The Seattle Globalist http://www.seattleglobalist.com Where Seattle Meets the World Fri, 31 Oct 2014 21:56:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Dear White People: Why I still watch every movie about black people http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/31/dear-white-people-black-film-representation/30280 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/31/dear-white-people-black-film-representation/30280#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 21:46:20 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30280 Dear White People review

“Dear white people, the minimum requirement of black friends in order to not seem racist has been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man Tyrone does not count.”

From the first time I saw the trailer, I knew this was a movie I had to see. Set at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League institution, racial tensions run high and the drama is narrated by film major Sam White through her campus radio show “Dear White People.”

Like any burgeoning filmmaker, Sam is constantly trying to tell a story, in this case the tale of being a person of color in a predominantly white environment. Her public persona of being that beautifully articulate angry black woman is tempered with the complexities of her various other identities, particularly the parts of herself and her story that she is reluctant to disclose.

The pacing is quick, the dialogue is bitingly honest, and the characters are nuanced. I sat between my dad and my bestie in a sparsely populated, but mostly white audience, yukking unabashedly at scenes the most of the other people in the theatre seemed too uncomfortable to laugh at.

There is a “did they really just say that” feeling to this movie, partly because so much of it is composed of what doesn’t get said in mixed company. There were cringe-worthy moments, but I’m not giving any spoilers.

Almost more fascinating than the movie itself has been the dialogue surrounding it. First there was the lead up on Facebook. Writer and director Justin Simien used social media to crowd fund the project, so while it’s just now out in theaters I feel like I have been thinking about and talking about this movie for months.

Now that it’s here the conversation has shifted from ‘Who’s going to see it?’ ‘What day?’ ‘What time?’ ‘Can we go as a group,’ to the critical acclaim mixed with the reactionary diatribes: the characters were too simplified, the plot line was too predictable, there should have been more nuance and subtlety because microaggressions are more true to the daily racism most of us experience.

“Dear White People” apparently is not a movie you can simply like or dislike. By taking a stance you are making a political statement.

It reminds me of the reason I only watch Tyler Perry movies in the privacy of my own home. Me saying I like Madea is like outing myself as someone who is promoting the perpetuation of negative black stereotypes. Tyler Perry has made some cringe worthy movies. God knows I get tired of the formulaic victimized women and Christian savior, but let’s face it, whether it’s Tyler Perry or Spike Lee (who I really hate), if there is a movie with black people in it made by black people, if it doesn’t involve slavery, I am probably going to see it.

Why? At the beginning of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem “For colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf there is a stanza that sums it up:

“somebody/ anybody

sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/ struggle/ hard times

sing her song of life

she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice.”

 

I don’t watch Madea movies because I identify with “her” or really any of the characters. I watch them because like many others I am simply starved to see my own reflection, to hear my own voice. “Dear White People,” a movie about black people in white spaces, hit that mark. I have been that angry black girl. I have been the awkward nerdy black kid with unreasonably large hair that white people keep trying to touch (I believe the reference to petting zoo comment came from one of my poems — though I can’t prove it).

The characters I identified less with, like the dean and his perfect preppy son with his creepy, not cute, white girlfriend or the president and his racist over-privileged son, also all felt like people I knew during my time at a prestigious university in New York state.

But even after thoroughly enjoying this movie, from the witty satire, to the cinematography, to the excellent acting, I left feeling sad because it’s 2014 and I am still excited to see a movie about black people. I mean seriously, this whole underrepresentation thing is supposed to be over, like racism, and all the other isms that white people say have ended. Guess not.

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US citizenship just out of reach, Marshall Islanders fight for food aid http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/31/marshall-islands-food-assistance-citizenship-washington/30261 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/31/marshall-islands-food-assistance-citizenship-washington/30261#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30261 A beachside building in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands. (Photo by Mrlins from Flickr)

A beachside building in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands. (Photo by Mrlins from Flickr)

Hispanic immigrants are the face of contemporary immigration in the United States. But the greater Seattle area, sometimes referred to as “hyper-diverse,” is home to communities of people from a wide range of countries — including some you may not have heard of.

“My kids need to know where they come from,” says Jiji Jally of Lacey. Originally from the Marshall Islands, an island country about half-way between Hawaii and Australia, Jally works as an Marshallese language interpreter and serves as an advocate in her free time.

“I try to speak from the heart when I talk about my community,” she says, referencing the small but growing population of Marshall Islanders who live in the greater Seattle area.

Most Marshallese families in Washington live in Auburn (where there’s even an apartment complex known as “Marshall Town”), as well as in Federal Way, Kent and Everett (there’s also a significant community in Spokane).

And they’re a group that needs advocates — caught between a troubled history and the strange immigration no-man’s land they live in as a result.

The U.S. invaded the islands during World War II (it was under Japanese occupation at the time) and went on to use the islands for nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s. These tests resulted in contamination and evacuations of parts of the islands. Decades of attempts to secure compensation for Marshallese communities have followed.

Mushroom cloud from the largest nuclear test the United States ever conducted, in 1954 on the Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. (Photo via U.S. Dept. of Energy)

Mushroom cloud from the largest nuclear test the United States ever conducted, in 1954 on the Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. (Photo via U.S. Dept. of Energy)

In 1986 the Marshall Islands entered into a “Compact of Free Association” with the United States. This agreement means, among other things, that Marshall Islanders are able to travel, live, work and attend school in the U.S. indefinitely and without visas.

A number of Marshallese have responded, fleeing few education and employment opportunities back home, and as of the 2010 census, over 22,000 Marshallese are now living in the United States (a three-fold increase since 2000).

But this special immigration status, which is shared with other tiny island countries Micronesia and Palau, also means exclusion from certain government benefits — including food assistance.

“Benefits wise, we’re being cut off and not understood by benefit services,” says Jally “And it’s all because we’re not citizens.”

That wasn’t always the case, says Linda Stone, Food Policy Director at the Children’s Alliance, an organization that works on food security and other issues that impact children in our region. Stone says that Welfare Reform in 1996 cut many immigrants off from government benefits. And while much of that assistance was restored to immigrant groups (like refugees and asylees) a few (including those under Compacts of Free Association) remain excluded.

“Putting food on the table it gets hard… you think ‘ok, we’ll do what we have to do to stretch’ but sometimes I worry they’re not getting what they need,” says Jally who currently cares for seven children (five of them nieces and nephews sent here for school by relatives back in “the Marshalls”), “I worry that they’re… deprived.”

In 1997 Washington state responded by establishing a state funded program called the State Food Assistance Program to provide food stamps to these excluded groups. The Food Assistance Program — which currently serves 15,000 people in Washington state — was saved from proposed elimination in 2010, but the last four years have reduced benefits to 75% of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP).

“Providing a different level of assistance to one group because they have a different immigration status isn’t fair and isn’t right,” says Stone who’s organization is promoting a campaign to have full food assistance benefits restored to these groups this year, “And it’s not what we do in Washington state.”

And while a 25% cut may seem like a compromise in the face of possible elimination, the impact is being deeply felt according to Emijah Smith who works with the Marshallese community through Children’s Alliance, “It really comes down to do I pay my electrical bill or do I buy food? Do I buy my child’s school supplies or food? Do I go to…the doctor or food? Rent or food?”

Jally says those choices are all too familiar in her own life.

