Maria Luisa Tucker

Even Little Kids Are Protesting Trump: Here's How to Keep Them Safe on the Frontlines

Martha, a Brooklyn mom and activist, wants to take her 16-month-old daughter to the Women’s March on Washington on January 21 , but her husband doesn’t like the idea. “He worries that my daughter could get hurt in some way: tear gas, overcrowding, etc. and that we could never forgive ourselves if something unexpected happened,” she says. “I understand his point, and honestly, it makes me feel like a bad mom for wanting to go.”

Keep reading... Show less

Does Having a Child Make Me an Environmental Villain?

I've got some of the standard maternal guilt that is ingrained in our culture: I worry that I am not spending enough quality time with my son, while also worried that I may be a "helicopter" mother. But my main source of guilt springs from the mere fact that I created a person. Specifically, an American person who will inevitably leave a large carbon footprint. It's environmental guilt.

Keep reading... Show less

A Is for Activism: Why I Took My 10-Month-Old to the People’s Climate March

"I've never seen so many strollers in my life," remarked a gray-haired People's Climate March organizer as I walked by with my 10-month-old son. Nearby, a marcher breastfed her daughter while the crowd around her chanted "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!" Elsewhere, a small child with a megaphone led the crowd in a "Save the flowers!" chant while gripping a stuffed elephant. Clearly, the largest climate march in history was a family affair.

Keep reading... Show less

Not Your Soldier

How many of us have high school friends that were suckered into the military with promises of bonuses, college money and cajoled with the fictitious “glory of war” and the idea that the military “makes you a man”?

I can count four among my friends—four young men who later regretted their enlistment and realized that had been duped into something they knew very little about. Thankfully, those friends are out of the military by now, but recruiters are continuing to target Latino kids with Hummers, bonuses, and glorified ideas of military life. And thankfully, there are counter-recruitment measures underway across the nation.

Today, Boing Boing noted one counter-effort in an organization called Not Your Soldier. By offering educational camps for youth aged 13 to 22, the organization is attempting to arm students with knowledge

Not Your Solider focuses on kicking military recruiters out of schools and/or telling the other half of the story to youth who are being wooed by recruiters -- it provides handbooks and comic books about military recruitment and suggests that students invite a local veteran from Iraq Vets Against War to speak at their schools. Here’s a tidbit from their website:

Keep reading... Show less

Even Doormen Like To Dance

"There's a whole second part, a second soul to everybody here that nobody seems to know about."
--Samuel Contreras, building maintenance worker, New York City, from "Unseen America."


The timing was coincidental, said Esther Cohen, but miraculous. Unseen America, a book of photography edited by Cohen, was released on Monday just as city centers across the nation filled with demonstrators demanding legalization for undocumented immigrants. The much-heralded Day Without an Immigrant was also the day that scores of immigrant workers celebrated their newfound fame as published photographers.

Fittingly, it is a labor union that is behind the publication of "Unseen America"; unions have been primary supporters of the burgeoning movement for the legalization of undocumented immigrants. Like the immigrant rights' movement, the book has been a long time coming.

Cohen runs Bread and Roses, the nonprofit cultural arm of New York's Health and Human Services Union, which began sponsoring photography classes to workers and union members across the nation several years ago. What resulted were the incredible images of a largely invisible sector of society -- janitors, nurses, doormen, day laborers and clerks' views of the world from an artistic angle. "Unseen America" provides a view of the working class, which invariably includes images of immigrants, legal and illegal, working alongside American-born citizens.

The idea behind the book is simple; it seeks not so much to educate, but rather to expand the nation's view of its low-skilled, largely black and brown work force. It humanizes those who are rarely, if ever, shown as real people in popular culture. While the photos are by and about workers, they show much more than working life. The 200 pages are full of snapshots of relationships between co-workers who are also friends, between nurses and patients, bosses and employees. A number of the images depict day laborers during their nonworking hours -- picnicking at a lake, cooking dinner, serving a drink to the person behind the camera.

