viernes, 10 de febrero de 2012

Dancer, not a prostitute.

By Zaira Cortés
Global Connect! Blogger

Nueva York.- Evangelina is standing at the door of "el Gato Verde", a bar where she works. Her black shinny dress tightly hugs her slender body. Her straight hair flutters with the wind, framing her brown face.
In her transparent heels, even though, It's cold, Eva barely covered with a light coat reveals her pronounced cleavage.
From time to time she puffs on the cigarette she shares with her colleagues. With every movement her bracelets tinkle like bells. Her rings sparkle like halos of light that mingle with the green neon lights.
Just turned 23, she is certain of what to expect in life: nothing.
It is 10pm on a Saturday on Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, and Evangelina accompanied by two young women are expected to lure customers to the bar. 
Some men look at them with interest and others with disdain. Other men will make obscene comments, but the women are oblivious to their words. Heavily made up, they only speak of trivial things and continue waiting for customers.
Evangelina dances for two dollars per song. With her pale pink lips, she comments that the bar's patrons’ are immigrants who left their wives and children back home, or are men that  cannot get a girlfriend because of long workdays.
"We heal their loneliness," said a confident Evangelina.
"I am a dancer, not a prostitute. I just listen to the men, they buy me drinks and I only dance with them. "
The clock strikes midnight and customers begin arriving.  Eva enters the bar with her friends. Inside it is dark and the music is loud.
"I can hardly hear what they think," said the young woman smiling.
The smell of sweat of some of the men is intense. That sour smell mixes with lemon-scented liquid detergent used to clean the tables.
"I am doing very well here. I earn what I want. On week nights, I take home about $ 300 if it is not a great night, but on weekends I can make up to $ 600 in a few hours. "
Not all the money is for her. Thirty percent off her earnings goes to the bar. Eva has worked at this bar for eight months. She got there by chance.
"There was a sign soliciting waitresses, but in reality they were hiring dancers. "
There are approximately 15 young women at this business. Some are sitting at tables and other talking to customers.
On the dance floor, Eva dances a salsa with her customer. After a few minutes the music stops the man pays her $ 10 and takes her to a table.
"I do not know if they pay me to dance or for me to listen to their personal problems and complaints," said Eva wearily.
Eva has her own problems and sadness, but there is nobody to listen to her. She has two young children waiting for her at home who are taken care by a nanny.
She comes home at dawn, sleeps a few hours and wakes up when her children get up. Eva prepares breakfast and gets the children ready for school.  She them clean the house and prepare meal for the children in order to spend time with them in the afternoon.
If they ask where she work, Eva replies that she cleans stores. She leaves home dressed like any other mother and changes into a dancers outfit at the bar.
"I have not lost my shame. I only do it until I get something better, “she tries to convince herself.
She arrived in New York at age nine and became pregnant at 17. She had one baby after another.
Eva knows that behind her silence there is a story or hundreds such stories. Her friends also have something to tell. One is studying nursing and pays for her schooling as a dancer.
Another has three children in Ecuador and sends money home each week.
"Some people say we like easy money, perhaps, but that does not stop us from being human."
In the city that never sleeps, there are many women like Eva that do not sleep. The activist Natalie Rubio, president of the organization Voces Latinas, confirms that in the five boroughs there are hundreds of women dancing to live. According to her the majority are Latinas.
Rubio said that it is worrisome that bars attract young women, using false job ads.
"In Queens there are many signs requesting waitresses, but in reality they are looking for dancers and prostitutes. "
Young unemployed female immigrants are very vulnerable.
"Poverty and life’s needs are determining factors that drive these young women to become dancers. Some are minor’s girls, but the community accepts it as normal.”
In my opinion, there are parts of the Big Apple that are rotten, but we prefer to turn our backs on the problem and ignore its consequences. Not only do we have a serious economic crisis but the country also suffers from grave social ills. 
When we become indifferent to each others' pain and when we begin to believe that corruption is normal it leads to abnormal tolerances. Why it is that we tolerate young women having to drink and dance for a living instead giving them better options?
Discussing the problem it is only a small contribution towards finding a solution.

     Credit: Zaira Cortés.