“I think it’s every kid’s right to not be hungry, not to have to think about food.”

No matter their status.

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Ukrainian transplants find unity in crisis http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/30/ukraine-russia-immigrants-identity-crisis-donbass/29861 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/30/ukraine-russia-immigrants-identity-crisis-donbass/29861#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:06:02 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29861 (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

The author’s tattoo of the Tryzub, the Ukrainian coat of arms. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

When I went under the needle for the second time shortly after my 18th birthday, I was another tattoo obsessed teenager looking to annoy my parents. Conveniently, my thirst for rebellion coincided with my desire to preserve my ethnic roots and honor my homeland.

With a brand new American passport and an eloquent English vocabulary, I hungered to somehow show the world that my blood was Ukrainian.

So I branded myself with the ‘Tryzub,’ the Ukrainian coat of arms which represents a trident, a gyrfalcon, and the word voyla, Ukrainian for ‘freedom.’

I never thought that the ink under my skin would transform into one of the most important political symbols of my time.

“Before February, we were all very close as people,” said Michael Pedchenko while sipping on a cup of strawberry-kiwi tea. Since the beginning of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, Pedchenko, like many Seattleites, combed through his Facebook and unfriended certain individuals in order to avoid conflict.

“The small group of radical, [Russian] ultra-patriots who advocated for Ukrainians to be put in their place or crushed with tanks had to go,” he said.

With the war in Eastern Ukraine raging on for six months now, Seattle’s booming Ukrainian population and a large network of Russian speakers from across the former Soviet Union have felt their communities strained by the conflict.

“I always thought I would move back to Moscow. I have lots of friends there and no Ukrainian accent; I could blend in. But I don’t want that anymore,” said Pedchenko. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

“I always thought I would move back to Moscow. I have lots of friends there and no Ukrainian accent; I could blend in. But I don’t want that anymore,” said Pedchenko. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Though born in the southeastern city of Zaporizhia, Ukraine, Pedchenko never hesitated to label himself a Russian. Studying at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, he called Russia his home for eight years and admitted to not recognizing a clear line of distinction between the two ethnic identities, a common mindset for Soviet-born individuals.

“Now, I feel myself completely as a Ukrainian,” he said. “I feel deeply connected to my nation and people in a way I never have before.”

Indeed, a previously latent sense of national pride is surfacing in the behaviors and attitudes of many ethnic Ukrainians.

Mariya and Petro Ksondzyk, a newlywed Ukrainian couple, proudly showed off the massive Ukrainian flag hanging over their staircase, as well as their vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian embroidered clothing) and a refrigerator door cluttered with the many emblems of their homeland.

Mariya laughs about her husband’s enthusiasm to wear his favorite traditional Ukrainian shirt. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Mariya laughs about her husband’s enthusiasm to wear his favorite traditional Ukrainian shirt. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Ukrainian-born UW student Olga Rublinetska likewise dedicated an entire wall of her living room to the flag, an enduring representation of her cultural identity. And, for the past ten months, the bright red door of my own apartment has been offset by the sunflower-yellow and sky-blue of a miniature Ukrainian flag.

The ethos of the pre-war atmosphere could be captured by the phrase ‘not all Russians are Ukrainians, but all Ukrainians are Russians.’ But now, the increasingly popular sentiment in the community is that all Ukrainians are just that — Ukrainian.

“My parents used to identify themselves as Russians because they spoke the language, and we all thought that was okay,” said Rublinetska, who left her hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine with her family 13 years ago. “But now I always tell people that I am Ukrainian, that I am not Russian at all.”

“For me, there was never a difference between Ukrainians and Russians, besides the language,” said Mr. Ksondzyk, who spoke to me in Russian and is originally from the western Ukrainian city of Lvov. “Now, if someone asks me if I am Russian, I will always correct them and tell them that I am from Ukraine.”

His wife, who was born in the Eastern city of Donetsk, now home to the infamous Donetsk People’s Republic, added that her dislike of being identified as Russian is a new sensation.

Rublinetska proudly stands in front of her flag. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Rublinetska proudly stands in front of her flag. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

A lack of respect for the growing Ukrainian identity is one of the main stressors on local Ukrainian-Russian ties, suggested Pedchenko.

It’s not uncommon for people from the former Soviet Union to feel belittled by a Russian desire to subsume all relevant national identities into a monolithic Russian one, just like back in the Soviet era.

“All Russians have nicknames for the people who tried to chip off from their influence,” Pedchenko said, referencing an increasing tendency by Russians to identify Ukrainians as “khokhols,” a degrading ethnic slur.

One source of these tendencies seems to be what everyone I talked to called ‘the propaganda machine’ of Russian media.

“I am really surprised to see how the propaganda machine there works, even on people living here,” said Sergey Krasnovsky. An American resident for the past 16 years, he identifies himself as a Ukrainian despite his background: 50 percent Russian, 25 percent Polish and 25 percent Ukrainian.

In spite of the tension back home, he’s found a way to stay on good terms with fellow transplants with a Russian background.

“I am the captain of a volleyball team in Bellevue and we have two Russians, two Belarusians, me — a Ukrainian — and a Lithuanian guy,” said Krasnovsky. “We are still all friends. We understand that it’s not between Russian people, but just Putin and his plan.”

Many Russians, outraged by the actions of their countrymen, have sought refuge in the comfort of the strengthening Ukrainian community in Seattle. Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova, who wrote for ‘Novaya Gazeta,’ one of the last independent, liberal newspapers dedicated to investigating corruption within Russian political and social affairs, feels that she can never come back to her country.

“I feel like my homeland is physically not there anymore. Not that I’ve left it, but that it has ceased to exist,” she said in Russian, gloom discoloring the tone of her voice over the phone.

Pedchenko’s T-shirt is just one example of the Ukrainian community’s unprecedented desire to show off their heritage. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Pedchenko’s T-shirt is just one example of the Ukrainian community’s unprecedented desire to show off their heritage. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

Despite the difficulty of her job and persistent pressure from the spying eyes and ears of the Kremlin, Kirillova never intended to leave her homeland. She felt a profound obligation to serve those citizens pursuing truth and freedom in the face of corruption. She felt tied to her place in the world. But six months ago she left, unable to recognize her country or its values.

“I’ve befriended so many Ukrainians here; they took me in with open arms,” she began. “Right now, writing for Ukrainian sites and supporting the Ukrainian people is my main passion. Ukraine has become my second homeland, because my real homeland is gone.”

Along with two friends, Kirillova helped organize Seattle for Peace: Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, United against Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine, a peace march from City Hall to the Russian Consulate which brought out over two hundred supporters.

Such involvement with relief and support efforts at home and overseas is one result of the strengthening Ukrainian identity in Seattle.

Sergey Krasnovsky, who was late to our meeting after picking up a pair of combat boots to send to Ukrainian soldiers with his nephew, constantly volunteers for a grassroots group called “Come Back Alive.” Concentrating its efforts on the 95th Brigade, currently stationed in Donetsk, this organization helps raise funds to deliver high tech equipment like night-vision and thermo-vision devices to the underfunded, undersupplied Ukrainian Army.

