Children's PressLine

Post-9/11 America is a Tough Place for Young Desis

[Editor's Note: In the years following September 11th, hate crimes targeting Arab, South Asian and Muslim immigrants have increased, according to the Office of the Inspector General. The same report cited that while the U.S. government has detained thousands of members of these communities, the overwhelming majority of them have not been charged with any crimes relating to terrorism. Janes Gregoire and Myles Miller from Children's PressLine spoke to three youth organizers from Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a Queens-based non-profit organization dedicated to political education about how the reaction to 9/11 terrorized and politicized their communities.]

Raheed, 17
I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and my parents are from Bangladesh. I have been in the United States for two years. 9/11 was scary, from the fact that I was coming from Saudi Arabia. When I saw it on TV, for a few seconds I thought, "Oh, they're making a new movie or something." But then when it said "Live," I got so was like war was about to happen or something.

After 9/11 there has been a lot of racism. When I went to school, people didn't know where I came from. I had a friend who later on when he found out that I came from Saudi Arabia, said a lot of stuff like, "Oh, what so Osama is your uncle or something?" and, "In Saudi Arabia, do they teach you to shoot AK47s in school?" It's really messed up. I was kind of racist before, but then after that I realized how hurtful it might be and then I wished I could do something about it. It made me realize how messed up the society can get sometimes.

Nowadays, if the youth hear something messed up they'll just go punch somebody, knock somebody out. But to prevent [racism], talk it out. I don't know how much it works; I was never in a situation where I tried to prevent it. Like my friend, I didn't try to stop him saying it, it's just that I'm not friends with him anymore.

Shoshi, 20
I am originally from Bangladesh. On 9/11 I was in New York City in my high school. After that I really saw the panic in the Muslim community, how that affected them, and all of the backlashes and hate crimes that were done against them.

Right after 9/11, we really started seeing the fear in our community, especially South Asian, Arab, Muslim communities where people were afraid to go out of the house or even do anything. At that time in DRUM we started doing an outreach flyer. We used to go to different neighborhoods where there was a high population of South Asian folks and put these flyers up that basically stated: If you have been the victim of a hate crime or if you have been abused or raided by FBI agents, you need to call us and that's our hotline. So at that time we were getting a lot of calls about people saying that they were getting raided in their house or their brothers or fathers were getting taken away from them by the FBI coming into their homes.

In 2001, the Patriot Act was passed and also the Special Registration Program was done in New York City that required men or boys 16 and over to go register from 25 different countries and every one was a Muslim country except for North Korea. A lot of the calls that came in were very emotional and very saddening. Brothers and fathers that were just taken away from their homes, or they went to register thinking that they were complying with the government and they ended up being in detention centers and later being deported. Really, at that time, we were seeing how government agencies like the FBI or the police department were going into our homes and breaking up our families and tearing them apart.

Throughout history, the backlashes and the hatred that our community and people of color in general have faced when they enter this country shows that we don't have equal access to anything, especially if you are undocumented. You don't have access to healthcare, you don't have access to school or higher education. Just seeing that has heavily influenced me in doing this political work that I'm doing now.

Right after 9/11, the media played a big role in portraying Muslims as being terrorists or Muslims being bad and a lot of the hate crimes increased. We're seeing that it's not just that one day you wake up and decide to hate all of the Muslims. It's that something is put into your mind that does that. The media has a big role in doing that. So actually exposing the media or the government in how they're being racist and treating our folks differently.

Just understanding what's going on, like our anger and our frustration, there are healthy ways to portray those and actually push for social change. It's a really great feeling to know that you're actually making positive changes in your community. Change is possible; we haven't hit the dead end. There's no such thing as "that's just the way it is."

Rashi, 20
Political education is really crucial because sometimes many of the things you see on TV or read in the newspaper is just one point of view. It's not really coming from the communities themselves; it's basically just corporate or government agencies that are putting out these messages. You're not really hearing the side of the people from the communities.

After 9/11, all of the hate crimes that were happening made me realize that sometimes people don't get all the facts straight or they jump to conclusions. I also saw the strength in the South Asian, Muslim and Arab communities and immigrant and people of color communities because they did not take it sitting down. They began organizing.

After 9/11, we saw all of these national policies and how it was affecting our communities in different ways with detentions and deportations and racial profiling. We also saw after, around 2003, that school safety policies changed. They started putting police officers and metal detectors into schools. We did a two year research phase where we conducted 665 surveys with South Asian immigrant students to see how these school policies affected them. Fifty-one percent of them said they had seen or experienced harassment by police officers or school officials. Being exposed to such high levels of harassment doesn't create an environment in which students feel that they can learn. We have to create a school environment that is safe for everyone. Policing a problem is not the same as solving it. Many of the schools that we went to or go to are overcrowded or underfunded, or programs are being cut. This is not how to solve the problem. Actually investing in education-putting in computers and books and smaller class sizes will create a safe environment for everyone.

