, dance and cinema. Taking place in every April, the celebration was made permanent when Bloomberg signed Executive Order 128 in April 2009.

Protection Against Immigration Fraud

Like employment agencies, immigration service companies are found in many ethnic neighborhoods. Although not attorneys, their staffs help immigrants prepare the documents and forms required by the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these service providers take advantage of immigrants who are not familiar with immigration laws and not proficient in English. This often leads to fraud such as the companies demanding for money for services they didn't perform or providing legal advice when they are not supposed to.

In 2004, Bloomberg signed Local Law 31 to ensure that immigrants are protected from fraud. Immigration service agencies are required to provide written contract in English as well as the client's native language, give the client three days to cancel the contract without penalty, itemize all charges, give back original documents upon request and have a legible sign stating the provider is not an attorney.

New Initiatives

The mayor's latest program sets out a number of initiatives aimed at immigrants. For example, he said he will add 1,000 spots for English language learner students to the city's summer youth employment program, which serves more than 50,000 young people. The city will identify bilingual work environments to accommodate students in entry-level jobs.

To help immigrants better integrate into civic life, Bloomberg proposed language assistance to immigrant homeowners on issues including code enforcement, property tax exemption, recycling, foreclosure prevention and so on. He said the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will conduct at least three forums per year in predominately immigrant communities.

To help immigrant entrepreneurs, the Department of Small Business Services will continue to conduct information sessions on financing, business assistance and government resources in Spanish. Bloomberg said similar programs in Russian and Asian languages are in the works.

At the federal level, Bloomberg said he will continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. "I've said this a thousand times: I think this country is committing national suicide by not bringing the best and the brightest, the hardest working, the most fun … from around the world," Bloomberg said.

The People Will Be Watching

Advocates for immigrants will be checking to see whether Bloomberg delivers on his promises.

"Mayor Bloomberg does understand that the immigrant community is a vital part of New York City and he is committed to improving the quality of life for immigrant New Yorkers," said Wayne Ho. "But ... I would have hoped the mayor realizes that he is culpable in some of the challenges that immigrant New Yorkers currently face because he has cut back on budgets and hadn't passed certain policies earlier in his terms."

Discussing the mayor's new initiative, Hong said, "These are campaign promises but they are commitments on issues that immigrant communities have been talking about for a long time. ... It will be up to the people to hold him accountable to campaign pledges."

"In politics, they can offer everything. The thing is how do they do that," said Oscar Parades-Morales, executive director of the Latin American Workers Project. "We have to continue to push and work together."

Larry Tung is a Brooklyn-based journalist and media artist. He teaches media and film course at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.

Bloomberg's Calmer -- But Still Divided -- City


Photo (cc) ClixYou
A mosaic at Lenox Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem, a neighborhood rapidly changing through housing development.

Strikingly little attention has been paid over the years to the substance of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record in terms of civil rights. While concerns continue to be raised about cases of alleged police brutality, and while many believe there needs to be a stronger, more independent Civilian Complaint Review Board to consider cases of reported police misconduct, most New Yorkers credit Bloomberg with improving New York’s "racial climate" from the more racially charged atmosphere that prevailed during the Giuliani administration. Indeed, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last year found that even though two thirds of New Yorkers say police brutality is a "very" or "somewhat" serious problem, a similar margin approves of the mayor's handling of race relations. Among African-American respondents, approval as to race relations was measured at 55 percent.

Beneath such attitudes, of course, are substantive civil rights issues, and the mayor’s record raises questions as to many. In what might be one sign that the administration is not eager to discuss civil rights, City Hall did not respond to a request from Gotham Gazette to identify the key civil rights accomplishments of the mayor’s current term.

Segregated New York City

Despite daily references to the "diversity" of New York, the city remains one of the most residentially segregated cities in one of the most residentially segregated major metropolitan areas in the country. Residential racial segregation underlies virtually every other major societal disparity that exists, including disparities in education, health care and employment. But the administration has not developed concrete policies to reduce segregation. Indeed, the mayor’s "New Housing Marketplace" makes no reference either to the existence of residential segregation or to any strategy targeted at overcoming that segregation.

Photo (cc) rcherubin
New homes in Brownsville, Brooklyn off Pitkin Avenue.

The mayor has not pushed for mandatory inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to include affordably priced apartment in their development. Some advocates believe this, when combined with affirmative marketing, can be crucial in combating segregation. The effectiveness of voluntary inclusionary zoning, which the mayor has embraced, is the subject of ongoing debate.

Existing city policy actually perpetuates segregation in ways similar to what courts have found to be illegal in cases involving other jurisdictions. Every time a new development brings apartments to market, current residents of the community district in which the development is located receive a preference for 50 percent of the new homes. Because so many community districts are highly segregated, the preference process, by definition, skews opportunities, perpetuating more segregation than would be the case if openings were equally open to all.

Access for People with Disabilities

As with residential racial segregation, nothing in the mayor’s New Housing Marketplace targets barriers to accessibility for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities.