Editor Esther Cohen spoke with AlterNet about how the images were produced, and what they mean to the great immigration debate.

Maria Luisa Tucker: How did "Unseen America" come about?

sax-player
"I met Dewey Redman when he came into the store for a prescription. He is a prostate cancer survivor, and he's still performing. I took this picture to express hope."
--Photo by Arthur Deavers, Cashier, Rite-Aid 1199 SEIU, New York City


Esther Cohen: In the '80s we did an exhibit called Images of Labor, and the idea was that we get famous artists to depict what it's like to be a worker in this country. We did an iconic set of posters [with artists including Ralph Fasanella, Sue Coe, Jacob Lawrence and Milton Glaser].

So, 10 years ago when I took over the program, I wanted to figure out a way for workers themselves to tell their own stories, to make them the famous people. I thought it was important to develop the voices of those in society who have very important stories to tell. … I could see that language was a big issue since many people came from other countries, but then a volunteer brought me 100 cameras that were donated by a store in her neighborhood, and we realized that no matter who you are and what culture you come from, you can see. Photography was the perfect medium for us.

MLT: How did you choose which photographs to include in this book?

EC: The photography students curated it. This book represents thousands of people. It was a mammoth task. We've done over 400 classes with about 10 to 20 people, but I would say the classes resulted in thousands and thousands of pictures. At the end of the classes, each group had an exhibit of their work and we asked the classes to choose which photographs to display. They were in a huge variety of places from bus stations to galleries to community centers. The book represents only 21 of the 400 photography classes that were offered by the project.

MLT: Do you think the photographs speak to the issue of illegal immigration?

EC: That's a really tough question, and I don't know that I can answer it. I would say that these pictures in an honest and meaningful way show the pain and joy of living in this society of workers. They show people's complex lives, and they show their lives without irony or an agenda. I was worried at first that the book wouldn't do justice to the project, but people were so happy at the book party. As I was leaving the book party at the Guggenheim, the woman who ran security came up to me and told me that she and her security staff all wanted copies of this book. She said that they had provided security for a ton of events at the Guggenheim and this was the first one they actually related to. That felt really good.

MLT: What percent of the photographers are immigrants? How many are here illegally?

EC: More than 80 percent of the photographers featured in the book are immigrants. I don't know about who is here legally and who is not. When I work with photographers, I ask them what they see, not what their legal status is. It's funny, I was on CNN's Anderson Cooper, and the interviewer asked how I would change the immigration laws and I laughed. There are a lot of laws I would change if I could, but unfortunately I don't have that power.

MLT: Why are some of the photographers anonymous?

what-i-planted
"With each picture I feel like a gardener. When you take the film, each roll is like a seed and when you see your creation, it is a flower."
--Anonymous photographer, The Workplace Project, Long Island, N.Y.


EC: The migrant workers asked to be anonymous. They were the first group we did this project with. They were these guys doing mostly construction work in Long Island, standing by the side of the road. We wanted to work with them because their lives are never explored much, and also they were the subject of a lot of racism in the area they were living in.

During the photography class, we had a half a day of conversation about depiction -- is it good, is it bad? They were worried that the exhibit would jeopardize their relationship with the community. In the end, they decided to go ahead with the exhibit as long as those photographers who wanted to remain anonymous could do so. One of the day laborers actually became a professional photographer.

MLT: There has been a lot of debate over whether undocumented workers depress wages and increase unemployment for American citizens in low-skill jobs, particularly black Americans. I was wondering if, during this project, there has been any tension between illegal immigrants and workers who are citizens?

EC: I would say that when people come together to take this class, the room doesn't divide into people who are here legally or illegally. There hasn't been one form of dialogue -- it's not just about being legal or illegal. People have shared their work experiences, child rearing ideas, notions of life. I think it's silly to think about life in single-issue terms.

"Unseen America" is an ongoing project of Bread and Roses.