The Birth of a New Generation of Activists

New York, April 10 -- The energy was high, the streets were blocked and immigrant rights supporters were draped in flags. The recent immigration rally at City Hall was an intergenerational show of support of the right of people to secure a future in America. And similar to the rest of the country, unusually high numbers of teens -- immigrant and nonimmigrant -- came out to show their support for a humane immigration reform. Three young reporters from Children's PressLine were on hand to ask young participants what motivated them to come out.

Newton Brungart, 12
Florida Keys

Immigrants -- they're just regular people. They are just like everybody else; they're nice. My family is from Germany. We're immigrants, but we've just been here longer.

Freddy Martinez, 12

I think immigrants deserve to stay here and have permanent residence like all the other people. The law that Congress is trying to make to deport them back to where they came from should be taken away. My parents are immigrants and if they don't have residence by the time [the immigration debate] is over then they're going to be sent back, and I won't because I was born here and they weren't. Illegal immigrants shouldn't be treated like criminals. They just came here to get a better life, and instead of being treated like normal people they're being treated like criminals without doing anything wrong.

Tay Jones, 17

I think that everything should be changed. I think that if immigrants are here, they should stay here. It shouldn't matter. They don't bother me why do we have to send them home?

Laurie Callaway, 18

I'm going to marry [an undocumented immigrant] from Mexico. The United States-Mexico border has the biggest economic disparity in the entire world. You can make five times more in America than you can make in Mexico, and that's why the border is so perforated, because people cannot live on what they make. Because most of the people in Mexico are of the lower class, even though they have socialized medicine, socialized education, your class determines how you have access to it. And the lower the class, the less access to it, so when you're a 14-year-old kid whose father has just died and the mother has no support, you will emigrate because you want to eat and you want your parents to eat.

AJ Venkac, 18

I think us as the workers should pledge solidarity with the immigrants and let them know that they're workers as well. We're all the same. We're workers. They're workers. So why should they be divided from us? Why should they be called immigrants and us called citizens? We're all workers. So pledge solidarity and overthrow the people that say they're different from us. I don't agree with either of the bills Congress is debating because they equally exploit the workers. So no matter what bill passes, it's going to be the same exploitation. A lot of the reasons why they come here is because their lives in their countries are really bad, and American corporations exploit their countries. Immigrants make a hard choice when they decide to come here illegally. Life in their own countries is worse because we made it worse, because American corporations and capitalism has made it worse.

Marisa McCaffery, 14

I don't mind illegal immigrants actually. Even if they're illegal, they're not going to do anything criminal because they're not going to want to get caught.

Mario Cajas, 11
New Jersey

I'm from Ecuador. I came to America five years ago to get a better future. I feel great because I know that we're working for freedom, and soon all of us are not going to be immigrants. We're working it out so we can all get a better job. Soon we could all be the same.

Arekio Spina, 17

I'm from Colombia. We are humans. We have feelings. We are not animals. We do the same things that American people can do, and we want the same rights.

Maria Hernandez, 18
Cornwall, N.Y.

I'm from Mexico. I think all immigrants should have rights, and that's why I'm here today. We came here in search of a better life for our families and to have a better opportunity to study and to have a better life. I've been here ten years. Some difficulties about living in America are that people look at you different. They treat you different because you are different. If you're not white, they don't give you the same rights as if you were a white.

Karim Smith, 13

Everybody is equal. Nobody is better than anybody.

Youth Issues Take Back Seat at DNC

Children's issues just aren't what they used to be. Education, health care, and safe neighborhoods won't be the delegates' focus at this week's Democratic National Convention. Instead, national security and foreign policy will be the Democrats' top priorities – and some politicians are arguing that these are "the new children's issues."

"These are things that affect all Americans, including children," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. "Any time we are at war and any time we have had thousands of innocent civilians killed, as we did on September 11, that is going to be a major focus for the country.'

The Democrats' new platform reveals the sweeping change. Education, for instance, is not mentioned in 37-page platform committee report until page 22. By contrast, the first third of the 2000 Democratic platform was focused entirely on education.

But some Democrats believe that their party's priorities need to remain focused on America's youth. "The greatest concern is not about terrorism, is not about national security," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "People are also concerned about the well being of our young people, the well being of our children."

Democratic Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton also challenged his party to advocate for these issues more powerfully.

"I think [children's issues] have been pushed further and further to the back," he said. 'Any civilized society has to push its children and the care of its children out front."

A prominent children's researcher also believes that these issues need to remain a top priority. Tony Cipollone, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said he believes that, while children's well-being has improved over the past 12 years, if "we don't look at those issues explicitly, it's going to be tough to maintain progress."

Kids interviewed in New York, Indiana and Michigan said they were still struggling with education and healthcare problems.

Richard Hooker, 15, a student at the Bronx School of Science, said his classes have become extremely crowded since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect. "Every classroom has about 30 students," he added. "Some have even 40 and Music Appreciation has 50."

Some kids in Indianapolis said even gas prices were affecting their lives. "One time [my mom] was running out of gas and she had to get money from our college savings," said Fernando Carbajal, 11. Fifteen-year old Andrea Phillips agreed. She said that gas prices were so high that her older brother was now charging her for rides.

But such problems aren't being addressed by delegates las they have been at conventions past. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, for instance, who introduced her husband, Bill Clinton, Monday night, used her 1996 convention speech to promote education and children's health issues. She spoke about reducing college costs and providing health insurance for kids. At the time, these issues appealed to American voters, who were in the midst of a strengthening economy. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing and a commitment of 20,000 American soldiers to the crisis in Bosnia, Democrats remained focused on family issues.

Four years later, Vice President Al Gore built his 2000 Democratic platform around similar goals: improving education, lowering college costs, ensuring that children had adequate health care and reducing crime in neighborhoods.

Leading up to the 2000 elections, the economy was still strong, the Dow had just broken 10,000 for the first time and the nation was running a surplus instead of a deficit. International matters were not of immediate concern. Instead, the nation had been rattled by domestic issues, especially the proposed impeachment of President Clinton and the shootings at Columbine High School, which had been preceded by five other school shootings. Kids were suddenly seen in a different light, with many schools hiring police, instituting weapons checks and scrutinizing every offhanded comment. "When a child can't go to school without fearing guns and violence – that is a child left behind,' said Mrs. Clinton to the Democratic Party at the 2000 convention.

In 2004, the country faces a variety of issues, many of them born out of the response to Sept. 11: the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the faltering economy's recovery and continually rising gas prices. Unlike Mrs. Clinton's speeches in 1996 and 2000, this year's didn't address children's issues with the same sense of urgency. Instead, she focused on affordable health care for all and a more secure America.

Senator Bayh, on the other hand, believes that a balance between national security and domestic issues is imperative.

"You can't just choose one or the other,' he said. "If you're not careful, national security issues, as important as they are, might overshadow or crowd out other issues."

Child Labor and the Death Penalty

News Team: Tiffany Eng, 17; Natasha Kirtchuk, 12; Elizabeth Negron, 11; and Nily Rozic, 17

Just before South Carolina voters headed to the primary polls, the Democratic candidates fielded questions from an auditorium of immigrant-rights activists and low-income advocates in a 90-minute session called "Dialogue with America's Families." Sponsored by the Center for Community Change, the forum presented the candidates (Sen. Lieberman did not attend) with first-person stories of the Bush administrations affects on low-income families. 200 young people from New York City were also part of the event. CPL's political team questioned the candidates after the presentation.

Kids can buy name brand sneakers in this country that were made by children in sweatshop conditions in another country. How do you feel about that?

Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton
I think that is wrong. If we allow the marketplaces of America to be inundated with products that are manufactured by people who use slave labor then we are in a sense condoning it. I would outlaw it. I would fight to close our borders to anyone that engaged in less than what they should when it comes to labor standards and they would not have a marketplace in the United States.

Gov. Howard Dean
What we need to do is change our trade agreements. Our trade agreements are good for incorporations but they're not very good for working people around the world. We need to enforce child labor laws around the world. As a condition to importing products, we need to enforce child labor laws, minimum wage laws, overtime laws, safety laws. All the same labor laws that are in the United States need to be enforced around the world or we don't have an obligation to import those products duty free.

There are 73 juvenile offenders on death row in the United States. This is the only country that stills executes people for crimes they committed as minors. What is your reaction to that?

Rev. Al Sharpton

I have watched people die. There was one man that was executed in Texas while Bush was governor that requested that Bianca Jagger, Jesse Jackson and I be there. And we watched him die. I was convinced that his case did not warrant a conviction particularly not leading to the death penalty. So not only am I against children on death row, I'm against anyone on death row. We've seen too many cases where cases have been proven to been wrongly decided. Therefore since we cannot restore life. The state should not take life.

Gov. Howard Dean
I don't believe that people under 18 should be subjected to the death penalty. Unless you're an adult, you can make the case that you don't have full comprehension of what your doing.