Lives Cut Short: Trafficking from Mexico to New York.
By: Zaira Cortés
Global Connect! Blogger
Wednesday, Fecruary 1, 2012

NEW YORK--"In Mexico, many girls do not have to play at being prostitutes. They are forced by organized crime into prostitution", says Silvia Calderon, with a firm voice.
The dogs barking and women whispering do not distract Silvia. The Mexican mother tells her story via cell phone from a street in Mexico City.
"The injustices are already part of everyday life in this country," she states with anger.
"My daughter was forced into prostitution. I saved her, but many mothers are still searching for their daughters", she stated.
Silvia's daughter at age 13 was accosted by a gang of pimps in a Mexico City church. "The pimps became part of the parish and worked with the choir. Parents never thought that their children were at risk," she said. Without realizing what the man's interested in her was, the girl gave one of the pimps her personal information.
"One of the men, aged 25, sent e-mails to my daughter. He told her that he would make her a model and marry her," Silvia said.
In May, the traffickers kidnapped the girl from her home.
"My daughter was taken to Puebla with other girls that were between 10 and 17 years old." The teenager told her mother that some girls were taken to Oaxaca and others to the United States. The daughter was prostituted for four months. Her services included being beaten and tortured.
Silvia reached out to Rosi Orozco, a crusading member of the Mexican congress and the federal police intervened and her daughter was rescued.
Forced prostitution is the new market of organized crime. The daughter's body was sold up to 50 times a day making it more profitable than selling a few grams of drugs.
Teresa Ulloa, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and currently the director of the Regional Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated in a telephone interview that organized crime is operating under the radar of the international authorities for immigration and security.
In Mexico, the gangs from Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, are responsible for recruiting young girls and women from the poorest sections of Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz. Marriage is the most common method of seducing and forcing them into prostitution.
Ulloa said women are initiated into prostitution in Red Districts such as La Merced in Mexico City and then transported to the U.S. cities of New York, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles.
Organized crime used to bring the women into the U.S. through Arizona, but in the face of increased border security the Reynosa-Nuevo-Laredo, Tex., border is the new route.
"Nobody goes in or out without the protection of the Tamaulipas Cartel," said Ulloa.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security has yet to identify specific routes with the heaviest traffic of people who are or will be sexually exploited. ICE, as the agency is known, acknowledged that Mexican crime organizations have transformed themselves in size, scope and impact.
Ulloa said that at least in Queens, N. Y., in March 2011 some 400 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation were identified to be under the control of the Tenancingo bands. The majority were from Puebla and Tlaxcala. She added that many immigrants from Central and South America are intercepted by Mexican organized crime and forced into prostitution.
Safe Horizon in New York, said that in 2011, the organization assisted 468 victims of trafficking and 50 percent were Latino and 24 percent of this group were Mexicans.
The United States, Department of State in its Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, ranked Mexico in Category 2 for failing to meet minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.
The document also outlines that in 2010, the Mexican government identified 259 victims of trafficking, and 60 percent were young and teenage boys.
Although the trafficking of women and children from Mexico to the United States is a serious problem, during the September General Assembly of the United Nations, Mexican President Felipe Calderon in his speech on national security did not mention the issue of forced prostitution.
Congresswoman Orozco, president of the Special Committee to Combat Human Trafficking in Mexico, in a telephone interview stated that in 2010, 291 victims were rescued in Mexico and the United States. Of this group 97 percent were from Puebla and Tlaxcala.
Orozco mentioned a recent case in which a 21-year-old women suffered the mutilation of her tongue and breasts as punishment for trying to seek help.
"Forced prostitution is a horrific crime. We work to rescue women early on before they become the pimps' accomplices," she said.
Orozco noted that in Mexico, there have been cases of women who as children were forced into prostitution. As adults, they stop being victims to become victimizers.
Immigrant women from Central and South America also suffer from forced prostitution in Mexico. Orozco said she recently rescued three sisters form Honduras. All were minors.
Extortion is a common practice for pimps
"We dealt with a case of a girl who was sold 70 times a day. She endured the abuse, because the pimps also had kidnapped her sister. If she did not work, her younger sister would also be forced into prostitution," said Orozco.
Orozco and Ulloa agreed that the use of women and children should be criminalized in both Mexico and the United States.
In my opinion:
The trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation happens in the streets of our neighborhoods in New York City. Restaurants and shops by day become clandestine brothels at night. In basements and apartments, women are forced into prostitution. In the Mexican community there is much talk about what happens, but no one complains to the proper authorities.
Fear of the police and deportation prevents the saving of women and children's from being victims of sexual exploitation.
Immigrants tell stories such as: "I know a woman who prostituted for the coyote who brought her to New York. She must pay for the crossing and when in New York she must sell her body. However, the coyote charges her rent and food. Therefore, she can never pay her debt."
Men who pay for sex, justify it by claiming loneliness. They say, "Leaving your wife and children in Mexico is not easy. I work more than 8 hours a day. I have no time to seek company, so I'd rather pay for it."
Although loneliness is an evil that persists in the Mexican male community, machismo plays a major role in paid sex. All of these things occur because many men dehumanize women.
What does a man think when he pays for sex with a girl? Does he see her as a mother's daughter who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution? A mother who is on a quest to find her daughter? What are the New York authorities doing to stop the trafficking of humans for sexual exploitation?
Forced prostitution is not just a concern of the mother whose daughter was kidnapped but as part of organized crime it should be everyone's business.

martes, 31 de enero de 2012

Family and Work: An Immigrant Woman's Dilemma

By: Zaira Cortés
Global Connect! Blogger
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Midnight passes and it is intensely cold on Roosevelt Avenue. On the corner of 82 Street, Maria Gomez, a-39-year-old Mexican, carefully cleans the space occupied by her food cart.
With water and "jabón Roma," she brushes the fat off the stove that comes from the meat she cooks to prepare tacos.
Mexican immigrants like previous immigrants are a positive vehicle contributing to this country's economic recovery. However, this contribution comes at great personal sacrifice.
Maria's customers are workers who return home to the neighborhood after a tough day.
Maria starts preparing the food she sells before dawn. She slices the fruit sold in small plastic packages; grinds the green tomatoes, jalapenos and spices to prepare the sauce that accompanies traditional Mexican dishes. She cooks the tortillas made with fresh corn dough.
"This work is not easy. I have nowhere to go to the bathroom and I cannot rest during the holidays. I do it all for my family, "said Maria.
Because she does not understand English and she must put food on the table daily. Maria rarely gets the opportunity to help with her children's homework "In this city there is barely time for the important things in life," she said with resignation.
"Sales are not as good as in previous years, but the money allows me to survive with dignity," Maria says, explaining her commitment to her work.
Many Latinas are economically independent and contribute to the economic recovery. In its latest report, the Department of Labor states that at present, 41 percent of Latino workers who are the main household wage earners are women, like Maria Gomez.
Elizabeth Garcia, 52, who three months ago got a job selling chorros (fritters) for a commission of half of her daily sales.
On the corner of Castle Hill and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, Elizabeth spends most of her day offering bags of two churros for a dollar. She has a daughter in Mexico and each week sends her money.
"I live in a house with 20 people and I pay very little rent. In this country I deprive myself of material things to help my family live better in the town I left years ago, "she says.
Elizabeth is part of the Department of Labor's estimated eight million Latinas working in the United States.
"I am proud of myself because I am both a mother and father. With my own hands I have built assets for my family."
Many Latina immigrant workers have become entrepreneurs and employers. Martha Román, 43, owns a grocery store in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Northern Manhattan where many native Spanish-speakers live. She employs six immigrant workers, who, like her, could become future business owners.
"I always looked toward being my own boss. For many years I work hard and made very little money," she says.
The businesswoman described that her greatest challenge is the "machismo" of some employees.
"Some men think that a woman should not give orders. It's hard being an independent woman," she says. In addition, to maintaining her small business successfully, Román is a mother of three daughters. She adds, "It's difficult to be a small business owner and a good mother."
Martha recalls her childhood in Guerrero, Mexico as a difficult period, where poverty and neglect continues. She slept on the floor and food was always scarce. "I am proud of working to improve the economy of this great country. This is my home now and I want to be part of its development. "
Among all the success stories there are the ones of those still struggling. Clara Jimenez, a 20-year-old Mexican-American, resident of Brooklyn, is one of thousands of unemployed young people. She completed high school and is bilingual, but she states that her skills are not sufficient in a competitive city.
"I am enrolled at the University, but I do not know what will happen when the time comes to join the real world," she says.
On weekends, she sells food with her parents in the city parks. Months ago she worked as waitress, but she left the job because of low pay.
"I see unemployed graduates and I think college may not be good enough. The future it scares me, "she says.
It is my opinion that Mexican immigrants whether undocumented or legal face more exclusion and barriers than other new comers to United States.

                               Elizabeth García.
                               Credit: Zaira Cortés.

jueves, 12 de enero de 2012

Poverty Is not Folklore for Indigenous Mexican Women

                                                                                         Credit: Zaira Cortés

Poverty Is not Folklore for Indigenous Mexican Women
By Zaira Cortés
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
A close link between poverty and migration exists. Without employment, education, adequate food plus a machista culture, indigenous women face a challenge. Crossing the border may be the only way to get a better life.
NEW YORK. - In 2007, the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley, which forms part of Puebla's southern Sierra Mixteca, was the main stage for a movie (Todos Hemos Pecado) that suited the fantasies of Mexico's filmmakers.
Far from the glamour, bright lights and imaginary conceptions of the Mexican film industry, the indigenous women survive in a world that is not fiction, even though their circumstances seem to derive from the film-makers imagination.
This zone, heavily promoted by the state government, offers the international tourist, endemic cacti, ancient fossils, salt beds, exotic gastronomy and palm crafts. But in marginalized areas, the tourist economy does not seem to fill empty stomachs. Families live without basic services, such as potable water and medical care.
In San Pablo Netitlan, medicinal herbs are the only recourse for treating illness. From a high temperature to giving birth, treatment depends on the wisdom of local healers.
Women, who earn their living from selling hats made from palm leafs, survive on less than three dollars a day. To obtain the services of a medical doctor means that people must sacrifice much more than their weekly earnings.
This rural town of 450 inhabitants is 40 minutes from a major city (Zapotitlan Salinas Valley). Those that do not have a car or donkey must walk to the city. Broken bones are not treated by physicians. The "Hueseros" or bonesetters set broken bones and treat the fracture with ointments, prayers and the Popote herb.
Money is not the only thing lacking but so is food. The women anxiously wait for the singing of the Cheche bird because according to the ancestors their song brings rain. If there is no rain there will not be any crops and all hope is lost.
The rural women dig small holes in the dirt with their bare feet in which they plant corn. Between May and June, the indigenous people are constantly looking for signs of rain. A chicken wallowing in the dirt may be a good indication of the rain to come.
If clouds do not appear and rain does not come, mothers search for food in inhospitable terrain, full of rocks, thorns and eroded land. There they find herbs such as Chichipe or Chendes which they make into soup or roast with lime juice and salt.
There is no medical care, not even antibiotics, for those women who give birth. Herbs are the only solution. Herbs such as higuerilla, huele de noche and zumiate are used to heal both body wounds and those of the soul.
The midwives help birth babies that when grown will abandon their mothers to immigrate to New York. The majority of the young people from the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley reside in the Big Apple, far from their small world that refuses to accept its poverty as if it were folklore.
Estanzuela, Guadalupe La Meza, Agua Mezquite and El Manantial, are towns in which life is a daily struggle. Being born a female in these towns is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they must carry on their shoulders the burden of taking care of the family. Their daily activities are divided between seeking food in the mountains, planting crops, selling hats made from palm leafs and rearing their children. And then there is the constant oppressive machismo.
Alcoholic husbands, domestic violence, lack of birth control and poor nutrition define their daily life.
In the Sierra Mixteca of the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley, women are not concerned about looks; there is no time for vanity. The deep wrinkles on the women's bronze faces are scares of battles won.
It is much easier for the young men to say goodbye and cross the border in search of the American dream, than for young women to do so. The vast majority of young women can only accept the inevitable, the typical woman's role. For instance, teenage pregnancy is common in these communities and is seen as a natural process.
The lack of employment and education results in the annual migration of young people to New York. Only senior citizens, children and women remain in these towns.
The tourist propaganda attracts many international visitors to the cacti forest of the Zapotitlan Valley, but leaves the marginalized towns out, lost in an almost perfect paradise.
How ethical is the exploitation of the arts and heritage of communities that do not benefit from the tourist economy? The photograph of a woman weaving palm leafs may be beautiful for tourism propaganda, but what happens to her circumstances and poverty. Why the silence on Mexico's poverty?
Zapotitlan Salinas, an internationally known town for its artesian work of clay and stone, must confront its poverty and the resulting migration to the United States and its consequences of divided families, empty houses and abandoned wives and children.
In 1999, Bertha Barragan crossed the Arizona border with her three children. She had been abandoned by her husband when he immigrated to the United States. When Bertha arrived in New York she confronted her husband.
"My family was divided. In my home town I had to fight our poverty. In New York I have to fight my loneliness," stated Barragan.
In the Bronx, Barragan sells food to pay her rent. She misses her native foods but prefers to live in New York because of a better quality life. "Zapotitlan is beautiful for visitors, but for those of us that live there life is different. Without work in machista culture, women have few opportunities," said Barragan.
For Barragan, being indigenous should not be synonymous with poverty. "Treating illnesses with herbs is not traditional; it simply means that the indigenous communities do not receive the proper services. Living without basic services is not strength, it is an embarrassment," stated Bertha.
Poverty is not folklore but a reality.