From Alabama: “We stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation”

We are currently in Alabama with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women. Read more about our trip here and a statement from the ground below:

WE BELONG TOGETHER WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS20120321_mfw_wbt_al_509
DELEGATION STATEMENT

Together, we are a diverse group of women leaders representing national advocacy communities. We represent faith-based, legal, human rights, worker rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, children advocate and reproductive justice organizations. We have traveled from throughout the country to come together with our sisters here in Birmingham, Alabama – the battleground of the civil rights movement – to bear witness to the impact of the harshest anti-immigrant law in the US – HB56.

Last night we listened to the stories of Jocelyn, Trini, Tere, Elvia, Araceli, Jovita, Maricela:
• The story of a 14-year old girl left alone in Alabama, the only home she’s ever known, when her parents were forced to leave for Mexico – a courageous young woman who has become an outspoken youth leader in the movement for immigrant rights.
• The story of a survivor of domestic violence who worries that because of HB56, other women facing life-threatening abuse will be unable to liberate themselves as she bravely did.
• The story of a mother who lived through the upheaval and displacement of a tornado, who told us that her family was “barely renewing their lives” when HB56 plunged them into chaos again.
• The story of a mother who came for a life-saving heart surgery for her son only to learn, that under HB56, her son may be unable to access follow-up surgery and care he desperately needs.
• The story of a woman who has repeatedly been harassed and terrorized by police, whom she once trusted, but now whose racial profiling and corruption has been legitimized by HB56.
• The story of a mother with a disabled child who fears separation from her son each and every day as she faces the threat of deportation.
• And the story of a woman who told us of her love for Birmingham and for her only son, but who now fears being deported to a country where there is no work for her or future for her child.

The common bond among these women is the dream for a better life for themselves and their families and the right to live without fear. The sacrifices that these women have made for the well-being of their families, to earn a living to support those families, to obtain life-saving health care for their children, are the same sacrifices that generations of women have made in coming to this country to provide for the ones that they love. Moreover, the women who shared their stories with us made it clear that the ability to stay in Alabama is, in many cases, a matter of life and death. The reality is that for these women, the decision to leave or to stay here in their homes is an impossible weighing of unthinkable risks. We listened with empathy and compassion to the stories of fear, psychological abuse, and torment that are representative of the experiences of immigrant women and children in Alabama. Woven throughout these stories is the spirit of resiliency, courage, empowerment, and most importantly – love. As Trini told us, “If we were going to stay, we were going to act!”

That is our pledge: that we, too, will act to fight HB 56 and all other anti-immigrant, anti-family laws. We cannot have a democracy if any group is denied basic human rights and access to basic human needs. Today, we stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation, by pledging to hold these stories in our hearts. We pledge to bring these stories back to our communities, to share them with our constituencies, and to use these stories to educate our nation’s decision-makers. In turn, we call upon everyone who values human rights and social justice to join our courageous sisters in Alabama who are fighting for the right to live with dignity, humanity, and justice. Stand with us and stand with our sisters to support the repeal of HB56, fight the spread of racist anti-immigrant policies, and uplift our shared humanity, and the dream for a brighter future.

March 22, 2012 by crissy spivey
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Why the “war on women” is bigger than you think.

Imagine this scenario: you feel safer staying with your abusive husband than you do calling the cops to report him.

For many immigrant women in Alabama and elsewhere, that scenario is reality. The escalating “war on women” has —- rightly —- sparked broad outrage and urgent action to protect human rights in the United States.

Now let’s make sure we continue to fight, side by side, for the fundamental human rights of all U.S. women —- including immigrant women, documented or otherwise.

A team from Breakthrough, led by president and CEO Mallika Dutt, is headed to Birmingham, Alabama today with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women.

Alabama’s HB56, enacted last June, is regarded as the nation’s strictest anti-immigrant law. It permits —- in fact, encourages —- racial profiling by police of anyone even suspected of being undocumented, with results that devastate families, the local economy, the state and, potentially, the soul of our nation. Breakthrough will be there with our video cameras and social media streams to expose the human rights violations targeting women and families on our own soil —- and to amplify the collective call for dignity, equality, and justice for all.

Please follow Mallika Dutt on Twitter (@mallikadutt) for on-the-ground updates, starting late this afternoon. And please join Breakthrough in Alabama on Facebook,Twitter and Foursquare to stand up for the human rights of all women.

March 22, 2012 by crissy spivey
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That’s *Dr.* Mallika Dutt

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We’re tipping our hats —- or really, our mortarboards —- to Breakthrough president and CEO Mallika Dutt, who will receive an honorary doctorate at Mount Holyoke College’s 175th commencement this May.

Mallika —- a Mount Holyoke alumna —- shares this honor with an extraordinary group of earlier MHC honorees of pioneering human rights defenders, including Jane Addams, Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks. Here’s what Mount Holyoke College president Lynn Pasquerella has to say about Mallika:

“Mount Holyoke takes great pride in saluting Mallika Dutt’s powerfully effective work as an advocate for human rights across all segments of society. Her commitment to racial justice, religious understanding, health care, and the rights of women shines through every aspect of Breakthrough’s work. In every way, she exemplifies Mount Holyoke’s mission of using liberal learning for purposeful engagement in the world.”

Mallika will receive her honorary degree alongside bestselling author Azar Nafisi; Bernard LaFayette, a leader in the civil rights movement and cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium.

Mallika shares these honors with all of you who share her vision and support Breakthrough’s work. Hats off to you, too!

March 16, 2012 by crissy spivey
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KONY 2012: Why it’s time to put the “rescue” story to bed

From Breakthrough president and CEO Mallika Dutt:

Photo credit: Youtube

Photo credit: Youtube

Jason Russell and Invisible Children know that a powerful story can change the world. But by characterizing essentially all Ugandans as either war criminals or helpless victims, the massively viral KONY 2012 manages to flatten its subject rather than deepen it. Which is to say: it fails the test of good storytelling. Or, more to the point, of storytelling for good.

Though likely well-intentioned, the story KONY 2012 tells is that Africa needs saving, and only the United States can do it. It says that Ugandans are voiceless without us. That Ugandans are invisible without us. That’s a dishonest story, as most “rescue” narratives — whether dealing with violence against women in India or the rights of women in Afghanistan, or impoverished children, or you name it — tend to be.

In KONY 2012, we see the mutilated faces of children. What we don’t see are the faces of politicians and activists like Betty Bigombe — whose work was instrumental to peace talks between Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government — and countless others in northern Uganda who ended a terrible war, and raised the international profile of Kony’s crimes. Rather than build on their years of struggle and hope — Invisible Children erases it. Instead, the video creates a new version of Uganda’s history: one in which the war continues, with an entire population helpless to stop it — that is, unless the United States gets involved. KONY 2012 makes for a powerful meme, but at a terrible cost.

We do need to tell stories that make the simple, urgent emotional connection required for broad action. How do we do that without relying on tired racial stereotypes or weary paternalism? How do we make the crucial distinction between swooping in as saviors and standing in solidarity?

We start by telling the truth. The job of cultural entrepreneurs like Invisible Children —whose primary aim is to change hearts and minds — is to reveal the inherent humanity in the issues that connect and affect us all. The stories we tell should help us to see one another as fully human, as people with hopes and fears, limitations and capacities. They should remind us that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, and that we all have a stake in defending our shared human rights and creating the kind of world we want to live in. This is the only way we can do more than respond to violations and rush to remedial action. Telling stories about our shared humanity — stories that demand our collective right to dignity and equality, justice and safety — is the only way to build a culture, and a world, in which men like Kony are stopped before they “go viral,” or never rise up at all.

March 13, 2012 by Mallika Dutt
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Karma’s immigration story: “Life in New York was no crystal staircase”

From our awesome intern, Karma D., from Flushing International High School. See her on our Tumblr and on our I AM THIS LAND story-telling project. karma_bt

I am a girl from the faraway lost land of Tibet. I ran with my parents, older brother and my small baby brother resting in my mom’s warm womb in search of freedom and a better life. I am a girl who struggled to find her own identity especially after knowing my birth country is now a place that cannot be reached or seen. In search of independence and better opportunity, I came to America with very limited English but with great hope. I also carried the blessings of my grandparents from Tibet and the memories of my loved ones from Nepal and India throughout the journey.

My feet landed in this foreign land of liberty in 2006. It took me years to realize that life in New York was no crystal staircase, that there weren’t trees and leaves made of money, nor was there the easy independence that my fellow Tibetans and I had been searching for. I struggled every morning to wake up because I wasn’t use to the timing, then I would try to get on the yellow bus on time. I made sure my brother and I sat on the front seats, so the other students might not make fun of us. We looked different from them.

For an immigrant like me, whose mom was jobless for three years due to her lack of English, and whose dad worked in a Sushi store for eight years, constantly fearful of not being able to support my two brothers and me, the United States was more struggle than freedom. My life turned 180 degrees. At the age of thirteen, I realized I had to step up and contribute to my family financially, and I’ve been working ever since.

(more…)

February 7, 2012 by crissy spivey
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This teen a “terrorist”? Really?

Mansimran

Click photo to watch our new video, "Mansimran"

From Breakthrough president and CEO Mallika Dutt:

Like a lot of teenagers you may know, Mansimran is a basketball-loving, Starbucks-drinking, robotics-studying all-American guy. It shouldn’t surprise you that he’s funny, grounded and charming. It should surprise you that sometimes, when strangers see his turban and the color of his skin, they lean out their car windows and call him a “terrorist.” It should surprise you, but it probably doesn’t. Because of course, Mansimran is not alone.

Where do young people get the idea that that kind of bullying is okay? Well, these days, it’s hard to miss. In the decade since September 11, South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities have become targets of race- and religion-based bullying — to say nothing of discrimination, racial profiling and unlawful detention and deportation and other human rights violations. And everywhere from policy to pop culture, mixed messages about who counts as a “real” American have created a climate of ignorance at best and fear at worst. Just last month, home-improvement mega-chain Lowe’s pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” after the Florida Family Association accused the show of subverting “American liberties and traditional values.” Ask Mansimran about his values — as a Sikh and an American — and this is what he’ll tell you: “If I call myself an American then I should be accepting to every culture there is. I should be welcoming to everybody, no matter what.”

Mansimran instinctively understands what so many others seem to miss. Dignity, equality and justice are American values. Our laws, leadership and culture should reflect that. And so should we. By bringing human rights values in to our smallest interactions and daily lives, we can help stop bullying. Mansimran takes it in stride, but it shouldn’t happen in the first place. We should take a page from Mansimran’s playbook by standing up against racial profiling and racially-motivated bullying, reaching out across differences, and treating everyone around us with respect. We are all on the same team, after all.

January 24, 2012 by Mallika Dutt
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breakthrough beat: Meet Mansimran

Meet Mansimran. mansiman-title-name-1

He’s an all-American guy who likes Starbucks, hoops, and robotics. He’s a student, an older brother, and an active member of his Sikh religious community. Sometimes, when strangers see his turban, and the color of his skin, they lean out their car window and call him a “terrorist.” He’s not alone: especially since September 11, Sikh Americans and other communities have become targets of discrimination, racial profiling and bullying, human rights violations, and hate crimes. (One survey found that, even 6 years after the events of 2001, 75% of Sikh male schoolchildren in New York had been teased or harassed on the basis of their religious identity.)

How does Mansimran handle it? “My response is, ‘Come over here, sit down, I’ll tell you about Sikhism, I’ll tell you who I am,” he explains. In other words, he totally takes it in stride —- but it shouldn’t be that way in the first place.

We are all on the same team, after all —- and we should take a page from Mansimran’s playbook by standing up against racial profiling and bullying, reaching out across differences, upholding human rights, and treating everyone around us with the American —- and human-rights —- values of dignity, equality, and respect.

You can stand with Mansimran —- and against racist bullying —- by getting to know him and sharing his video.

How to ACT:

  • Like this video on Facebook and Twitter to speak out for diversity and stand up against bullying.  Here’s a quick line to post: “We’re all on the same team. Share this video for the win.”
  • DOWNLOAD and share the song “turBAN” by GNE.  (It’s in the video, it’s awesome, and it’s free!)
  • LEARN about racial profiling and racial justice by visiting RestoreFairness.org and following the hashtag #rfair.

January 20, 2012 by crissy spivey
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Happy Holidays!

happyholidays

photo courtesy of mattdesmond, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattdesmond/

December 21, 2011 by crissy spivey

1 Comment »

DESERTED: The Human Rights Crisis On Our Soil

When I traveled to Arizona with Ishita to create Checkpoint Nation, I wrote:

It was the first time I had experienced the overwhelming size of the desert sky. The sunset was magnificent, and the endless stretch of cacti and desert rocks were lit up with the last pink moments of twilight. But the sunset’s beauty was overpowered by what I had seen in the rest of Arizona: men and women in shackles (feet chained to waist, waist chained to wrists), a morgue filled twice-over with John & Jane Does, a wall that divides families and ancient lands. From this view, the sunset had a whole different meaning: it marked the beginning of one more cold, waterless night for so many migrants forced to hide in the militarized desert.
Our video camera could hardly capture all that we saw, but we knew that this footage had to be shared with the world.