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Grilling the Democratic Candidates

News Team: Amy Ding, 16; Tiffany Engh, 16; Eric Halperin, 17; Natasha Kirtchuk, 12; and Nily Rozic, 17

At the recent Democratic debate at Pace University, Children's PressLine caught up with all 10 candidates to discuss education, homelessness and other national issues that affect kids.

* * * * * *

If you were called to take office, what issues that affect children would you make a priority?

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Affirmative Action Victory Opens Doors

Defend Affirmative Action"The Supreme Court decision is a big, big, big victory for us. Now we are able to build the new civil rights movement," says 17-year-old college freshman Kevin Horton. Although Supreme Court Justice O'Connor hopes that affirmative action policies won't be necessary in 25 years, Kevin and other young people feel that in today's world, affirmative action is still important.

Kevin Horton, 17, Howard University:

We need affirmative action because we need equality. We need affirmative action because racism exists and things aren't equal, especially in education. When it comes to filling out a college application, race most definitely needs to be taken into consideration because race was taken into consideration when they were placed in under-funded school districts that don't have materials. White schools have everything compared to schools in urban areas.

Preserving affirmative action is basically preserving the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education -- our society is so segregated, especially in education -- preserving the promise that separate but equal can never be equal.

Applying to college for me wasn't about applying to a school because they had affirmative action. I worked hard in school. I worked hard to get my grades up and get involved in my community. I worked hard on my college resume so I could get in based on merit. But the truth is, merit isn't the only thing that could get me in because racism still exists.

Affirmative action recognizes the inequalities in the world. It recognizes that the things that are going on in the world aren't right. It recognizes the racism contributes to disenfranchised minorities.

The Supreme Court decision is a big, big, big victory for us. Now we are able to build the new civil rights movement. Now we have an open venue to address the inequalities in K-12 education. Now we are available to analyze and attack some of the things that have been against us. Now there is more room to grow and more room for the United States as a society to grow. Affirmative action is a major step against racism.

Darryl Watson, 18, Penn State:

"This isn’t just about affirmative action, it’s about total integration and total equality in American society." - Darryl Watson, 18

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Kids Call for HIV Lessons in Hip-hop

RAINBOW/PUSHAt the "Hip Hop & Youth – Politics & Strategies" workshop held during the recent RAINBOW/PUSH Wall Street Project Conference, founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson, young attendees talked to about what responsibilities hip-hop artists have in addressing HIV/AIDS.

How is AIDS addressed in your community?

Takia, 16, Bronx: AIDS is not addressed in my circle. No one actually knows what AIDS is or how can you get AIDS or what you can do to stop or prevent AIDS.

What type of responsibility do hip-hop artists have to address AIDS?

Takia, 16: A lot of them talk about sex. They open it like it’s no big deal, like it’s a candy. They don’t tell kids that sex isn’t something that you just do. It comes with consequences. It’s not something you just have.

Ighorn, 13, Bronx: I think they do address it how they should. My fellow students always talk about how AIDS is a bad disease, which it is, so everyone should just have protected sex to protect themselves.

Mark, 14, Long Island: They don’t address the negative part of it and they don’t address the aftermath of what happens.

How can hip hop erase the stigma of HIV/AIDS?

Mark, 14: By writing songs about what happens when you do it and what happens after you do it, rather than just what happens before you do it.

Takia, 16: Instead of talking about all this stuff in their music – for example, Lil’ Kim talking about I did this or I did that – they should teach the kids that you don’t do that. There needs to be more responsibility. There needs to be more organization. People need to get more involved.

Do you ever feel threatened by AIDS?

Francois, 13, Brooklyn: Sometimes I do feel threatened. Whoever you have sex with, you don't know what they have. They only tell you after and then you know you're going to pass away.

Barris, 15, Brooklyn: I'm scared that I might get it if I mess with the wrong girl. That's why I wear condoms.

Below, two peer educators from the Bronx talk about their experiences as health advocates.

Joel, 17: A lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes are that it's a gay disease and that's completely wrong. Anyone is at risk -- anyone that's not using a condom.

Every school needs to educate kids health issues, especially HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases that teens are getting. You can catch an STD in such an easy way, it's unbelievable. A lot of kids don't know that. A lot of people are just making out with anybody and doing promiscuous behavior. They don't realize that it's so easy to catch an STD. In a blink of an eye you can catch something you can't cure.

Christiana, 16: Everybody should think of it like this: I could get it, you could get it, any of us could get it. If you're having unprotected sex or sharing needles of any kind, you're at risk.

Most people are scared to get tested because they're scared to find out the truth. Like if they have it, they're scared to get rejected.

They should make getting tested for HIV mandatory. Half of the people out there [who are HIV positive] don't know it.

This article was edited by Charles Hamilton, 15; Jose Molina, 17; and Tarissa Whitley, 14.

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