Ironically New York City has the strongest Human Rights Law in the country. The disability provisions -- applicable to employment, housing and public accommodations alike –- are especially robust and distinctive. Despite the legal guarantee that people with disabilities will have equal access to public accommodations like stores and restaurants, one can find on virtually any block in the city numerous non-compliant businesses. In contrast to the "sweeps" that have been conducted against other lawbreakers, the city has not -- either through its Human Rights Commission, Law Department, Department of Buildings or otherwise -- tackled the massive problem of continuing inaccessibility.

In the realm of taxi transportation, too, the administration resisted entreaties to require a conversion of the fleet to all-accessible cabs (London's taxis have all been accessible for years). The city regulates the taxi industry and has required some technological innovations, such as the ability to accept credit card payments. However, even thought regulatory change has often spurred the auto industry to innovate, the administration has not demanded that cabs be accessible to the disabled.

Enforcing Human Rights Law

More broadly, Human Rights Law enforcement has continued to fade during the Bloomberg administration. The number of city-funded staffers at the Human Rights Commission in fiscal year 2010 has dropped fully 90 percent from the peak city-funded staffing level attained during the Dinkins administration and is even below its lowest levels during the Giuliani administration. City Hall declined to comment on the decrease.

The recently released Mayor’s Management Report has a brief section on the Human Rights Commission. That section reports that, over the past five years, an average of 383 complaints have been filed every year, many fewer complaints than used to be filed. Such a decline in complaints has occurred in the absence of any evidence that the incidence of acts of discrimination has declined. A more likely contributing factor may be a belief by many victims that filing a claim could well be futile.

Another contributing factor appears to be the fact that, during the Bloomberg administration, the commission has assumed more of a gatekeeper function, preventing potential complainants from filing their claims. The commission has followed this path even though the city Human Rights Law obliges the commission to accept any properly notarized complaint.

The report lists the "average value of cash settlement" for the 25 percent of cases that are settled at a little over $11,000 per case. Herbert Eisenberg, an attorney who has specialized in employed law for more than 25 years and who sits on the board of the National Employment Lawyers Association, described this average as something that "sounds like nuisance value" as opposed to something that would allow victims of discrimination "to be fully compensated for their damages."

The actual average per settlement may be lower. At least in the early days of the Bloomberg administration, when the commission calculated the average, it excluded settled cases where the complaining party received no compensatory damages.

The city has two other methods -- both involving the city’s Law Department -- to foster implementation of its Human Rights Law. First, the Law Department has the power to bring cases of patterns of discriminatory conduct to court under Chapter 4 of the City’s Human Rights Law.

The second method arises from the fact that any individual who has been discriminated against can go to court instead of going to the Human Rights Commission. Many of those cases results in appeals, and the city’s Law Department has the ability to seek to intervene as a "friend of the court" to argue for the broad construction of the law that is required by what 2005’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act defined as the City Human Rights Law’s "uniquely broad and remedial" purposes.

The city has not taken advantage of either approach.

Monitoring City Employment

The Equal Employment Practices Commission can audit and evaluate the employment practices of the city’s own agencies. Ejim Dike, director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, said the commission has performed well, given its budget constraints. She noted, however, that it "is underfunded, and it does not have power to enforce the recommendations it makes to city agency’s that it audits.”

Educational Equity

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has often said that "for too long, and for far too great an extent, one’s race and ZIP code determined the quality of a child’s education." Asked whether demographics showing racial segregation in schools reflected underlying patterns of residential racial segregation, Will Havemann, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education, said, "That is absolutely the case."

Describing the mayor and the chancellor as "believing very strongly that education is the most important civil rights issue of the 21st century," Havemann identified efforts that the department believes are consistent with a civil rights focus. These include a drive to open new schools in neighborhoods that have traditionally been underserved and steps to increase fairness in the admissions process for specialized programs. Havemann also described the expansion of borough-wide and even citywide choices for high school enrollment -- as opposed to local preferences -- as increasing educational mobility for people of all races and backgrounds.

The success of the administration's efforts is strongly contested and that discussion dovetails with much of the debate over mayoral control of schools. The city, for example, says it has reduced the achievement gap between the races. Critics note, on the other hand, that fewer black and Latino teens now attend the city's elite high schools, such as Stuyvesant and Bronx High School of Science.

It is beyond the scope of this article to assess the efficacy of the Department of Education’s reform program. What is clear, however, is that the department’s explicit focus on issues of equity, its recognition that racial and socio-economic disparities exist, and its desire to "narrow the gap" signal a view that the educational status quo can and should be changed. This approach stands in contrast to the administration’s apparent view that, in the interrelated housing arena. patterns of segregation are an unalterable fact of New York City life.

Craig Gurian is a long-time civil rights advocate. He was the principal author for the Human Rights Commission of the comprehensive 1991 revisions to the City Human Rights Law and was the principal author of 2005’s Local Civil Rights Restoration Act. He also teaches civil rights courses at Fordham Law School, including Housing Discrimination: History, Demographics, Law, and Remedies. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

The Citizen


A rally for immigrant health and labor reforms on May 1st in Madison Square Park

With Congress mired in the debate over health care, changing the immigration laws remained in the political background during the closing days of the summer. However, before he left for vacation, President Barack Obama met with more than 100 advocates seeking changes in the system to assure them that change would be coming.

