Gotham Gazette

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Civil Rights

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 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.

The Citizen: Sotomayor's Impact

White House photo (c) Pete Souza

Although there is debate over whether Sonia Sotomayor's parents are immigrants -- they came from Puerto Rico -- little doubt exists that many immigrants cheered the Bronx native's nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama.

"Sotomayor represents the aspiration of immigrants currently in the U.S.," said Columbus Caribbean. "Her background is not atypical of many first generation born Caribbean immigrants who have parents of humble roots... Her mother, who worked as a nurse, a popular career choice for many Caribbean immigrants, raised her and nurtured her passion for learning."

"This is a Jackie Robinson moment," Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican elected to the New York Legislature, told the Times. "Puerto Ricans, who have been Hispanic pioneers in so many fields in this country, have broken another barrier for all of us."

A young Sotomayor

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, himself the son of Cuban immigrants, said Sotomayor's choice would help "diversify a bench that has never truly reflected the diversity of our society."

Amid the praise for Sotomayor's selection, however, a few commentators raised the issue of immigration reform and noted the Obama administration has still not acted to change the country's immigration laws.

Saying Latino groups have been "grumbling somewhat" about "the fact that immigration reform doesn't appear to be on the White House's front-burner," Chuck Todd of NBC continued, "This pick buys Obama A LOT of time with Hispanics... on immigration and other issues."

Meanwhile, in Sotomayor's home town of New York, immigrants prepared for the upcoming City Council races, grappled with the continuing economic recession, worked to oust a member of the city's Commission on Women's Issues and helped West Point cadets learn English. These and other stories from the Spanish, Bangladeshi, Russian, Polish, Korean and Chinese press, via our partner, Voices that Must be Heard:

The Sotomayor Nomination, El Diario / La Prensa
Among many other things, the story of Sonia Sotomayor, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, is the story of the generation that left the homeland blind in the faith that their children would have a better shot here in the United States. Her story has particular resonance for Latina women who struggled for their children's success.

Koreans Push to Elect City Councilmember, Korea Times
As four Korean-Americans run for City Council seats -- and hope to become the first Koreans on the council -- the NY Korea Times spoke with community leaders about the candidates, the issues and the election.

Kelly Denies Watching Mosques, Weekly Thikana
With imams and Muslim devotees concerned that mosques might be under police watch, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Bangladeshi Muslims in a Brooklyn mosque that the police are not immigration agents and that no mosques are under police surveillance.

Mexican Community Pushed for Official's Resignation, El Diario de Mexico
The Mexican-American community scored a victory in their successful push to oust Betsy Perry, who was appointed to the city Commission on Women's Issues by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Perry, who had written a column calling Mexicans "bandit swine flu carriers," among other insults, resigned.

Greenpoint Seeks Promised Parks, Nowy Dziennik
In 2005, the Bloomberg administration rezoned parts of Brooklyn's Polish neighborhood and, as part of the deal, promised to create new parks and sports fields. Now -- years later -- those promises remain unfulfilled.

Fleeing Recession, Irish Come Here, Irish Voice
As bad as the economy may be here, it's worse in Ireland, prompting an increase in young undocumented Irish workers in the area. Many want change in immigration law to allow them to work in the United States.

In Tough Times, Some Bangladeshis Turn to Gambling, Weekly Thikana
Despite the arrests of three chronic gamblers, unauthorized gambling joints are popping up in New York City neighborhoods with a strong Bangladeshi presence as many Bangladeshis look to betting to supplement their earnings or to make a living.

Recession Forces Some Immigrants to the Streets, El Diario de Mexico
For years many immigrants with jobs providing a regular income could turn up their noses at odd jobs. Now, the situation is so precarious for some that they seek out that work and have even lost their homes.

With Suicide Increasing, Few Counseling Centers Serve Koreans, Korea Times
The economic depression and difficulties of immigrant life have sparked an increase in suicides among New York's Korean community. Meanwhile, New York has only three nonprofit treatment facilities for Koreans, leading to waits of up to three months for an appointment.

Mentoring Mexican-American Children, El Diario de Mexico
For nearly a decade, a volunteer task force of young Mexican-Americans has worked to identify low-income children in immigrant families and connect them to role models in the hopes of building bridges between the Mexican community and the educational system.

In Chinese Community, School Report Card Get Low Marks, Sing Tao
Many Chinese parents pay little attention to the report cards the Department of Education issues on each school because of their weak stance on student academic performance.

West Point Cadets Practice Russian in Brighton Beach, V Novom Svete
People in Brighton Beach recently were surprised to see large groups of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The students were not there simply to enjoy the boardwalk. Under an agreement with the Shorefront Y Jewish Center, West Point periodically sends students studying Russian to practice the language with Russian-speaking residents of Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

A Retreat on False Arrests from Chelsea to Bushwick

One case involves middle-aged gay men at adult bookstores. The other concerns black and Latino teenagers on their way to a wake. One centers around Manhattan, the other in Bushwick.

Both cases, however, involve false arrests and possible abuses of police power. And in the two instances the police and district attorney have had to retreat from their original stands, although many questions and concerns remain.


In February, this column looked at what Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian, called a pattern of "false arrests" of middle-aged gay men for prostitution at adult bookstores. The city was apparently using the arrests in an effort to close the businesses under the nuisance abatement laws. Duncan Osborne of the Gay City News uncovered the pattern.

Now, law enforcement -- from the police department to the Manhattan district attorney's office -- appears to be stepping back from those arrests.

By mid-April, six men who had pleaded guilty to minor charges had met with the district attorney's office to have their cases reviewed. There were concerns, Osborne reported, that while "at least 30 men were busted in at least six Manhattan porn shops last year, the district attorney" appears to be reviewing only the arrests made by one undercover officer. The office, Osborne said, was not looking into other suspicious arrests at "spas, private apartments, and on the street in the West Village and in Midtown."

That district attorney's action follows weeks of furor over the arrests. At Quinn's behest, police brass met with the Coalition to Stop the Arrests (now called the Campaign to Stop the False Arrests) on Feb. 11, led by Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who claims he was falsely arrested in October in the East Village by a young undercover cop who at first asked him for consensual sex and then accused him of soliciting prostitution. Despite protesting his innocence, Pinter pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct to avoid a heavier charge on the advice of his lawyer at Legal Aid, who was not aware of the pattern of false arrests.

Demonstrators protested against the arrests on Feb. 14 at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Upper East Side residence and on Feb. 21 in Sheridan Square, near the site of the Stonewall Inn. Forty years ago next month, that gay bar was the scene of the Stonewall Rebellion that catalyzed the modern gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement as patrons of the bar fought back against police harassment.

An astounding 66 percent of those arrested at the bookstores that the city wanted closed were over 42 even though only 17 percent of prostitutes arrested citywide are over 42 years of age. The police department is not answering questions about why they would use a use a young, good-looking cop to snare alleged prostitutes when most sex workers are young and seeking older clients.

A Pattern of Denial

Initially, the police department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the arrests. When I asked Bloomberg at a Feb. 7 press conference about the issue, he said, "Some of the men arrested pleaded guilty. Whether or not they really were or not, the investigation continues. I don't think I have to justify my devotion to tolerance, but there are laws and if you break the laws the police department is going to enforce the laws."

Asked about the disproportionate number of men over 42 arrested, Bloomberg joked, "Careful, don't criticize people over 42 years old."

Bloomberg said he had not personally looked at the pattern of arrests and added, "The police department is looking at it, and you can rest assured that Speaker Quinn is working with our administration to take a look and make sure that whatever was done was done correctly."

Shortly after that, police spokesperson Paul Browne told the New York Times that police were not targeting gay men. However, he continued, police officials and activists agreed at a meeting "that the police should address quality-of-life issues and illegal activity ... in a way that reassures the gay community that none of its members are being targeted because they are gay."

Change of Course

In March, the New York Post reported that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had called the head of the department's Organized Crime Control Bureau, which oversees the vice squad, to police headquarters. They decided, the paper said, that any further operations would have to be cleared by bureau chief Anthony Izzo.

The office of the district attorney, which prosecuted the cases, also seemed to acknowledge mistakes. On March 6, Pinter and other activists met with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau at the behest of out gay State Sen. Thomas Duane. Joey Nelson of the Queer Justice League told the Gay City News "The first thing Morgenthau said was, 'we're going to investigate all these cases.'"

"They weren't trying to cover things up or hide," Pinter told the paper. "Morgenthau himself brought up that he has prosecuted police over 300 times in his career." However, Linda Proust Lopez, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid, told the paper she was "disappointed" that the office was not expanding its investigation to include "all of the male prostitution arrests made by these undercovers."

At the meeting, Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian, were reportedly "very outspoken" about what they see as the anti-gay nature of the arrests.

The District Attorney's Office said that it does not comment on ongoing investigations, but a reliable source was told by the office that "they are first investigating the people who pleaded not guilty and after that they will investigate the people who pleaded guilty -- like Rob Pinter," who has just filed a motion to vacate his conviction.

Pinter said that Morgenthau promised to investigate, but Pinter is frustrated with the pace of the investigations. "Maybe they are going to call in everyone else [who was arrested under these circumstances], but it seems very slow," he said.

Osborne also reported that the District Attorney's Office denied his Freedom of Information filing for details on the cases, based on the fact that they are being "re-investigated." The paper is appealing the denial.

Open Issues

The administration still has not provided a full account of the status of the sting operation and those who carried it out.

The police department did not respond to e-mailed questions about the investigation into the officers who made the arrests or whether these men are still conducting the operation.

The mayor's press office did not answer an e-mail asking whether Bloomberg has looked into the arrests. It also did not respond to a query about why the police department reportedly withdrew its nuisance complaint into Chelsea's Unicorn DVD bookstore -- a complaint based on these arrests -- just two weeks after it was cleared to go to trial by Judge Michael D. Stallman.

When Osborne asked Bloomberg on May 1 if City Hall had approved the stings, the mayor passed the buck to the police department. "I've heard people are worried about it, have concern about it," he said. Gay City News is seeking details of the cases from the department under the Freedom of Information Law.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez has been among those urging the mayor to look deeper into the cases. "The mayor has an election and doesn't want to lose votes," she said. "We need to put on more pressure to see what happens with those officers. From what I'm being told, the police overstepped their boundaries and did not have sufficient information to leap to the position that these were prostitutes."

Then there are the larger issues. "The arrests in porn stores are part of a larger and wider war on sexual civil liberties in New York," veteran gay activist Bill Dobbs said. He expressed concern that the current protests by the Campaign to Stop the False Arrests are not taking on that bigger issue.


Two years ago, police arrested a group of 32 young people of color on their way to the subway in Bushwick to attend a friend's wake. At the time, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes defended the arrests. The young people "were not just walking on one car, they were trampling on all sorts of cars," Hynes said at the time. "It was almost as if they were inviting arrest." Kelly also reportedly said the kids were yelling, blocking traffic and climbing on cars.

Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times who drew attention to the case in his column, soon cast doubt on the police statements, speaking with witnesses who completely disputed the police account.

Now, although the city has admitted no wrongdoing on the part of the police, the charges against the 32 have been dropped. Additionally, the 16 young people who sued the city reached settlements in April of between $9,000 and $23,000 each.

These young people not only had Herbert and witnesses on their side. Some of them were members of Make the Road New York, a civil rights and community empowerment group with bases in Bushwick as well as Queens and Staten Island. It held a press conference to announce the settlements on April 19 outside police headquarters.

Michael Scolnick, a civil rights attorney who represented the young people, said those arrested "were being orderly -- not even acting like children normally do" when walking in the street because they were mourning.

Some of the young people, he said, were accompanied by their parents. Those parents, according to Scolnick, "were told [by the police] to 'shut the fuck up and get out of the way or we'll arrest you too.' One [parent] hollered out, 'don't anybody run. You didn't do anything.'"

The fact that the youth stuck together and did not panic or flee probably led to their rare exoneration.

Scolnick said that the settlement "was compensation for alleged violations of their civil rights," which included being handcuffed to pipes or the Snapple machine after arrest at the 83rd Precinct. Some were held for more than a day.

When Scolnick met with the young people to review the settlement he told them, "You all behaved in a sane, responsible way. You refused to accept an ACD [Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal]. You did not plead guilty. You have a lot to be proud of. You whipped the system in criminal and civil court."

"The NYPD and DA had it in for these youth because of the fact that they live in a low-income community," said Oona Chatterjee, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. "They didn't hesitate to lie about these youth in the press. Now they are faced with the consequences." She added, "They wouldn't have done this if these kids were from the Upper East Side."

Jesus Gonzalez of Make the Road New York said the group has trained about 200 young people in what their rights are in these situations. Given the hundreds of thousands of youth of color who have been subjected to a stop-and-frisk by the police, it seems many public school students might benefit from such a training progra.


I've written this column for more than seven years, but recently have developed a conflict that readers are entitled to know about. One of my jobs is with Bill Lynch Associates, a consulting firm that has lately taken on representing City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is running for mayor against Bloomberg. I don't think that I would have written this column any differently if I didn't work for the firm. Whether I have agreed or disagreed with a public official or candidate, I have always tried to be fair in reporting on them. But readers are entitled to know when some of my income is derived from a source profiting from politicians competing with anyone I write about and this story could not be written without covering Bloomberg's role.

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. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The Citizen

With the U.S. Census -- the decennial count of all of us -- slated for next year, New York officials already are taking steps to insure immigrants include themselves in the tally.