There is a human rights crisis on our soil that no one is talking about. Migrant men, women, and children are driven by extreme poverty to cross the U.S.-Mexico border — and dying for it. One one side of our border wall: flood lights, empty desert, and countless human remains. On the other: discarded water jugs, and empty desert. The border wall now stretches across Arizona in the easiest places to cross, so that migrants are purposefully funneled into the most treacherous conditions. The remains of over 6,000 human bodies have been found in the desert since militarized immigration policies started in the mid 1990s. And for every body discovered, there are many more not found — and innumerable families who will never know what happened. No matter your opinion on immigration reform, this is a crisis that all of us, as humans, are responsible for addressing — and ending. Join with Breakthrough: WATCH. SHARE. ACT.

For information on how to end this crisis on our border, visit Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths.

VIDEO CREDITS: Directed, filmed and edited by Dana Variano with Ishita Srivastava; music by Denver Dalley; post-production audio by Hobo Audio. Produced by Breakthrough.

December 15, 2011 by Dana Variano
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b-the change: A wish for the holidays – let’s keep families together

Guestblogger: Chris Harley, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

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Do you have a wish for this holiday season? I do. I wish that all families can stay together. That’s why I’m participating in
A Wish for the Holidays, a campaign to gather 5,000 letters from kids asking our nation’s leaders to ensure that families stay together.

For me, holidays all boil down to spending time with my large extended family. Honestly, I don’t know how we all crowd into my Gramma’s 2-bedroom, one-story home, but most holidays, we manage to all squeeze in and enjoy a crazy day full of laughter, teasing, eating, and sharing. Like that one Christmas, when an innocent game of White Elephant gift exchanging turned into a chase around the house as my Aunt attempted to reclaim a new movie from her nephew.

In total, there are roughly 60 of us, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, kids, and great-grandkids. We come from all different backgrounds, religions, political views, and walks of life. We’re also a uniquely mixed-race family full of boisterous personalities. And every time we get together, despite all of our differences, I know that we embody the value of what it means to be a family.

This is why it breaks my heart to think of families and children who will spend this holiday season missing those who aren’t there with them. Recently, the We Belong Together effort led a delegation of women leaders to Atlanta, Georgia. Our goal was to listen to the experiences of women and children in Atlanta who have been impacted by Georgia’s new “papers please” law. This law makes it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to live in the state and allows law enforcement to ask for documentation of anyone they “suspect” of being undocumented. The overarching fear from this, and similar state laws, is the risk of widespread racial profiling and abuse. So we went to Georgia to hear what was happening, and the stories we heard were heartbreaking.

Alicia spoke about her daughter, who suffers from a condition that causes her to have convulsions since she was one years old. Since Alicia doesn’t have a driver’s license, she only risks driving when she must rush her daughter to the hospital. Can you imagine what it means to be a mother whose only thought is to make sure her child is safe, and the most dangerous thing she can do is to risk driving to the hospital because if she were to be stopped by the police, she could be arrested and separated from her child?

Another woman, Claudia told us about the extreme abuse that her husband subjected her and her son to. Once he even chased them around their neighborhood with a knife until a neighbor called the police. Yet, because Claudia doesn’t have the right documents, she was deported and forced to leave her son with his abusive father until she could make her way back into this country and reclaim him. Can you imagine her terror and her son’s fear during that year of separation?

Unfortunately, we now know that those stories are no longer isolated incidents. The recently released “Shattered Families,” report documents just how devastating the impacts of enforcement-only immigration policies have on families. There are now at least 5,000 children in the American foster care system who are being prevented from being reunited with their detained or deported parents and this number is expected to exceed 15,000 in just five (5) years. Moreover, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention obstructs the ability for parents to participate in Child Protective Services’ family unification plans, and can result in detained parents actually losing their parental rights.

Are these the “family values” that we want this country to embody? What happened to caring about the children– our future?

We need to tell our country’s leaders that these policies, that tear families apart and leave children alone, isolated, and separated from their parents – who only wanted them to have a brighter future -  that these policies don’t work. That’s why We Belong Together, has launched the “A Wish for the Holidays,” campaign where we are asking our kids, our future, to tell today’s leaders to keep families together! Our goal is to collect 5,000 letters that can be delivered on Human Rights Day, to elected leaders in DC and remind them that it’s the holidays, and families belong together.

Please help us collect letters from children and youth.  Go to WeBelongTogether.org/wish, pledge to write letters, and then get started using the tools available online.  Remember that letters need to be mailed in by November 30.

Thank you and happy holidays!

November 11, 2011 by crissy spivey
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