Although the White house did not allow media to attend the event, the Irish Echo quoted administration spokesman Nick Shapiro as saying, "The president understands our nation's immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, and that's why he asked Secretary [of Homeland Security Janet] Napolitano to work with stakeholders and members of Congress to move the legislative process forward on this important issue."

In local politics, with the city primary set for Set. 15, a number of immigrants are running for office, while candidates of all backgrounds court the ethnic vote. In the 20th district in Queens, which includes Flushing, all but one of the five candidates is an immigrant. The race in the 23rd district in eastern Queens includes an Indian immigrant seeking to be the first Sikh elected in the city. A Korean immigrant has clashed with a Chinese immigrant over who can best represent Chinatown and the rest of Lower Manhattan's District 1, while several Dominican immigrants are among those vying for the council seat from District 10 in upper Manhattan. And so it goes, across the city.

But while the immigrant experience can boost some candidacies, it can also create problems. City comptroller candidate John Liu, a Taiwanese immigrant seeking to become the first Asian elected to citywide office, has made much of his family' s early experiences here when, he said, he had to work alongside his mother in a sweatshop. The Daily News challenged that account, saying his mother's recollections did not match his.

As Liu stood by his version of events, some -- including the candidate -- saw the incident as a reflection of the embarrassment some immigrants may feel about their early struggles in this country. Liu himself said at a Chinatown rally, he did not realize that his mother's days as a garment worker were "such a painful experience for her."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told the crowd the Liu controversy had prompted him to ask his mother if her mother — his grandmother, who emigrated from Russia — had worked in a sweatshop. "My mother loudly said, 'No, she worked in a factory,'" Stringer related. But, he continued, she was 15 years old, had no union to protect her, and working conditions were tough. Despite that, back then, he continued, "they weren't called sweatshops."

Regardless of the veracity of John Liu's story, for many immigrants, work here remains a struggle. In the past weeks, the immigrant press has presented stories of construction companies depriving workers of their pay, employment agencies trying to extract unfair fees from people seeking work, and a restaurant chain that underpaid workers and pocketed their tips. They have reported on Mexican parents who leave their children here while they go home to find work and covered the effort by Bangladeshi immigrants to find any job, let along one paying a living wage.

Also this month, The Citizen looks at why some immigrant parents do not help their children in school, mortgage fraud in the West Indian community and the increasing popularity of on-line dating services among young Indians. These and other stories from the Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi and Russian press, via our partner, Voices that Must Be Heard.

From Voices that Must Be Heard

Tough Times for Bangladeshi Immigrants, Bangla Patrika
Several recent arrivals to New York describe how difficult it is to find work and earn a decent wage during the current recession.

Campaign Targets Employment Agencies, Diario de Mexico
Mexican organizations in New York City want employment agencies to stop demanding job seekers pay a fee before they find work.

Workers Protest Against Restaurant Group, Sing Tao Daily
Employees of Wu Liang Ye have charged the New York restaurant group with paying less than minimum wage, pocketing employees' tips and taking vengeful actions against workers struggling for their rights.

Labor Abuses Increase in Chinatown, World Journal
Unlicensed employers have cheated many Chinese construction workers out of their wages, prompting a rise in labor disputes in the informal economy.

Children Remain in U.S. as Mexican Parents Return HomeDiario de Mexico
An increasing number of Mexican Americans in New York City are caring for their godchildren, as the economic crisis compels parents to return to their native country in search of work.

Working Immigrants Struggle to Help Children with School Work, Haitian Times
Long hours on the job and a lack of awareness of aspects of U.S. schools keeps many immigrant parents from being actively involved in their children's educations.

Bangladeshi Parents Fear Losing Their Children to Foster Care, Bangla Patrika
Bangladeshi parents traditionally use methods to discipline their children that, in the U.S., might be considered child abuse. As a result, some Bangladeshi children have been removed from their families and placed in foster care.

Survey Looks at Attitudes of Immigrant Women, Korea Times
A poll of immigrant women in New York City found attitudes vary among nationalities. For example, while 67 percent of Korean immigrant women considered their children's success, only 35 percent of Arab women put such an emphasis on their children's futures.

Immigrants Prey on Fellow Immigrants in Brooklyn, Carib News
The district attorney's office is probing a number of mortgage fraud cases where both the perpetrator and the victim are from the West Indies.

Looking to Improve 'Little Korea,' Korea Daily
Business owners on so-called Korea Way -- 32nd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue - hope to form an association to make the area better.

Report Details Abuses by Immigration Officials, El Diario/La Prensa
U.S. immigrant agent used abusive practices including intrusive home searches during work hours, threats and unjustified detentions during roundups of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, according to a report by the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

City Cracks Down on Vendor Fraud, El Correo de Queens
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wants to revoke the licenses of 500 vendors who are suspected of having participated in a scheme to avoid city rules on food cart sanitation.

Chinese Groups Speak Out on Police Shooting, World Journal
Representatives of the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association appeared at a press conference held by City Councilmember Bill de Blasio after the shooting of the Army veteran, Shem Walker, by a plainclothes policeman. The association wanted to highlight the problem of misunderstandings between new immigrants and the police arising from cultural differences and language difference.

Jewish Nonprofit Helps City's Russians, Prima Russkaya Reklama
The Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, a group that has been helping people for over 110 years, has assisted almost 4,500 Russian-speaking Americans over the past year. The board's bilingual employees came to America from the Soviet Union many years ago and so understand the problems that immigrants face.

Young Indians Looking for Dates and Love, Indian Express
Conservative families might go to websites promising partners for arranged marriages, but with "love marriages" on the rise, dating sites are a popular alternative for the young Indians in New York and elsewhere in the U.S.

Campaigning on Facebook, Korea Daily
All four Korean-American candidates for City Council -– John Choe and S.J. Jung of District 22 in Flushing, Kevin Kim of District 19 in Bayside; and P.J. Kim of District 1 in Manhattan –-has his own Facebook page where they post photos related to their campaigns.

Museum of Chinese in America Gets a New Home


Photos by Larry Tung
Images from exhibits at the Museum of Chinese in America

A first-generation American born to immigrant parents from Shanghai, China, Helen Zia did not learn Chinese growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s. Her parents wanted her to speak only English in the hopes that she could be fully accepted in America and escape racism they experienced themselves. She went on to become a member of Princeton University's first graduating class of women and a celebrated journalist and author.

"My parents instilled in me their respect for America -- and their love for China. China was their passion and the home of their heart, while America was my home and my future," narrated Zia in a short video telling her story growing up as Chinese American. This narrative is part of an exhibition in the new home of the Museum of Chinese in America located on Centre Street in Chinatown in Manhattan.

In its new space, set to officially open Sept. 22, the museum hopes to boost its presence in the Asian-American community and serve as the city's premier spot to honor Chinese-American history and showcase Chinese-American arts and culture. With the additional room, the museum wants to expand its emphasis to include the national Chinese-American experience. "The museum's board has long decided to position MOCA as a national museum," said Alice Mong, executive director. "This country is a country of immigrants. We are part of the fabric of American society. We need to tell our stories."

Zia is one of the 10 Chinese Americans whose stories are featured in an installation exhibition titled "Core Portraits" that wraps around the museum's courtyard. Their stories exemplify a particular historical ear in Chinese-American history. The subjects include Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star; Hazel Ying Lee, one of the first Chinese American women pilots to serve in the American military; and Yung Wing, the first Chinese graduate of an American university.

The museum was founded as the Chinatown History Project by Chinatown community activist Charlie Lai and John Kuo Wei Tchen, a historian at New York University, in 1980. It was created to promote Chinese-American arts and culture, and to inform, educate and engage visitors about Chinese-American history and continuing development. Its original home on the second floor of 72 Mulberry St. in the old school building for Public School 23, will remain and serve as the museum's archives and research center.

The museum's new home is designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. and a first-generation Chinese American herself. It is "larger, street-level, and closer to the subway. People can find us," said Beatrice Chen, education director of the museum.

Preparing for Official Opening

A rendering of the new museum

The core exhibit, entitled "With a Single Step," is inspired by the Chinese Taoist philosopher, Laozi, who said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Following the layout of a traditional Chinese house where all rooms are connected through the courtyard, each section of the exhibition is connected with chronological and thematic threads.

The exhibition's script is written by notable Chinese American writers, including David Henry Hwang, Ha Jin, Maxine Hong Kingston and Zia. It is a part of the museum's ambitious summer program leading up to its official opening.

"It is about a journey," said Ting-Chi Wang, curatorial assistant of the museum. "But this is not just about a journey from China to America. It is also a journey in the making. It is a continuous story. We are not rushing to make a conclusion to the journey. We are trying to tell a living history." Wang added that there will be an interactive device for visitors to record their stories.

The museum also will feature "The Journey Wall," an art installation designed by Maya Lin to honor family history. It consists of bronze tiles marked with various family names, their origins in China and where they settled in America. For a donation of $10,000 to $25,000, a family can honor and its family roots in this installation.

"Through the tiles, you can see that the Chinese have settled in different cities, not just New York or San Francisco," said Wang. "We are also aware that people come from different places. We are trying to educate our audience that not all Chinese are the same. But I think it is more important that people share some experience and background. Where they are from is the beginning, where they finally arrive at is what we are talking about."

Chinatown Film Project

The Museum of the Chinese in America also has commissioned 10 filmmakers, including Wayne Wang, who directed the critically acclaimed "Joy Luck Club," and the Emmy-winning editor and producer Sam Pollard, to produce short films about Chinatown.

The filmmakers, Chen said, were given very small budgets but complete freedom, and the results were unexpected, ranging from experimental films to documentaries.

"It is really about dealing with the perceptions of Chinatown," said Chen. "Part of our mission is to encourage people to question and not make assumption about race and ethnic groups."

In Pollard's film, titled "Chinatown: In Their Own Words," he followed three Chinatown natives who reminisced about growing up in Chinatown decades ago. Ann Chan, one of the main characters, shared her memories of being chased all the way down to her house on Mott Street by a boy every day after school, and winning the Chinatown baby contest in Columbus Park with an orange dress bought in China.

In Rose Troche's film "Sunday at 6," a Chinatown woman cooks an elaborate meal for her own birthday, but her son does not attend. The film questions the notions of assimilation and its price -- the loss of family tradition.

While the 10 short films are in exhibitions on site until the end of the year, visitors can watch other films on MOCA's at YouTube channel. Visitors to the site can upload their films on Chinatowns in New York and around the world.

Showcase for Chinese American Arts and Culture

With its bigger space, the museum hopes to broaden its horizons and forge partnership with other Asian-American organizations. This summer, the museum held the Asian-American International Film Festival with screenings and panel discussions. The museum also was the site of Asian American Comicon, which brought together top artists, writers, fans and readers of mainstream and alternative graphic fiction.

"Something that we found out after we opened the new space is that there really is a need for a space like this for the Asian American community," said Chen. She noted that about 500 people attended Asian American Comicon.

"The museum is expanding not just physically, but also in terms of our mission," said Wang. "We are serving a wider audience, national or international. The topics we select will reflect the needs and interests of our audience."

Funding for the New Home

The museum's new home, converted from a former industrial machine factory, is almost six times bigger than the original location. It took several years to locate the funding necessary for the renovation from federal, state and municipal sources. According to Sam Krueger, the museum's chief operating officer, the Museum of the Chinese in America received about $2.4 million from the City of New York for furniture, fixtures and equipment, and $2 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp for construction. It also received $2.2 million from the September 11th Fund for construction costs. The museum also gets grants from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Larry Tung is a Brooklyn-based media artist and journalist. He also teaches media courses at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.

The Citizen


Photo (cc) gordonnews

The neglected issue of immigration law reform may be about to move front and center again. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who will try to steer the bill through the Senate, told reporters he hoped to have a bill proposed by Labor Day and approved by the end of this year or early in 2010.

According to Schumer, a Democrat, the measure would make it easier for skilled people to enter the United States and crack down on future undocumented immigrants, while helping to guide those already here to citizenship.

Last month, President Barack Obama met with members of Congress on the issue. " "He half-jokingly told us that he was willing to use 'any political capital he has left' for this purpose," Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who was at the gathering said.

So far, Obama has indicated the need for reform without being specific about how he would change things. His administration has reversed some Bush administration policies that were seen as particularly harsh. For example, according to the New York Times, it has issued "new guidelines that make employers, rather than workers, the target of workplace raids and expanded humanitarian-release rules to keep parents detained on immigration charges from being separated from small children." At the same time, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department would order federal contractors to check employees' work documents against E-Verify, an electronic system, to determine whether they were here legally.

The various administration statements, according to the Washington Post, " mark the clearest sign … of Obama's efforts to chart a middle course on immigration enforcement."

While immigration no longer seems to be the "hot button" issue it was a few years ago, no one expects easy passage of a new bill. Already, the Senate has voted to toughen enforcement of immigration laws, sometimes in direct opposition to the administration's position.

In another national story of special interest to many immigrants in New York City, hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor begin this week. A number of prominent New Yorkers are set to testify in the Bronx native's behalf, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, as well as former Mets and Yankees pitcher David Cone, who was a representative for the players union when Sotomayor helped end the 1995 Major League baseball strike.

Meanwhile, back in the city, as most public school students enjoy their break from classes, the local foreign language press continues to explore the obstacles immigrant children confront in city schools. Sparked by several reports, including one by Advocates for Children on education issues facing immigrant families, stories reported on the tests for Gifted and Talented programs, the difficulties immigrant parents face in finding a school, bullying of Asian students and more.

This month, The Citizen also looks at New York's housing squeeze, AIDS in the Asian community and whether patties made in New York can rival the savory pies produced in their native Jamaica. These and other stories from the Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Bangladeshi and Chinese-language press, via our partner, Voice that Must Be Heard.

From Voices that Must Be Heard

Choosing a Schools Challenges Immigrant Families, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
Navigating the maze of school choice in New York City presents difficulties for all parents but it's particularly daunting for immigrant families who may not know the language or understand the city's school choice system.

GIfted Test Poses extra Challenge for Immigrant Children, Weekly Bangla Patrika
Even though they can take the exam in their native language, immigrant children are less likely to pas the test to enter the city's public school Gifted and Talented programs than their American-born counterparts. For one thing, say Bangladeshi parents, the language used in the translations is too sophisticated for small children, particularly those who do not speak English or Bengali, but rather a combination of both languages

Undocumented Parents Shut out of Schools, Sing Tao Daily
Parents who have no valid U.S. identification often find themselves unable to get past the security desk to enter their child's school. A report focuses on hurdles that limit immigrant parents' involvement in their children's education found the ID issue at the top of the list, along with language barriers, lack of encouragement and responsiveness, and inaccessibility of parent associations and school leadership teams.

Children of Unskilled Immigrants Fall Behind in School, Indian Express
Children of unskilled immigrants who come from non-English speaking countries often do very poorly in New York's schools. Lacking a profession and speaking little English, the parents often feel helpless to participate in their children's education and improve the student's performance.

Asian Groups Protest Bullying in Schools, Korea Times
Asian advocacy groups demonstrated in front of the Department of Education headquarters to demand increased protection against bullying and bias crimes in the city's schools. "On-going, widespread harassment" they stated, "puts students in an atmosphere of fear that undermines their academic potential" and can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and even suicide.

Immigrant Parents Volunteer in City Schools, Aramaica
Schools across the city are increasingly seeking immigrant volunteers who understand the linguistic and cultural heritage of students from other countries. For their part, the volunteers say the work helps them be actively involved in their children's schools.

Translating for Parents Creates Stress for Children, World Journal
Children of Asian immigrants often must act as translators, helping parents with limited English navigate through their daily life. Though their parents praise these children as capable and quick-witted, a recent survey found that the children often find it stressful to have to swap roles with their parents and be the grown-ups of the family.

Korean Children Hooked on the Internet, Korea Times
Internet addiction has become such a serious problem among the city's Korean-American children that some parents are turning to professionals for help.

In New York, Living Space Gets Even Tighter, Diario de Mexico
Despite the slumping economy, New York rents remain high and keep climbing, leaving many poor people to double and triple up in already cramped homes.

Death Places an Economic Burden on Bangladeshi Families, Bangla
Along with the sorrow of losing a loved one, many families must also cope with death's financial burdens. In the current recession, organizations offering insurance to cover the cost of carrying of a body back to Bangladesh have raised their prices and other groups have cut back on donations to families that need help.

Despite Recession, Bangladeshi Area Thrives, Bangla
Despite an economic downturn, Jackson Heights, the commercial hub for Bangladeshis in New York, is beating the odds by thriving and expanding. Bangladeshi businesses not only continue to stay alive but commerce is increasing with the opening of new businesses.

No Decline Seen in AIDS Rate among Asians, Indian Express
Asians and Pacific islanders are the only group in New York that has not experienced a decline in the number of new HIV diagnoses, and only 6 percent of these New Yorkers report that their doctor recommended an HIV test.

Crime Increases in Russian Neighborhoods, Russian Bazaar
Following a month when shootings and robberies plagued beachfront areas of Brooklyn, the police have designated Brighton Beach and Coney Island as impact zones, areas that have experienced an upsurge in criminal activity and require additional measures to ensure order.

Bill Would Require Election Information in Russian, V Novom Svete
A bill approved by the New York state Senate would require that all cities in New York with more than 1 million people -- meaning New York City -- translate all ballots and other election materials into Russian. If the bill wins approval from the state Assembly and governor, it would mark the first time in the history of the United States, that Russian would be an of official language of the election system.

Voter Registration Drive Focuses on Polish-Americans, Nowy Dziennik,
A new campaign focuses on getting the city's Polish-Americans registered to vote. The effort by the Polish American Congress has attracted considerable interest, although some people have been disappointed to learn that, without U.S. citizenship, they cannot register or vote.

Italian Restaurant Relies on Mexican Workers, Diario de Mexico
The success of a popular restaurant offering southern Neapolitan cuisine rests in the hands of Mexican workers who have learned the secrets of making good pasta and traditional tiramisu.

Can Patties from New York Pass Jamaica's Test Taste?, Daily Gleaner
Patties -- savory turnovers -- produced in New York by a Jamaican- owned company and then exported to Jamaica have created a furor in Kingston, reflecting, some say, an ambivalence that Jamaicans on the island have toward their compatriots abroad.

40 Years After Stonewall: New York's Role in the Movement


Right photo by Diana Davies from the New York Public Library
Stonewall before and after the riots. In the right photo, the message in the window reads: "We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village."

The Stonewall Rebellion, when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people fought back against police repression at a Greenwich Village bar with a six-day riot in June 1969 is considered the birth of the modern "gay rights" movement. President Barack Obama just declared June LGBT Pride Month in the United States, following an example set by President Bill Clinton during his second term. (This year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued her own proclamation at the State Department.)

Obama then switched his position and let his Justice Department file briefs supporting both the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy excluding open gays from the military -- even though he campaigned against both laws.

The 40th anniversary will be marked by the usual LGBT Pride Parade down Fifth Avenue and by pride marches all around the world from Youngstown, Ohio, which is having its first this year, to Moscow, Russia, where activists get beaten every year by skinheads and police. There now are separate African American pride parades across the U.S. as well.

Stonewall gives New York a certain preeminence in the LGBT movement, but the clash was neither the first public display of gay resistance, nor has the city and state maintained their claim to be the world leader in progress since then. Five states -- from Massachusetts to Iowa -- have already beat us to opening up marriage to gay couples.

Maybe it is New York arrogance, but it was not until this year that New York City launched an ad campaign, euphemistically called "Rainbow Pilgrimage," seeking gay tourism -- something that cities such as London and Amsterdam have been doing for years. (Maybe the rainbow theme is meant to pick up on the 40th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland, whose signature song was "Over the Rainbow.")

With gay issues so much in the forefront this year, it's a good time to look at some examples of where New York has led and where it has followed -- despite its reputation as the birthplace of the modern movement.

Pre-Stonewall History

While the religious right likes to speak about homosexuality as something that was always condemned, plenty of cultures have celebrated it -- the evidence appears on some of the Greek urns in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is even evidence of same-sex union ceremonies in early Christianity, not to mention the Bible's celebration of the love of such pairs as Ruth and Naomi as well as David and Jonathan. These couples may or may not have been gay in the modern sense, but their ardency for each other certainly goes beyond friendship. Indeed, Ruth's words to Naomi ("whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God" -- Ruth 1:1 6) are often used in wedding ceremonies.

In the modern Western world, German physician Magnus Hirshfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee to fight for gay rights and overturn Germany's anti-sodomy laws in 1897. He enlisted such supporters as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Martin Buber, Herman Hesse and Richard von Krafft-Ebing. His Institute for Sexual Research was housed in a villa near the Reichstag from 1919 until the Nazis drove him out in the 1930s, famously burning the group's library in 1933.

New York's first gay center was a space the post-Stonewall Gay Liberation Front rented above what was then Gerde's Folk City on West Third Street in 1969. The Gay Activists Alliance worked and played in a space called The Firehouse at 99 Wooster from 1971 until it was destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1974. The current LGBT Community Center opened in 1980.

The first significant American gay group was the Mattachine Society, founded in Los Angeles by Harry Hay and Rudy Gernreich in 1950 -- and now being dramatized in a new play called The Temperamentals at the Barrow Group Theatre through July 5 with Thomas Jay Ryan as Hay and "Ugly Betty" star Michael Urie as Gernreich, who became a famous designer. New York got a Mattachine chapter in 1951, and it lasted until 1976.

What may well have been the first public gay demonstration in the United States took place here in 1964 when Randy Wicker led the Homosexual League of New York and the League for Sexual Freedom in a protest against the exclusion of gays from the military on Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan at the U.S. Army Induction Center.

Two years later, New York Mattachine leader Dick Leitsch, John Timmons and Craig Rodwell, who went on to establish the recently departed Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in the Village, successfully challenged the law banning bars from serving gay people with a 1966 "sip in" at Julius' bar, which is still operating on the corner of Waverly and West 10th Street.

Post-Stonewall History

Photo from Wiki Commons Herstory Archives
Photographer Kay Lahusen marching at the first Annual Reminder in 1969

Stonewall had immediate repercussions in the movement. Soon after, a group of gay activists formed the Gay Liberation Front, which was of a piece with the radical liberation activism of the day and made alliances with other left movements, including the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. Its members were confrontational and unapologetic, and their intense group splintered and ultimately burned out in April 1971. (Some veterans of the group are having a reunion panel on June 25 at 6 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, which I'll be moderating.)

The Gay Activists Alliance broke with the front to focus on single-issue gay activism in 1970. The alliance lasted about 10 years, spawning splinters of its own such as Lesbian Feminist Liberation, part of a lesbian separatist movement.

On the first anniversary of Stonewall -- in June 1970 -- New York City saw the world's first big gay march. Craig Rodwell played a key role just by posting a sign in the window of his gay bookstore calling on people to mark the first anniversary of the rebellion, but he was aided by both Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.

The Legislative Battles

During the 1960s, states around the country began repealing anti-sodomy laws as part of the effort to rid legal codes of archaic laws. New York's legislature, however, would not act on repeal despite the urgings of a young member of the State Assembly named Ed Koch. The New York Court of Appeals ruled the state law was unconstitutional in 1980. It took until 2003 for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the nation's 13 remaining state sodomy laws.

New York City was the first municipality in the world to propose amending its human rights law to ban discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation," a legal phrase coined by the Gay Activists Alliance in 1971. The City Council, though, refused to pass the law for years, while many other major U.S. cities moved ahead and passed gay rights bills. New York did not join them until 1986.

Village Assemblymember Bill Passanante introduced New York State's gay rights bill -- the first such state bill in the nation -- in 1971, but that didn't pass until 2002, long after states such as Wisconsin led the way in offering statewide protections in 1985. New York State still has not added protections on the basis of gender identity and expression covering people of transgender experience, but the city did in 2002.

New York State's hate crimes law was held up by a Republican-controlled Senate until 2000 -- more than 13 years after it was first proposed following the Howard Beach racial killing in 1986. The sticking point was including "sexual orientation." Most states had passed hate crimes laws in some form by the time New York did.

A school anti-bullying bill, the Dignity for All Students Act, has also been held up in the State Senate for more than a decade despite almost unanimous support in the Democrat-led Assembly. The barrier is, again, the category of "sexual orientation," as well as "gender identity and expression."

Two members of Congress from New York, Bella Abzug and Ed Koch, introduced the first federal gay and lesbian rights bill in 1973, then an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The bill was eventually watered down to just provide some job protections through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and passed the House last year but not the Senate.

Gays in Office

In the 1970s, out gays began running for -- and getting elected to -- public office. Here, too, New York lagged.

The first out gay officials anywhere in the U.S. were such pioneers as Kathy Kozachenko in January 1974 to the Ann Arbor City Council, Allan Spear, a state senator in Minnesota who came out in 1974, and Elaine Noble, elected that same year to the Massachusetts legislature as an out lesbian. Harvey Milk wasn't elected a supervisor in San Francisco until 1977, only to be murdered by former Supervisor Dan White the following year -- and immortalized by Oscar-winning Sean Penn in the movie "Milk" just last year.

In 1991, Passanante was succeeded in the Assembly by Deborah Glick, the first out gay or lesbian person ever to be elected to a legislative office in New York.

Significantly, New York now has an out lesbian City Council speaker in Christine Quinn, one of the highest ranking out gay or lesbian officials in the United States.

Marriage Matters

The big gay news these days concerns the fate of same-sex marriage in New York. With the Republicans taking over the State Senate in a coup with dissident Democrats, the prospects for the bill letting gay couples marry here is up in the air, even though new Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican and opponent of same-sex marriage, has said his members can vote their consciences on the bill. The dissidents Democratic senators, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, are for the marriage equality bill. However, it apparently had nothing to do with their coup, which observers have attributed to billionaire Tom Golisano's desire for lower taxes and the landlord lobby's fear the Senate Democrat majority would strengthen rent regulations.

Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell, a Democrat from Manhattan's West Side, who got the marriage bill passed in his house, remains hopeful it will pass the Senate. Prior to the coup, Sen. Tom Duane, also a Manhattan Democrat was insisting it had the votes to pass.

While the Republican-led majority can block action on the bill, it does not now nor has it ever had the votes to block New York State from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other place. Legislation that would have denied legal recognition to those marriages was introduced in the 1990s in Albany and never even received a hearing in the Senate.

As a result, New York is alone among states in that it recognizes legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but does not perform them itself. All New York gay couples have to do to be married is travel to such neighboring jurisdictions as Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts or Canada and wed legally. When they come home, they will be married in the eyes of the state -- just as if they had been able to legally marry here.

This has been true since same sex couples in New York began legally marrying in Canada in 2003. Gov. David Paterson drew much more attention to this quirk in New York law last year, though, when he ordered state departments and agencies to report on how they were complying with it.

Like all other same-sex married couples, New Yorkers lack federal rights associated with marriage due to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Sen. Charles Schumer, who voted for that anti-gay bill, this year became the last statewide official to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, joining Paterson, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who announced her support the day the governor picked her to succeed Sen. Clinton, who does not support same-sex marriage.

Serving a Community

Beyond the political arena, New York has played central roles in the development of the LGBT community, especially in the arts (a whole other column) but also in the provision of services.

Lambda Legal Defense, founded in 1973 in New York as the first legal group devoted to defending gay rights, now has offices around the country.

The New York LGBT movement, which I was very much a part of, was tragically rather weak when the syndrome that came to be called AIDS was first noticed in 1981. AIDS devastated the gay community but also led to development of a vast gay social services establishment starting with the Gay Men's Health Crisis co-founded by Larry Kramer and five others. Kramer went on to give a speech in 1987 that sparked the creation of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power or ACT UP, a group dominated by dying gay men and supportive lesbians who radicalized activism again and changed forever the way people with diseases advocate for what they need to survive. ACT UP chapters spread around the world, and the New York contingent still has a few stalwarts carrying the torch of AIDS activism.

New York City had the first predominately gay, lesbian and transgendered high school with Harvey Milk High School founded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBT youth in 1985. Its continued existence is testimony to the fact that many mainstream city schools are still not safe places for such students. The institute itself, where I once worked as director of education, was founded to advocate for these youth in 1979 by the late Damien Martin and Emery Hetrick.

New York's SAGE -- for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders -- was the first U.S. group for older gays and lesbians in 1978.

Gay journalists founded the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 1985 to fight anti-gay defamation in the media, especially at the New York Post. Originally a fierce watchdog, it has gone on to become a largely West Coast operation famous for big annual dinners honoring positive LGBT portrayals in the media. Such has been the arc of the movement.

Joining the Establishment

For better or worse, the political movement has become much more institutionalized, too. None of the early activists, from the Gay Liberation Front in 1969 to the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, with which I worked in the 1970s and '80s, had paid staff. The National Gay Task Force (now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) began to change that in 1973. Its executive director, Bruce Voeller, received a (modest) salary, and it favored the suits of lobbyists over jeans, t-shirts and the "zap" actions of the Gay Activist Alliance. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force now has offices all over the country with a major presence in New York.

In New York, the Empire State Pride Agenda with paid lobbyists in New York and Albany and organizers around the state, dominates the movement in New York politics. The city also has lots of LGBT political clubs, mostly Democratic but also the Log Cabin Republicans.

Diverse New York has also had a wealth of racial and ethnic LGBT groups, including the defunct Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization whose exclusion from the St. Patrick's Parade sparked international campaigns for LGBT Irish people seeking to participate in mainstream. (Now gay Irish can march in the parade in Dublin and Queens but still not Manhattan's.) There are also groups for people of color such as the Audre Lorde Project, named for the late lesbian poet laureate of the state. Virtually every major religious sect has an LGBT caucus of some kind.

Beyond the City

Stonewall, while a spontaneous reaction to police abuse, resulted from the liberationist and anti-war activism that was in the air in 1969 along with the actions of individual LGBT folk at the bar and in the street that night who collectively reacted with anger to the latest indignity to which they were subjected.

Forty years later, New York City still beckons as somewhat of a Mecca for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, though it has become too expensive for many young people just starting out and less than hospitable when you look at the recent false arrests of gay men for prostitution. At the very least, New York and its gay and lesbian residents sparked a nascent movement that spread across the country and around the globe. Their effort made it easier for millions of people to live open and satisfying LGBT lives -- without moving to New York.

Andy Humm, a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights, has been in charge of the civil rights topic page since its inception in 2001.



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Gotham Gazette: What To Do When The L Train Closes What To Do When The L Train Closes Gotham Gazette: To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers Gotham Gazette: Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.