“The reason I was late was because I drove to Seattle to pick up boots. Tomorrow I’m going to drive to Olympia to pick up suits for soldiers,” said Krasnovsky holding up the shoe box. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

“The reason I was late was because I drove to Seattle to pick up boots. Tomorrow I’m going to drive to Olympia to pick up suits for soldiers,” said Krasnovsky holding up the shoe box. (Photo by Kseniya Sovenko)

“How do the Ukrainian separatists have tanks when the national army can’t even clothe its soldiers?” he asked. “You wouldn’t believe it, but the pilots over there were flying with maps from the 1960s. We raised enough donations to get them GPS devices.”

Responsible for collecting money in all electronic forms, Krasnovsky has watched streams of donations trickle in from all over the world — the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan. Some currencies he had to look up, he admits.

Still, though the group receives donations at a generally steady rate of $1,000 a day, those funds are not enough to counter the power of the Russian army. Whenever he can, Krasnovsky also ships his old laptops and first aid items through a network of frequent flyers between the two countries.

“Just because we are far away doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” said Rublinetska. “There’s such a strong sense of the Ukrainian community coming together here. In reality, we can make an impact.”

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Don’t tease the bear: Why we Russians love Putin more than ever http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/30/russians-love-putin-crimea-ukraine/30234 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/30/russians-love-putin-crimea-ukraine/30234#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:25:43 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30234 (Photo from Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)(Photo from Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

Vladimir Putin has been making plenty of headlines since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis last November — and never in a good light.

Whenever a new crisis hits the news, from the Malaysia plane crash, to street battles in Odessa, to the controversial aid convoy this summer, it’s cited as another example of Russian aggression masterminded by Putin.

And with President Obama’s UN speech last month where he he ranked Russia among the top threats to world peace, it’s starting to sound a lot like the Cold War era all over again.

After watching Russian friends and families tear each other apart on social media all winter, and hearing conflicting news stories coming out of Ukraine and Crimea, I was dying to find out for myself what’s really going on.

I grew up in Russia before moving to Seattle as a teen, and every summer for the past four years, I’ve traveled back to different parts of the country to visit. The majority of people I’d encounter would have negative opinions of President Putin’s policies and the general situation in Russia. Many talked of immigrating to Europe or the U.S. someday.

However, this last visit was different. All the new people I met along the way praised their president’s actions in the Ukrainian crisis — and some old acquaintances that used to curse at the sound of Putin’s name are now completely supporting him.

To understand their change of heart, you have to look at things from the Russian point of view. Ukraine is not just a neighboring country and an economic partner to Russians. It’s much closer as many Russians have relatives there —myself included — and the two share so much history. Most Russians see the escalation of the conflict as perpetrated from the Western side.

“Why would Russia purposefully destabilize its neighboring country Ukraine?” said Anton Sergeev, 22, from the Moscow region. “That doesn’t make any sense. If you take a look at the U.S. and NATO plans for Ukraine it becomes clear who would profit from this tragedy.”

Anton Sergeev, who moved from Crimea to Moscow, says he supports Putin and the Russian annexation. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Anton Sergeev, who moved from Crimea to Moscow, says he supports Putin and the Russian annexation. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Ukraine is very important to Russia geopolitically. Which way Ukraine leans can make or break Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, particularly in terms of the newly forming Eurasian Economic Union. Many Russians think that NATO’s eyeing Ukraine and Crimea to join them was the reason for Western support of the Maidan protests and the current government.

Let’s go back to March, when Crimea went from an autonomous republic in the Ukraine to a Republic to a district of the Russian Federation. The Western media called it “illegal annexation” where tanks and troops were on every street and people were more or less forced at gunpoint to vote in a referendum for union with Russia.

Russian media, on the other hand, reported that no Russian troops were present in Crimea besides those already stationed in Sevastopol, and that the Russian-speaking population needed protection from the advancement of the pro-Kiev forces. Biased coverage from all sides was filling up my news feed. I didn’t know what to trust.

So in August, I went to see for myself. I traveled to Sudak, a small town on the shore of the Black Sea with a centuries old Genoese Fortress towering over it.

The place I stayed was far from the beach, and on my walk to the sea each day, I passed Russian flags waving atop of almost every house, café, and car on the street. I

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(Photo from Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)(Photo from Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

Vladimir Putin has been making plenty of headlines since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis last November — and never in a good light.

Whenever a new crisis hits the news, from the Malaysia plane crash, to street battles in Odessa, to the controversial aid convoy this summer, it’s cited as another example of Russian aggression masterminded by Putin.

And with President Obama’s UN speech last month where he he ranked Russia among the top threats to world peace, it’s starting to sound a lot like the Cold War era all over again.

After watching Russian friends and families tear each other apart on social media all winter, and hearing conflicting news stories coming out of Ukraine and Crimea, I was dying to find out for myself what’s really going on.

I grew up in Russia before moving to Seattle as a teen, and every summer for the past four years, I’ve traveled back to different parts of the country to visit. The majority of people I’d encounter would have negative opinions of President Putin’s policies and the general situation in Russia. Many talked of immigrating to Europe or the U.S. someday.

However, this last visit was different. All the new people I met along the way praised their president’s actions in the Ukrainian crisis — and some old acquaintances that used to curse at the sound of Putin’s name are now completely supporting him.

To understand their change of heart, you have to look at things from the Russian point of view. Ukraine is not just a neighboring country and an economic partner to Russians. It’s much closer as many Russians have relatives there —myself included — and the two share so much history. Most Russians see the escalation of the conflict as perpetrated from the Western side.

“Why would Russia purposefully destabilize its neighboring country Ukraine?” said Anton Sergeev, 22, from the Moscow region. “That doesn’t make any sense. If you take a look at the U.S. and NATO plans for Ukraine it becomes clear who would profit from this tragedy.”

Anton Sergeev, who moved from Crimea to Moscow, says he supports Putin and the Russian annexation. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Anton Sergeev, who moved from Crimea to Moscow, says he supports Putin and the Russian annexation. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Ukraine is very important to Russia geopolitically. Which way Ukraine leans can make or break Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, particularly in terms of the newly forming Eurasian Economic Union. Many Russians think that NATO’s eyeing Ukraine and Crimea to join them was the reason for Western support of the Maidan protests and the current government.

Let’s go back to March, when Crimea went from an autonomous republic in the Ukraine to a Republic to a district of the Russian Federation. The Western media called it “illegal annexation” where tanks and troops were on every street and people were more or less forced at gunpoint to vote in a referendum for union with Russia.

Russian media, on the other hand, reported that no Russian troops were present in Crimea besides those already stationed in Sevastopol, and that the Russian-speaking population needed protection from the advancement of the pro-Kiev forces. Biased coverage from all sides was filling up my news feed. I didn’t know what to trust.

So in August, I went to see for myself. I traveled to Sudak, a small town on the shore of the Black Sea with a centuries old Genoese Fortress towering over it.

The place I stayed was far from the beach, and on my walk to the sea each day, I passed Russian flags waving atop of almost every house, café, and car on the street. I heard Russian anthem playing on the waterfront at night.

Having visited Crimea numerous times when it was still a part of Ukraine, I didn’t know how to feel. While I may support many of Russia’s actions in the crisis, division of a country that’s so dear to me is almost unbearable to watch. Locals, who were always ready to answer my questions, convinced me that, at least for now, Crimea becoming a part of Russia might be a good thing.

“We are just glad we don’t have the horrific war that we see in Eastern Ukraine,” said Ivan Polyakov, a tourist guide who used to box under Ukrainian flag. “Right now Russia is the best option for us.”

A Putin impersonator in Moscow's Red Square. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

A Putin impersonator in Moscow’s Red Square. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

During the 22 years under Ukraine’s rule, the Crimean economy and infrastructure suffered, and people relied on the summer season for Russian tourist wave to keep them afloat.

According to Polyakov, things are already starting to brighten up, especially after Crimea started its transition to a Russian pension system. By the end of 2014, Putin promised to complete the transition, which has already doubled salaries and pensions on the peninsula.

“My grandfather, for example, was living on a pension and income that was totaling about $500 a month,” he said. “Now, he is getting twice as much.”

Sergeev lived in Crimea for seven years before moving to Moscow, and watched it deteriorate under Ukrainian control.

“People needed changes and Russia could provide them,” Sergeev said. “You didn’t need to make people go to voting stations. It was their conscious choice.”

Western sanctions imposed in response to the Crimea crisis don’t seem to be scaring most Russians (though they did make it harder for me to attend an international youth forum held in Crimea – but that’s another story). In fact, many believe they’ll be a good thing in the long term, finally forcing Russia to invest in its domestic food market and open up Russia to new world markets such as China and Latin America.

Russia has already turned to China to weather Western sanctions. In May of this year the two nations signed a $400 billion gas deal and dozens of other energy, trade and finance deals between the two countries were inked earlier this month.

"Our answer to sanctions" A t-shirt on sale in Crimea shows Putin using his judo skills on President Obama. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

“Our answer to sanctions.” A t-shirt on sale in Crimea shows Putin using his judo skills on President Obama. (Photo by Valeria Koulikova)

Of course, not everyone in Russia is thrilled with all these changes. There are those who are cautious about Putin’s motives in Ukraine and despise the government for all of its reported corruption, greed, and tyranny. But they definitely a minority of the people I encountered on this trip.

Russia’s tarnished international reputation has had an impact on those of us living or traveling outside of the country.

My cousin told me that on her trip to Europe this summer a lot of people had a negative reaction when they learned she was Russian. One of the most memorable quotes she told me was from a guy in Rome:

“I’m not Russian, so I don’t like Putin. But if I was, I would love the man.”

With domestic support for his leadership over eighty percent, Putin must be doing something right.

A number of my Russian friends and acquaintances who grew up in the U.S. are now moving back to Russia — it’s looking a lot more appealing since Putin came to power. By many, he is seen as someone who is finally representing Russia’s interests and is challenging the unilateral world leadership currently held by the United States.

Everybody loves to see their country succeed and people don’t like to see other nations challenging their way of life. The difficult fact is that the U.S. and Russian interests collide on almost every single foreign policy issue, and it’s a pretty obvious choice for most Russians.

“Don’t tease the bear,” says Sergeev, voicing this national pride. “If you start going into its lair and poke it with a stick, not much good can come from this.”

For me, as a proud Russian with strong roots in the U.S. it’s sad to see two cultures that are part of my upbringing see each other as enemies. It might be hard to believe, but regular Americans and Russians have a lot more in common than the media and politicians lead us to believe, even if our politics put us in conflict.

And while I’m not sure yet where I’ll pursue my own future, I know from personal experience that Russia has become a much better place on Putin’s watch.

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Twitter chat on immigration, feminism and Subway sandwiches in South Asia http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/29/susi2014-twitter-chat-on-immigration/30198 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/29/susi2014-twitter-chat-on-immigration/30198#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 21:26:07 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30198 What does immigration look like in South Asia? What about immigration from South Asia to the US? How will Modi’s recent election present new challenges and opportunities for the region’s immigration system? How do South Asia’s immigration systems compare to those in the U.S.?

Join award winning reporters from the Seattle Globalist and alumni of the Seattle based Study of the U.S. Institute on Journalism and New Media for a timely discussion on Immigration in the U.S. and South Asia on Thursday October 30th.

Here’s a recap of the highlights:

 

All 

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Festival brings top-notch South Asian filmmakers to town http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/29/south-asian-film-festival-seattle-bothell-renton/30197 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/29/south-asian-film-festival-seattle-bothell-renton/30197#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:48:59 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30197 A still from "Titli" about a young man trying to escape his criminal family in Delhi, one of the flagship films of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival's 9th year.

A still from “Titli” about a young man trying to escape his criminal family in Delhi, one of the flagship films of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival’s 9th year.

Now in its ninth year, the Seattle South Asian Film (SSAFF) once again brings a wide array of radical, thought-provoking films to the Puget Sound area. This year there’s narrative and documentary films from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka on everything from human rights, gender, LGBT issues, education, and the environment — and some laughs as well.

Produced by Tasveer, a local South Asian Film and Arts non-profit, SSAFF is the biggest and longest-running film festival of its kind in the region, attracting a more than 3,000-strong audience each year. SSAFF 2014 is a collaboration between Tasveer, the University of Washington Bothell, Cascadia College, and the Cities of Renton and Bothell, with over 40 films spread out over two weeks. All the films have English subtitles.

One of the highlights of the festival comes from Indian film director Kanu Behl, who will be in attendance when his debut feature film Titli screens on Saturday, November 1st, at Cascadia College’s Mobius Hall in Bothell

Behl had two things in mind while making his film: to subvert the star-studded, box-office oriented, idealistic Bollywoodesque notion of family, and to blur the line between the oppressed and the oppressor. Selected for Cannes’ “Un Certain Regard” section, and set in the “badlands of Delhi” — the flipside of the shining India — this film noir follows the life of a young man, Titli (which means butterfly in Hindi), in a desperate attempt to escape from his testosterone-driven crime infested car-jacking of a family.

To put reins on Titli’s fantasies, his ruthless brothers get him married off, hoping also for a financial bargain in the process. But the pretty young bride has a dark agenda up her sleeve and teams up with Titli for an exit strategy from the family. And yet, the harder they try, the more they are caught up in this masculine brotherhood of crooks, wedged inside an eternal circle of crime, reflecting at times the very people that they wish to flee from.

In this must-see film, characters carjack, are hoodwinked by criminal policemen, rough up each other, and then ritualistically brush their teeth to cleanse the filth and dirt that dribbles from their mouths all day.

As a graduate of the Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film Academy, majoring in film direction, director Kanu Behl relies on mostly non-professional actors and documentary style cinematography so as to make his film as far removed from fiction as possible.

The SSAFF screening on Saturday gives Northwest audiences a chance to see Titli before its general release (tickets here). Behl will be on hand to answer questions at the post-film Q&A, and at the “Stories that Travel” panel discussion led by Warren Etheredge earlier that day.

Other festival highlights include:

Fandry

Nov 1, Mobius Hall, Cascadia College, 12 PM, India, film’s producer in attendance

This Opening Day Film tells the story of unrequited love steeped in caste politics. Set in the state of Maharashtra, the film is about the struggles endured by a teenage boy from a village and focuses on the problem of caste discrimination and dispossession. The film has won many awards at film festivals across the world, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Mumbai International Film Festival and the Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film. The film will be followed by a free reception for the audience.

More details and tickets here

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A still from "Titli" about a young man trying to escape his criminal family in Delhi, one of the flagship films of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival's 9th year.

A still from “Titli” about a young man trying to escape his criminal family in Delhi, one of the flagship films of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival’s 9th year.

Now in its ninth year, the Seattle South Asian Film (SSAFF) once again brings a wide array of radical, thought-provoking films to the Puget Sound area. This year there’s narrative and documentary films from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka on everything from human rights, gender, LGBT issues, education, and the environment — and some laughs as well.

Produced by Tasveer, a local South Asian Film and Arts non-profit, SSAFF is the biggest and longest-running film festival of its kind in the region, attracting a more than 3,000-strong audience each year. SSAFF 2014 is a collaboration between Tasveer, the University of Washington Bothell, Cascadia College, and the Cities of Renton and Bothell, with over 40 films spread out over two weeks. All the films have English subtitles.

One of the highlights of the festival comes from Indian film director Kanu Behl, who will be in attendance when his debut feature film Titli screens on Saturday, November 1st, at Cascadia College’s Mobius Hall in Bothell

Behl had two things in mind while making his film: to subvert the star-studded, box-office oriented, idealistic Bollywoodesque notion of family, and to blur the line between the oppressed and the oppressor. Selected for Cannes’ “Un Certain Regard” section, and set in the “badlands of Delhi” — the flipside of the shining India — this film noir follows the life of a young man, Titli (which means butterfly in Hindi), in a desperate attempt to escape from his testosterone-driven crime infested car-jacking of a family.

To put reins on Titli’s fantasies, his ruthless brothers get him married off, hoping also for a financial bargain in the process. But the pretty young bride has a dark agenda up her sleeve and teams up with Titli for an exit strategy from the family. And yet, the harder they try, the more they are caught up in this masculine brotherhood of crooks, wedged inside an eternal circle of crime, reflecting at times the very people that they wish to flee from.

In this must-see film, characters carjack, are hoodwinked by criminal policemen, rough up each other, and then ritualistically brush their teeth to cleanse the filth and dirt that dribbles from their mouths all day.

As a graduate of the Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film Academy, majoring in film direction, director Kanu Behl relies on mostly non-professional actors and documentary style cinematography so as to make his film as far removed from fiction as possible.

The SSAFF screening on Saturday gives Northwest audiences a chance to see Titli before its general release (tickets here). Behl will be on hand to answer questions at the post-film Q&A, and at the “Stories that Travel” panel discussion led by Warren Etheredge earlier that day.

Other festival highlights include:

Fandry

Nov 1, Mobius Hall, Cascadia College, 12 PM, India, film’s producer in attendance

This Opening Day Film tells the story of unrequited love steeped in caste politics. Set in the state of Maharashtra, the film is about the struggles endured by a teenage boy from a village and focuses on the problem of caste discrimination and dispossession. The film has won many awards at film festivals across the world, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Mumbai International Film Festival and the Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film. The film will be followed by a free reception for the audience.

More details and tickets here.

 

Sulemani Keeda

Nov 1, Mobius Hall, Cascadia College, 5 PM, India, Actor in attendance:

This hilarious bromance comedy tells the tale of two scriptwriters’ dream about writing the ultimate blockbuster Bollywood film. Mainak and Dulal must make a choice between friendship, love, and profession in an unforgiving Mumbai, teeming with wanna-be migrant writers.

More details and tickets here.

 

Sold

Nov 8, Roxy Cinema in Renton, 6 PM, Nepal/India, Producer Jane Charles in attendance:

Sold tells the heartbreaking story of one of the countless girls that are daily hoodwinked into sex-trade across the Indo-Nepal border. What kind of choices must the 12-year old Laskmi make in a world where children are some of the worst victims of disappearance, kidnapping, trafficking, and slavery? Based on Patricia McCormick’s much-admired and award-winning international best-seller, the film bagged the Audience Award at the London Film Festival, and won the second prize, best feature film at Athen International Film Festival.

More details and tickets here

 

With You, Without You

Nov 9, Roxy Cinema,4 PM, Sri Lanka, Director in attendance

Made by Sri Lanka’s legendary filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage, this Closing Night film charts the intriguing story of two characters coming across each other in the most unusual of circumstances and unraveling the bridgeable/unbridgeable gulf between two communities torn apart by the country’s thirty-year bloody civil war. The film has garnered several awards including the “Best Film Cyclo d”or Vesoul Asian Film Festival” award and whose central female lead, Anjali Patil, has been nominated for the Best Actress Award by the “New York India Film Festival.” The film will be followed by a free wine and cheese reception.

More details and tickets here.  

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Not Another Fu**ing Thing Again: NAFTA turns 20, Seattle celebrates? http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/28/nafta-seattle-canada-20th-anniversary-wto-tpp/30180 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/28/nafta-seattle-canada-20th-anniversary-wto-tpp/30180#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:01:59 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30180 A small cadre of protestors outside the World Trade Center Seattle during a forum celebrating 20 years of NAFTA. (Photo by Alex Garland)

A small cadre of protestors brave the rain outside the World Trade Center Seattle during a forum celebrating 20 years of NAFTA. (Photo by Alex Garland)

On a very rainy Seattle morning last week, a small group of people met on the top floor of Seattle’s World Trade Center, overlooking the clouded waterfront.

Edith St-Hilaire, Canada’s Consul General in Seattle, thanked us for “braving the storm” to get inside. Outside, a small but determined band of protesters was still doing just that.

We were there for a birthday party of sorts — NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) is 20 years old this year.

The first in a series of big free trade agreements, this one uniting the US, Canada and Mexico, NAFTA has certainly had it’s share of critics. But these days “free trade” is pretty much a fact of life, and NAFTA isn’t the household word it was back in the mid-nineties when presidents from both parties helped push it through.

I’d told a few people I was attending the NAFTA event, only to find that many didn’t know what it is.

“I currently don’t know if NAFTA is still in effect. Is it?” asks Rafael Flores, a bi-racial Canadian/Mexican tri-citizen, born in Seattle, who jokes that he’s been called a “NAFTA baby.”

At the meeting, which was opened up to 30 members of the public, I encountered an unlikely mix of consular officials, industry and trade experts, and protesters. The official guests were well-dressed with fancy pens and lapel pins with flags of Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Coming through the doors, guests were presented with glossy materials containing a dizzying array of numbers and graphs. I found out that North America is a trillion dollar market. The U.S., Canada and Mexico trade more with each other than with all other countries overseas.

The half-day program was consistently disrupted by protesters, hissing and expressing dissent — but overall there just weren’t that many people there. A contingent from the Canadian and Mexican Consulates in Seattle made up many of the attendees (the Canadian Consulate sponsored the event). If you don’t count staff, security, or those present because of their great misgivings for NAFTA, the number of people attending were barely more than the number who were speaking.

Christopher Sands of Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute opened things up by briefly thanking economist Sidney Weintraub, known as the “Father of NAFTA” who passed away this year.

Sands noted that NAFTA has had it’s challenges, “whether it’s tainted tomatoes or cars.”

I finally made it inside the belly of the beast. Kinda disappointing. (Photo by Forrest Baum)

I finally made it inside the belly of the beast. Kinda disappointing. (Photo by Forrest Baum)

He wasn’t the only of the official speakers at the conference to paint a less-than-rosy picture of NAFTA’s legacy.

“I don’t know if the organizers knew my background when they invited me,” says Steve Gerritson, of the Washington CleanTech Alliance. “I bring a very different perspective, as Chairman of the Sierra Club at the time of the WTO (World Trade Organization) Protest.”

He states that in his view, NAFTA-type agreements should, “improve economic well-being, protect the rights of citizens, and should not deteriorate quality of life.”

His view that aspects of NAFTA have had “to put it politely: mixed results,” brings a smattering of applause and agreement from protesters in the room.

But if protesters were hoping this was a sympathetic opening, Gerritson’s brusque “please don’t interrupt the speakers” made it clear that he has the floor. Being finally given a seat at the table, he’s going to play by the rules, and say what he wants to say.

University of Washington President Michael K. Young, the keynote speaker, wasn’t giving NAFTA a free pass either.

“It’s hard to say how much can be attributed [to NAFTA],” he says. “How much is trade, how much is good economic policies, is hard to say”.

Young talks a lot about producing skilled graduates, and the rising demand for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics skills (STEM). There is also a push for opening up work visas, as there is a real shortage of workers in those fields.

“The global shortage of STEM talent is staggering.” says Patti Brooke of the Washington Technology Industry Association. “The complete decimation of the higher ed funds by the state has led to this situation.”

Businesses wants more qualified workers, but we aren’t supporting the necessary learning to produce those workers, so there’s a desire to let foreign workers in.

This may be top priority for those gathered here today. But it doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with free trade agreements as we know them. NAFTA’s 20 year impacts have mostly been about not letting workers cross borders. When the agreement went into effect 20 years ago, American and Canadian manufacturing moved to northern Mexico where labor was cheap and environmental regulations were lax. But of course workers weren’t granted the same free pass across North American borders.

Letting labor move freely to where the jobs are would be a sea change in how North American trade functions — but the talk at the forum was really about skilled, white collar workers, not about letting low-skilled workers come up from Mexico to the U.S and Canada.

At the NAFTA Initialing Ceremony, in October 1992 , Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, US President George H. W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney along with trade officials from all three countries. Bill Clinton finalized the negotiations after taking office the next year. (Photo from the George Bush Presidential Library)

At the NAFTA Initialing Ceremony, in October 1992 , Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, US President George H. W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney along with trade officials from all three countries. Bill Clinton finalized the negotiations after taking office the next year. (Photo from the George Bush Presidential Library)

At moments, it did seem as if this conference really was about finding new ways to approach free trade agreements.

“If you have 10 people sitting around a table, and they all have the same background, they’ll come up with the same solutions,” Young said.

Letting the members of the general public like me in was a small step in that direction. These are usually closed-door meetings.

In the Q&A after Young’s talk, we got a clue as to why.

“You mentioned that a group of 10 have a difficult time coming up with novel solutions, I think what we have here is a massive case of group-think,” says a middle-aged man in a dark coat. “All of you have an investment in wanting to believe that NAFTA has been successful. My question for you is how the fuck do you sleep at night?”

This gets applause and a big cheer, bringing the Q&A to an abrupt close.

But really, why the protester beef with free trade?

One of the complications of trade without tariffs (fees that are used to protect domestic producers from cheaper foreign goods), is that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have wildly varying labor practices.

“In an ideal world, NAFTA would be great” says Rafael Flores, “but how will we make sure the pie is split evenly? I think that Mexico has gotten a raw deal.”

Removing those barriers has has all sorts of adverse effects, depending on who you ask: decimating American and Canadian manufacturing sectors, eroding union power, bankrupting small Mexican farmers, encouraging illegal immigration.

Canadian companies have even been subject to hostile foreign takeovers in order to take advantage of their “free trade” status.

Despite the occasional outburst at the forum, there was a generally subdued tone, both inside and amongst the smattering of protesters outside. That might indicate that NAFTA is not such a hot topic as it was 20 years ago.

But the march toward greater liberalization of trade, for better or worse, is far from over.

Negotiations are ongoing for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would unite the NAFTA countries with a host of other Pacific Rim economies including Japan, Australia, Chile, Malaysia and Vietnam

“TPP will in many ways be the second phase of NAFTA” according to Marco Manrique of the Mexican Economy Ministry.

So far, TPP negotiations have happened behind closed doors, with the only public access to draft chapters of the agreement coming via Wikileaks.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who was one of the original architects of NAFTA and the WTO, seemed to have a different take on the trends in public participation with free trade agreements.

“When we did NAFTA we weren’t communicating, the way we are now.” Robertson said. He’s talking about modern social media, and has some unique ideas to jump-start cross-border sharing. For the next generation, he thinks “we need to get ‘em partying together, drinking together” for cultural exchange.

“Twenty years from now, we’ll say, hopefully, ‘North America’s better.’”

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Why I started a study abroad program for People of Color http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/27/study-abroad-program-people-of-color-seattle-many-voices-one-tribe/29996 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/27/study-abroad-program-people-of-color-seattle-many-voices-one-tribe/29996#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29996 Promotional material for an International Studies Abroad program in Spain reflects the demographics that dominate study abroad overall.

Promotional material for an International Studies Abroad program in Spain demonstrates the demographics that dominate study abroad.

The two most influential forces in my life have been writing and travel. Growing up I always wanted to see the world (any place outside of Wisconsin would do). Just before I turned seventeen, my mother took me Senegal.

It’s strange to think that one month could change my life, but it did. I fell in love with the food, the people, the baobab trees, and the sandy streets. While jarring to wake up to the unfamiliar cries of roosters intermixed with the Muslim call to prayer, I awoke each day feeling more alive and more myself than I ever had.

It’s like simply being somewhere else gave me the freedom to reinvent myself, only I wasn’t becoming someone else, I was becoming the me I really wanted to be. Through it all my journal was my constant companion. I wrote to document each miraculous day and in the writing began to sort through my feelings.

Being raised in a black feminist household made going to school a challenge. While academically I was well equipped to succeed, my values, my interests, my vocabulary, and my natural hair were all completely different from my peers and even my teachers. In middle school and high school being different is usually equated with being wrong.

For one month, though I was a foreigner being different didn’t feel so wrong, it was expected. There was a place for me, a place where people appreciated my accent and my command of the English language, my hair, my body size and shape, my sense of humor. It was a trip that affirmed me and also inspired in me a passion for travel that has yet to be sated.

I spent my junior year of college in Cadiz, Spain. When I went to meet the cohort I would be traveling with it felt like I was pledging a sorority. I went to Spain with 30 white women, 5 men, and 2 other women of color and it was an amazing experience, but one that was clearly not designed with me in mind.

The welcome packet we received included a list of local businesses, the post office, popular cafes, places to shop and places to get your hair cut. Of course there was no one in the small town of Cadiz who knew anything about black hair. I had to travel 8 hours to Madrid to get it braided in an African shop. It may seem like a small thing, but the small things began to add up, like going out with my friends from the cohort and being told I wasn’t an American because I didn’t look like the other girls.

The author (left) with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries, building a school in Guatemala while directing a program for Seattle students to volunteer abroad.

The author (left) with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries, building a school in Guatemala while directing a program for Seattle students to volunteer abroad.

After Spain came Japan. I was placed in one of the largest prefectures on Honshu with 200 other English teachers from around the world, yet I was the only black teacher. In fact, I was the only black teacher in the 13 years the town had been hosting the program. It was a shock for everyone involved when I stepped into the classroom for the first time and was greeted by students screaming and hitting each other in disbelief.

During the two years I taught in Japan, I was met with screams repeatedly. Many of them were excited as opposed to scared, but it took me a while to have enough understanding

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Promotional material for an International Studies Abroad program in Spain reflects the demographics that dominate study abroad overall.

Promotional material for an International Studies Abroad program in Spain demonstrates the demographics that dominate study abroad.

The two most influential forces in my life have been writing and travel. Growing up I always wanted to see the world (any place outside of Wisconsin would do). Just before I turned seventeen, my mother took me Senegal.

It’s strange to think that one month could change my life, but it did. I fell in love with the food, the people, the baobab trees, and the sandy streets. While jarring to wake up to the unfamiliar cries of roosters intermixed with the Muslim call to prayer, I awoke each day feeling more alive and more myself than I ever had.

It’s like simply being somewhere else gave me the freedom to reinvent myself, only I wasn’t becoming someone else, I was becoming the me I really wanted to be. Through it all my journal was my constant companion. I wrote to document each miraculous day and in the writing began to sort through my feelings.

Being raised in a black feminist household made going to school a challenge. While academically I was well equipped to succeed, my values, my interests, my vocabulary, and my natural hair were all completely different from my peers and even my teachers. In middle school and high school being different is usually equated with being wrong.

For one month, though I was a foreigner being different didn’t feel so wrong, it was expected. There was a place for me, a place where people appreciated my accent and my command of the English language, my hair, my body size and shape, my sense of humor. It was a trip that affirmed me and also inspired in me a passion for travel that has yet to be sated.

I spent my junior year of college in Cadiz, Spain. When I went to meet the cohort I would be traveling with it felt like I was pledging a sorority. I went to Spain with 30 white women, 5 men, and 2 other women of color and it was an amazing experience, but one that was clearly not designed with me in mind.

The welcome packet we received included a list of local businesses, the post office, popular cafes, places to shop and places to get your hair cut. Of course there was no one in the small town of Cadiz who knew anything about black hair. I had to travel 8 hours to Madrid to get it braided in an African shop. It may seem like a small thing, but the small things began to add up, like going out with my friends from the cohort and being told I wasn’t an American because I didn’t look like the other girls.

The author (left) with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries, building a school in Guatemala while directing a program for Seattle students to volunteer abroad.

The author (left) with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries, building a school in Guatemala while directing a program for Seattle students to volunteer abroad.

After Spain came Japan. I was placed in one of the largest prefectures on Honshu with 200 other English teachers from around the world, yet I was the only black teacher. In fact, I was the only black teacher in the 13 years the town had been hosting the program. It was a shock for everyone involved when I stepped into the classroom for the first time and was greeted by students screaming and hitting each other in disbelief.

During the two years I taught in Japan, I was met with screams repeatedly. Many of them were excited as opposed to scared, but it took me a while to have enough understanding of Japanese to know the difference. I was also followed around in stores, bitten by an autistic child who thought my skin was made of chocolate, and asked by a woman whose eyes were filled with tears why my mother had left me out in the sun too long.

Through it all, at no point during my travels was there any authority figure or program director who had any interest or relevant experience to help me process why my journey was so very different from everyone else’s. What would it have been like to have felt heard? What would it have been like to have had someone who could help me process the nuances of my experience? For as amazing as my travels have been, how much more enriching would they have been with someone who really got it? These were the questions that led me back to school.

In 2006 I completed my MA in International Education from the SIT Graduate Institute. During my year on campus, the entire International Education Program took a field trip to Boston for the NAFSA conference. I stood in a balcony overlooking a ballroom that held literally thousands of study abroad program directors from around the world.

There I was in my snazzy suit with my resume neatly printed ready to network and find a practicum. As I scanned the room, it was like meeting the other people in the Cadiz program only on a much larger scale. Here again was this sorority of upper middle class do-gooder white women with Guatemalan purses, Kenyan earrings, and Chinese silk scarves accenting their business suits.

There were 7 black women in a room filled with thousands — I counted. Over the next few hours I made a point to meet each and every one of them. Not one of them was a study abroad program director. NOT ONE.

I left feeling disheartened. It’s a feeling that stuck with me. I found a practicum. I completed my thesis. I was even given a chance to lead a few programs, during which I learned a lot. But every job I have ever applied for — even positions in organizations designed to work with youth of color — has been headed by white people. Even if they hire staff entirely made up of people of color, they are the ones who have the final say over the curriculum. And while I don’t wish to disparage the good work they are doing, sometimes who they are gets in the way of their goals.

Kathy Norris (left) and the author riding camels in Morocco.

Kathy Norris (left) and the author riding camels in Morocco.

While increasingly there are more opportunities to go abroad and more people investing financial resources in sending our youth of color abroad, there has not been an equal investment in providing them with experiences that are actually designed to accommodate the complexities of who they are in the world.

Many Voices One Tribe is the culmination my long held dream. It is a study abroad program for youth of color. Our mission is to empower young writers of color to see world, to know themselves, and to define their own futures. We are committed to dismantling oppression, telling our own stories, and creating global community. Travel and writing are the catalyst to a deeper exploration of our identities and our place in the world.

Through this program I am curating a space where youth are invited to bring all of who they are, to share with others, and to find points of solidarity across perceived differences. My goal is to provide well-crafted programming that will take youth to a variety of different countries with different thematic focuses.

But for this year we will start small: One trip, 16 high school age youth, for two weeks to Veracruz, Mexico. The program itself will last the entire month of July and include workshops on social identity, crafting print and digital media, poetry, POC self care, Spanish language immersion, cross cultural competency building, and more.

If you want to learn more, I will be hosting an information night on Tuesday, October 28 at 7PM at the Amor Spiritual Center. Applications are due November 2. You can find out more at manyvoicesonetribe.com.

Many Voices One Tribe is also accepting applications for two POC co-facilitators, as well as community partners willing to provide internships to offset the cost of program fees or in kind gifts like museum or event tickets. Email me at manyvoicesonetribe@gmail.com.

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Can student demand transform an abusive apparel industry? http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/24/uw-sweatshop-alta-gracia-apparel-clothing/29978 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/24/uw-sweatshop-alta-gracia-apparel-clothing/29978#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:59:15 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29978 Alta Gracia apparel workers Maritza Vargas (left), and Sobeida Fortuna (right), speak at a UW United Students Against Sweatshops event on Oct 16th, with the help of interpreter Rachel Taber. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

Alta Gracia apparel workers Maritza Vargas (left), and Sobeida Fortuna (right), speak at a UW United Students Against Sweatshops event on Oct 16th, with the help of interpreter Rachel Taber. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

“I was subjected to all kinds of disrespect on the job — verbal and physical abuse,”

Dominican garment factory worker Sobeida Fortuna describes the eight years she spent working at the BJ&B factory that manufactured hats with university logos for Nike and Reebok.

According to Fortuna, who was in Seattle for an event organized by the UW chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), there was only one exit for 600 workers at the BJ&B factory, no medical leave, and only two bathroom and two water breaks per shift.

When Fortuna was pregnant, she was still required to put in a 12-hour workday, with mandatory overtime hours, which she usually did not receive pay for, if the product quotas were not met.

“If we haven’t hit that production level that the management wanted, then they would just simply lock the doors…and force us to work to whatever hour in the night that was needed to actually complete the production that the management wanted,” she said through an interpreter during her visit to the UW earlier this month.

Maritza Vargas, another BJ&B worker who made the trip to Seattle, echoed similar stories about the BJ&B factory. There was no recourse and no one to go to if an employee had a problem with management. When workers decided to form a union, they were all fired. Following an investigation led by Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and with campaigns by USAS the workers who were fired eventually got their jobs back and had a union for about six years.

But then one day in 2007 Vargas and Fortuna showed up to BJ&B for work to find it was permanently closed. The orders from major brands had been shifted to other factories in Asia, leaving the workers in Dominican Republic jobless. With the help of WRC and USAS, pregnant workers received six months severance pay, while the rest received three months of pay.

Both women now work for Alta Gracia, an alternative apparel brand offering sweatshop-free clothing to universities.

Alta Gracia opened its doors in 2010 and is owned by Knights Apparel, a company stationed in South Carolina. According to a research report from Georgetown University, “Alta Gracia: Four Years and Counting,” released back in August, it’s the only clothing factory in the developing world to pay its workers three times the minimum wage and maintain safety and health standards.

Sales aren’t too shabby either.

“Alta Gracia merchandise has performed well in the college bookstore channel. It registered approximately $11 million of retail sales in 2013 and is projected to produce $16 million in 2014,” the report stated.

Why are college students going for Alta Gracia? It’s a company that treats its workers well, showing students that they have real options in deciding which piece of clothing to buy.

The University Book Store is one of the many university stores across the nation that sell Alta Gracia apparel.

“Alta Gracia merchandise sells well, the designs and quality of the items have been important factors to their success,” said manager Karen Magarelli in an email. “We understand the new line is doing well across the country, so much so that it has caused some production and shipping delays. We’re eager to receive the rest of our order, we hope in time for holiday shopping.”

UW’s USAS, however, is unhappy with the display and amount of Alta Gracia merchandise available at the bookstore.

Sophia Lewis, Sara Parolin, Amalia de la Iglesia, Shannon Long, all members of UW United Students Against Sweatshop, at a protest action pressuring the University Book Store to more prominently display Alta Gracia apparel. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

Sophia Lewis, Sara Parolin, Amalia de la Iglesia, Shannon Long, all members of UW United Students Against Sweatshop, at a protest action pressuring the University Book Store to more prominently display Alta Gracia apparel. (Photo by Daria Kroupoderova)

On Thursday, they held a rally of with about ten people at the University Book Store. They wanted to present a four and a half page letter to the bookstore’s manager stating demanding that the store stop stocking JanSport and VF Imagewear products and have more Alta Gracia apparel. According to the letter, VF Imagewear subcontracts to factories that abuse workers’ rights in Bangladesh.

“I definitely don’t think the UW bookstore is marketing Alta Gracia as well as it could be,” UW USAS member Amalia de la Iglesia said. “There are only a select few Alta Gracia products sold in the store and products made by bigger brands, like Nike and Under Armour, are put on display in the front.”

Walking into the bookstore through the main doors of the Ave, the front display does consist of mostly Nike apparel and some sale merchandise. The Alta Gracia shirts are kept closer to the register, about halfway through the store. There is one rack of two different types of long sleeved shirts costing $24.95 and about ten cubbies with four different styles of short sleeved shirts costing $17.95.

“Customer shopping patterns are our first consideration. Based on that we organize by the first three major categories: men’s, women’s, infant/child/youth,” Magarelli said, explaining how store layout decisions are made. “We include customer demand, design, quality control, and on time shipping/delivery as part of the decision process.”

As with most aspects of business, when deciding how to stock and arrange the University Book Store, it’s all about the bottom line. But Alta Gracia is proving that by appealing to college students’ demand for sweatshop free apparel, there’s plenty of room for living wages and worker’s rights in a profitable supply chain.

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The new ‘coming out’ http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/undocumented-immigrant-coming-out-jose-antonio-vargas-seattle/29971 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/10/23/undocumented-immigrant-coming-out-jose-antonio-vargas-seattle/29971#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:34:44 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=29971 Jose Antonio Vargas flies the undocumented flag at a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2012. (Photo courtesy Apo Anak Productions)

Jose Antonio Vargas flies the undocumented flag at a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2012. (Photo courtesy Apo Anak Productions)

“We mow your lawns, we work in your houses, maybe we’re your doctors, maybe we’re nurses,” says Jose Antonio Vargas in a voice over from his recent film “Documented.”

“We’re not who you think we are.”

It’s a line that could be lifted right out of a Marriage Equality campaign — a message that challenges stereotypes and underscores the everyday ordinariness of an often-politicized group. But Vargas isn’t talking about LGBT rights. He’s talking about America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Vargas famously “outed” himself as undocumented in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article and has gone on to record the “coming out” of many undocumented immigrants through his “Define American” project. As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker and immigration advocate who is both gay and undocumented, the LGBT rights parallel is not lost on Vargas.

“[We] can’t change the politics around this issue unless we change the conversation around this issue,” says Vargas who will be in Seattle this evening for a screening of his movie at the Social Justice Film Festival (The Seattle Globalist is a media sponsor of the screening) “I think part of the change that we’re seeing is that more undocumented people have come out and are coming out.”

Vargas believes that through increasing the visibility of undocumented immigrants Americans will be forced to see the significant, even mainstream, contributions of this often maligned population.

But that decision to make yourself more visible can be agonizing says Jennifer Martinez, a seventeen-year-old Redmond High School student. Especially when you’re outing the rest of your family.

“I was scared of potential legal actions against my parents,” says Martinez who herself is a citizen but whose parents are undocumented. Martinez made news last year when she and a friend confronted House Speaker John Boehner in a Washington D.C. diner about the impacts of deportations on families and children.

“They could be deported, separated from their families, they know they could be putting a target on their back,” says Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigrant rights organization, explaining the potential dangers of publically revealing your status.

Stolz says it’s still not common for people to come out — the risks are just too great. The ones that do are often “dreamers,” like Martinez, who are the children of undocumented parents and feel a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their family members and communities.

Martinez says she was motivated by a childhood where the specter of her family’s mixed citizenship status loomed everywhere. Like the afternoon when she and fellow neighborhood children were quickly ushered inside to hide from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or when she didn’t sign up for a Redmond Police Department youth program because she was afraid it would endanger her parents.

That was the hardest part about coming out for Martinez. After sixteen years of trying to protect her parents she was putting her family in the spotlight — revealing the very secret they’d all worked so hard to hide.

“[When] I got back to the hotel room [after the confrontation with Boehner] I just called my Dad and burst into tears,” remember Martinez who works as a youth organizer for OneAmerica,  “I said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be this big.’”

And that burden can’t fall to undocumented people alone says Vargas, who believes that any successful civil rights movement (and he does see immigration reform as a civil rights issue) needs allies.

“Can you imagine the LGBT Rights movement without Gay Alliances?” asks Vargas who would like to see more American citizens “coming out” in support of the undocumented people in their lives — whether they’re family members, employees, neighbors, students or friends.

Martinez says community support was key in the days that followed her decision to “come out,” but that no reaction was more important that of her dad — who she says responded to her tearful phone call that night with, “I’m so proud of you.”

“Documented” will be playing tonight (Friday) at 5:00PM at University Christian Church: 4731 15th Ave NE Seattle 98105 followed by a panel with Jose Antonio Vargas and local immigration leaders. Tickets and details here

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