"In a city with approximately 500,000 illegal residents -- potentially more than 5 percent of the population -- getting an accurate count has been a challenge," the Queens Tribune reported recently. The task has prompted the Bloomberg administration to alert immigrants -- documented or not - that being counted will not put them at any risk.

Applauding the Polish-American Congress for encouraging Poles to be counted, the Polish language paper Nowy Dziennik said, "The count results can visibly help or harm each one of us." A full enumeration is particularly vital in these tough economic times, the paper continued, when population figures could determine who gets what funds for social programs.

Meanwhile, another counting -- this one of the unemployed - paints a picture of continued hard times, particularly for the city's immigrants. As the city unemployment rate increases, "indicators suggest that the population without working papers is faring even worse," Andrew Silverstein wrote in City Limits. He reported from Woodside, Queens, where dozens stand "competing for low-skilled jobs in construction, carpentry, moving and cleaning. They used to get picked up for day jobs - but now they just keep waiting. The lack of work has led some to become homeless."

In the restaurant industry, a recent report found widespread discrimination against immigrants -- making them particularly vulnerable as that industry sees fewer patrons and smaller tabs.

But there was some humor last month. In one of the few national television appearances by a New York City Council member since the Daily Show's Jon Stewart showed footage of Allan Jennings hurling an object at a reporter, John Liu got a shout out on Saturday Night Live earlier this month. And Liu wasn't even doing something dumb. Instead the Queens politician, now running for comptroller, was demanding "that a Texas lawmaker apologize for saying that Asian-American voters should adopt names that are, quote, 'easier for Americans to deal with.'" SNL's Seth Meyers continued, "Liu was shouted down by fellow Asian Councilman Cowboy Baseball."

And here's a roundup of stories on the economy, education, politics and other hot topics, selected from the Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Bangladeshi press via our partner, Voices that Must be Heard:

Wanted: Lawyers for Immigrants, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
In Manhattan, which has perhaps the largest corps of lawyers in the world, hundreds of poor immigrants sitting in an immigration detention center are unable to find an attorney who will help them avoid deportation.

As Economy Declines, African Immigrants Consider Return Home, African Abroad
Finding it difficult to ask for help and getting little assistance from the economic stimulus package and other government programs, many African immigrants wonder whether they should give up on their American dream.

More Latinos Going to Food Pantries, El Diario/La Prensa
As the economic recession worsens and more people lose their jobs, the number of Latinos showing up at churches and food pantries has increased considerably, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and other agencies that donate food.

Hard Times for Small Businesses, El Diario/La Prensa
For evidence that the city's small businesses are disappearing, one only has to walk down Fordham Road in the Bronx.

Bias in City Restaurants, World Journal
Only about 55 percent of minority restaurant employees believe they have the same opportunities in the industry as their white counterparts, according to a new study released by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. Although three quarters of restaurant workers are minorities, white employees tends to make more money, have higher positions and receive bigger bonuses.

Union Urges Boycott of Restaurant, Sing Tao Daily
The Nice Restaurant -- renamed the Splendor Restaurant -- in Manhattan's Chinatown has not reopened yet but members of the 318 Restaurant Workers' Union picket the premises, accusing the owner of discriminating against union workers.

Pakistani Americans Consider City-Wide Campaign, Urdu Times
Two Pakistani Muslims have launched campaigns for citywide municipal office, with Imtiaz Sayyid a candidate for public advocate, and Saleem Ejaz running for comptroller.

An Election You Might Have Missed, NY Korea Times
The contest for the New York Korean Association cut across racial and ethnic barriers to generate excitement, interest and participation. "This local Korean election campaign has everybody excited. The streets are full of music, and people are dancing and having fun," said one Bronx resident -- not a Korean.

Students Asked About Immigration Status, Weekly Thikana
In a violation of New York City regulations, school officials are asking students about their immigration status when they fill out lunch forms and other school-related documents.

Polish Schools Face Declining Enrollment, Nowy Dziennik/Polish Daily News
As Poles move away from traditional Polish neighborhoods, schools that teach Polish language, culture and heritage have seen their student bodies shrink, forcing principals to struggle to make ends meet and attract pupils.

Immigrant Students Learning English, El Diario de Mexico
More English language learners in New York City public schools have achieved proficiency in English than was the case in 2003, according to a report by the city Department of Education.

Schools Offer Few Services to Immigrants, World Journal
Most immigrants with children in New York City's public schools cannot participate in school activities because of language barriers -- even though the city Department of Education requires that schools provide parents with translation services, according to a recent report.

The Pothole That Ate Koreatown, New York Korea Times
Well not quite, but the pavement on 32nd Street in Manhattan is uneven and so plagued with huge craters that merchants have placed makeshift "bridges" over the potholes in front of their stores.

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