Marvel Comics takes on homeland security

Marvel comics is taking on politics with its new series called Civil War, “which can only be described as a gutsy comic-book series focusing on the whole debate over homeland security and tighter government controls in the name of public safety,” according to The Globe and Mail. The series was released Wednesday:

Keep reading... Show less

Majority favors earned citizenship

One day after legislators returned to work, CNN released poll results indicating that a majority of Americans favor legalization for most illegal immigrants. CNN reports:

Keep reading... Show less

The rapists in charge

We've often heard the refrain that rape is not about sex, but about power. When it comes to prison culture, that refrain seems especially appropriate.

Last week, the CDC released a study about HIV transmission in Georgia's prison population. Most headlines focused on the somewhat surprising finding that 91 percent of HIV-positive inmates contracted the disease before entering the system. What seemed more telling to me, however, was the info below the fold regarding the incidence of sex reported between corrections officers and inmates. Gay.com reported Saturday:

Keep reading... Show less

Anti-War grannies go to trial

A gaggle of peace-loving grandmothers are on trial today in New York for disorderly conduct. Yahoo News explains:

Keep reading... Show less

Defining the Melting Pot

In New York's Washington Square Park, the influence of immigration -- both legal and illegal -- was obvious long before today's immigrants' rights rally began. Hours before the marchers arrived with their flags and megaphones, nannies from the far corners of Latin America and Africa strolled through the park with their fair-skinned American toddlers in tow. Mexican and Irish construction workers ate Indian kati rolls on their lunch breaks. A gaggle of international students from New York University hailed a taxi, driven by a man with a West African accent.

Then, the pro-immigrant marchers converged.

From far off, it sounded like an impromptu pep rally, drums banging and whistles blowing. Once engulfed in the frenzy of the crowds, marchers could have been in any number of places. Phoenix, Los Angeles, Atlanta -- any of the 100 plus cities where people rallied on the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice. The chants were similar, the signs were similar, the message was clear: 11 million illegal immigrants, along with millions of their legal relatives and friends, want legal status. "We love America!" one marcher exclaimed via megaphone. "We are America!"

Children and parents, friends and cousins, cheered at this pronouncement. "We are here to let them know we're working hard. We're already part of this nation," said Tito, who crossed into the United States illegally ten years ago and now lives with his wife, Reyna, and their two kids in New Jersey. The children, 7-year-old fraternal twins, are American-born. Reyna is a naturalized citizen. If Tito were to be deported, Reyna would be an instant single mom. She is acutely aware of this fact and says she is here for him and many more relatives who are here illegally.

Alongside entire families, students and union organizers supported the immigrants' call for citizenship.

"I feel that our country needs to acknowledge the people that do most of the low-wage labor," said David Vigil, a Columbia University student, ESL teacher and former organizer for the Janitors for Justice campaign. Though he acknowledged the worry that illegal immigrants take citizens' jobs, Vigil said "I think it's problematic to say to they're 'our' jobs and not somebody else's, especially since so many companies don't respect borders anyway."

The long march was slowed by police officers using strict crowd-control measures; marchers were gated in on many blocks, and near City Hall they were allowed to leave but not to reenter. Throughout the long afternoon, the mood was jubilant, and the speakers plentiful. Among the notables were Manhattan Rep. Charles Rangel, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Al Sharpton, a handful of local elected officials, heads of immigrant rights groups and the like. The most compelling stories, though, were not the political but the personal.

Representing an immigrant network called Families for Freedom was a young man named Julio, who told the story of his father's sudden deportation. "Six immigration agents with guns took my dad … they deported him without telling us anything and turned my mom into a single mother," he said. "Immigration laws are tearing families apart, taking mothers and fathers away from their American-born children."

It was the family ties at this and other rallies that seemed the strongest motivator for many marchers. Contemplating the day's events, Mexican-American author and scholar Richard Rodriguez likened the entire immigrant movement to a family gathering. He wrote in Salon:

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES