day laborer news

Distribuir contenido
Official News Blog of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network
Actualizado: hace 2 años 51 semanas

Hansen: Working in the shadows

2 February 2012 - 3:25pm

By David Hansen, February 1, 2012 | Source: Laguna Beach

On any given day, a couple dozen Latinos wait on a dusty strip of dirt on Laguna Canyon Road, hoping for work. Most support families back in Mexico. They will be lucky to work one day a week.

The recession has taken a toll on nearly everyone, including those in the Day Labor Hiring Center.

“I’m paying for two families,” said Jose Villaseñor, 58, who has lived in the U.S. for 21 years and has four children. “I work maybe one day a week, maybe no work, no nothing.”

Villaseñor gets up at 4 a.m. and takes two buses from Santa Ana to get to Laguna by 6 a.m., when the work center hands out lottery numbers. In an effort to avoid a free-for-all, the lottery system tries to more fairly distribute work.

“We’re a barometer,” said David Peck, chairman of the South County Cross-Cultural Council, which runs the site. “Before the recession, about 50% got jobs working two to three days a week. Now, it’s maybe one to two days.”

On Monday, there were 25 guys vying for work, but only four got picked up.

For Villaseñor, the long days without work are taking its toll. He’s trying to hold out for retirement.

“Six days I got to take the bus,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t have any money to take the bus. Too much problem.”

Two years ago he had a “real job” for a construction company as a framer, but the company folded, laying off 465 people. He made $600 a week.

“That was good, but no working here, no making money,” he said. “I gotta eat. What do you eat, tortillas? No beans? No carne? No pollo?”

Villaseñor appears older than his years. It’s obvious he’s had a rough working life. His tiredness looks permanent. His teeth need work. He doesn’t have insurance.

“No insured, no nothing,” he said. “My wife, I got to help. Kids is small ones, they got to eat. I got to pay rent, $500.”

Most of the workers share rooms.

“A lot of guys are living five to six in an apartment,” Peck said.

Irma Ronses, who has managed the day-to-day operations of the center since its opening 11 years ago, tries to help those she knows haven’t worked in some time.

She also avoids any political issues.

“I’m not allowed to ask if they are legal or illegal,” she said.

No one likes to admit it, but most are illegal. According to a seminal 2004 National Day Laborer Survey, 80% of California’s day laborers are undocumented.

“On average, day laborers find work two to three days a week, although they look for work five days a week,” the report said. “Despite a relatively high hourly wage of about $11, average weekly earnings are only around $260, mainly because of the low average number of hours worked per week — about 23.”

What makes these numbers significant is that California has about 25% of the entire U.S. illegal immigrant population, nearly twice that of any other state.

The majority of these immigrants have families they support in Mexico, making it a multi-billion industry. In 2005, the World Bank said that the amount of money sent from Mexican workers in the United States to their families in Mexico was more than $18 billion.

Interestingly, the goal of most workers is to get back home. Some have already left. For others, it’s too dangerous because of the drug wars. The gangs will demand either allegiance or death.

As an alternative, the immigrants would like to bring their families here, but the crossing is too risky and expensive.

Meanwhile, the Laguna work center is like a haven. All say it’s the best setup in the area, by far. They feel safe here.

“It’s good,” said Villaseñor. “I get paid good money but no job every day.”

In the six months he’s been coming to Laguna, his longest stretch of work was three days in a row. The rest has been a day here or there, sometimes just for a few hours.

“That’s sad, no more work,” he said.

“We’re the lonely hearts club,” joked Peck, who has seen his share of daily disappointment. “We see indications things are picking up.”

Peck tries to take the long view, recognizing that day laborers will always be needed, and that they make up an important fabric of a local community.

“This is democracy in action and something that’s been a part of our history,” he said.

For the workers in Laguna, that history is now spent milling around most of the day, killing time by kicking a soccer ball or playing cards.

One highlight of the day is Rubin’s food truck, which makes homegrown tacos with warm corn tortillas that taste straight out of Puebla, rivaling any Laguna Beach restaurant.

The price? Two for $3.


DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at

Demián Bichir: Mexican Actor Nominated For An Academy Award For Best Actor In ‘A Better Life’ (VIDEO)

30 de enero 2012 - 12:30pm

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, 01/24/2012 | Source:

Mexican actor Demian Bichir, who was nominated Tuesday morning for an Oscar in the Best Actor category for his role as a Mexican day laborer in the film “A Better Life,” has dedicated his nomination to the millions of undocumented immigrants in the nation.

The drama portrays the life of an undocumented gardener, Carlos Gallindo, in East L.A. The gardener struggles to keep his teenage son on the straight-and-narrow and give him a chance at “a better life” after his wife abandoned the two of them after crossing the border into the United States.

“A Better Life” is rather timely given the contentious national debate over immigration.

Bichir’s nomination also comes at a time when people around the country are protesting controversial immigration laws, such as Alabama’s HB56 and Arizona’s SB1070.

Bichir’s portrayal of a Mexican day laborer brings the struggle of the “undocumented immigrant” to life. On Tuesday, Bichir issued a statement dedicating the nomination to the undocumented: “I dedicate this nomination to those eleven million human beings who make our lives easier and better in the U.S.”

In an interview with Fox News Latino, Bichir said, “This issue [of immigration] is close to many of us… We are all immigrants and America was based on immigrants. But this film is not just an immigration movie.” Above all, the film captures a father’s unwavering love for his son.

“I’m overwhelmed for having my name among those incredible actors. This could have never happened if Chris Weitz had not been the head of this film. He is my brother and I thank him deeply,” Bichir said in a statement.

While Bichir may be a household name in the U.S. yet, the Mexican star has been acting since he was 14. He has played Esteban Reyes, the fictional mayor of Tijuana and husband of Mary-Louise Parker’s character in Weeds. Bichir also played two famous Latin American revolutionaries: Fidel Castro in Che: Part One and Che: Part Two and Emiliano Zapata in Zapata: Amor en Rebeldia, according to

If nothing else, Bichir hopes the buzz surrounding his Oscar nomination will encourage people to see the film.

“Hopefully more and more people will jump into iTunes and Netflix to see our film. That will be the biggest reward we could get,” said Bichir.

In the category for Best Actor, Bichir is up against George Clooney in “The Descendants”, Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”, Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”.

According to the L.A. Times, Bichir is one of only a handful of Mexican actors and actresses to have scored Oscar nominations, including Anthony Quinn for “Wild is the Wind” (1957) and “Zorba the Greek” (1964) and Salma Hayek for Julie Taymor’s 2002 bio-pic “Frida” about painter Frida Kahlo.

The first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor was Puerto Rican Jose Ferrer in 1950 for his protrayal of Cryano de Bergerac.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards will air February 26 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.

Writer/Director Jill Soloway Explores Latino Themes in Sundance Film ‘Una Hora Por Favora’

30 de enero 2012 - 12:15pm

By , Film Producer, CEO of the Latino Film Fund | Source:

It was a historical week for Latinos in film: On Tuesday morning, Demián Bichir was announced as Oscar Nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his depiction of a Latino undocumented immigrant day laborer in the film A Better Life, directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy, New Moon).

Meanwhile, the Latino day laborer character was in the spotlight yet again with Wilmer Valderrama’s portrayal of character “Arturo” in writer/director Jill Soloway’s film Una Hora Por Favora when it premiered in the Shorts Program of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The film Una Hora Por Favora shares the story of a lonely woman “Elissa” (played by Michaela Watkins) who, when she desperately needs her shower fixed, picks up a Latino day laborer named “Arturo” (Valderrama). Elissa and Arturo are quickly swept into a whirlwind love affair, and soon Arturo is introducing his new girlfriend to his barrio, and she takes up studying Spanish. The couple seems to swap cultures before the relationship sours. In Una Hora Por Favora, it appears that one hour can change everything.

Neither Chris Weitz (the director of A Better Life) or Jill Soloway are Latino, yet both directors boldly present Latino themes in their movies, as well as attempt to introduce Latino characters with depth in their chosen storylines. Soloway tackles complex subjects, including cultural assimilation and gender stereotypes, in Una Hora Por Favora. She uses comedy as the vehicle through which to disguise these controversial topics, and at the same time, slip them onto the tips of our tongues for serious discussion:

“I love the idea of creating films that are both funny and meaningful at the same time. It’s a tightrope act, but it inspires me.”

Soloway isn’t a newcomer to comedy or the entertainment business; Soloway honed her comedic voice as Writer and Co-Executive Producer of the HBO original series “Six Feet Under.” She was also a Executive Producer of the comedic Showtime series “The United States of Tara.” Soloway was born in Chicago and got her start in the “theater and by writing essays.” A fan of Woody Allen, Albert Brooks and Andrea Arnold, Soloway is 100% ready to direct her own writing: “I have worked in Hollywood for almost 20 years, so it doesn’t even seem like Hollywood to me, it feels more like Detroit and the auto industry…[I] really [want] to push myself to grow as a writer and artist. Moving into directing and being forced to have responsibility for the total package [by making a short film] seemed the best way to do this.”

To ensure she remained true to the Latino characters and Spanish language presented in the film Una Hora Por Favora, Soloway teamed up with Associate Producers Marco Villalobos and Daffodil Altan. Villalobos explained how they were introduced to the director:

“The fundamental storyline was already hammered out when Jill brought it our way. She had done a lot of heavy work on it. So the actual concepts, which are so applicable in contexts outside of ethnicity, were already planted. Other than that, associate producer, Daffodil Altan, and I were able to sit with Jill and really help articulate how the details of Wilmer’s character’s background would navigate the details of his behavior within the film’s narrative.”

Latinos Altan and Villalobos are happy with the portrayals of Arturo and the other day laborer characters in the film, not necessarily for what the characterizations appear to be at the film’s first frame, but where they unfold to during the film’s story. Altan explains:

“I’m Latina, so yes, I realize that the film is a comedic representation of one of the most ubiquitous but rarely explored modern immigrant character: the day laborer. I’m proud and grateful that this film [is] able to humanize and destigmatize the idea of who a day laborer is, and to free Wilmer’s character–and the supporting cast of actual day laborers–from the awful and alienating stereotypes often attached to brown, working class immigrants.”

Together with writer/director Soloway, Villalobos and Altan were dedicated to making the character of Arturo complex and multi-faceted. According to Villalobos:

“[Unlike] the usual, often simple objectification and alienation of immigrants in the media, Una Hora Por Favora takes the time to look at one undocumented worker from some very subtle viewpoints– in this case as a critical, insightful person who confronts his “overseer,” or objectifier ["Elissa"] in surprising and intimate ways. Without being too obvious, Wilmer’s character demonstrates the sharpened ability to adapt that is required of any immigrant.”

Casting Valderrama as the role of Arturo was an easy decision. As Villalobos states:

“[Wilmer has] a presence that puts people at ease; He’s the Ricardo Montalban international playboy of our time! ¡Esta guapo y las mujeres lo quieren!

In Una Hora Por Favora, it seems the theme of gender stereotypes is turned on its head at the same time as the ethnic one: Elissa has an ‘idea’ of men prior to her encounter with Arturo, but she discovers a newfound respect for them through their romance. This revelation just may lead Elissa to ultimately fall in love…or so we are teased into believing when the film ends.

If you are in Utah and can catch the film at Sundance before the festival closes, the film screens tomorrow, January 28th, at 9:30pm in the Shorts Program 1.

If you aren’t at Sundance, you can watch the film online now thanks to Yahoo! and their Official Sponsorship of the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Program. Use the comments section below to share your opinion of Jill Soloway’s short film Una Hora Por Favora.

John Sonsini’s Expressionist Portraits Of Latino Day Laborers

30 de enero 2012 - 12:05pm

First Posted: 01/27/2012 8:23 am | Source:

There is something bourgeois, even aristocratic about sitting for a portrait, engaged in the labor of sitting still. That contributes to the unexpected excitement in the aesthetically traditional portraits of Latino day laborers by John Sonsini. In a controversial move, Sonsini hires workers from Los Angeles work sites and pays them their hourly wage to sit for him. His expressionist works are mostly all of Mexican males and yet his pieces aren’t overtly political; instead, the message behind Sonsini’s thick brushstrokes is subtly filtered through the SoCal sunlight.

Classical portraiture privileges rank over identity, taking care to show the subject’s status without as much emphasis as his expression. And yet, Sonsini’s paintings depict class through the individual details in the subjects’ clothing (or lack thereof), from their soccer uniforms to bare chests and blue jeans. However, a far greater understanding of the subjects emanates from their posture, which is decidedly guarded, showing they are slightly uncomfortable with this new treatment they’re receiving from the artist. The subjects are portrayed as male paradoxes; both gentle and tough, rugged and worn out.

Sonsini does not give us the American Dream. But in his works he briefly actualizes this idea by giving power, time and labor to those who usually spend their days working in anonymity. Here, they become visible. The paintings pluck a worker from John Millet’s ‘The Gleaners’ and place them in modern day LA for their, in this case, 5 hours of fame.

John Sonsini will display at Inman Gallery in Houston until February 25.

What do you think? Should the artist have paid the laborers a higher wage or was his rate justified? And does this traditional portrait reveal anything about the inner lives of the subjects, or is it more about the artist’s technique?

La Asociacion de Jornaleros - Wage Theft Workshop

12 de enero 2012 - 1:11pm

La Asociacion de Jornaleros/San Diego Day Laborers Association | Source:

Organizer, Mark Day re-caps the wage theft workshop:

Our wage theft workshop on Oct. 29 in Oceanside was a huge success thanks to the teamwork of college students, organizers, guest speakers, jornaleros, and household workers who attended. Special thanks go to the Mira Costa college students of the Human Rights Committee of Oceanside for setting up the workshop at the Mira Costa Community Learning Center and for coordinating the food and other tasks.

Our special guest was attorney Renee Saucedo from the Centro Legal de La Raza in San Francisco. Renee encouraged us to take direct action against employers who refuse to pay their workers. She also told the story of how the San Francisco day labor center got started 20 years ago, and how it has become so successful. The bottom line, said Renee, is that we have to keep organizing–and eventually we will reach our goals.

Veronica Federovsky of the National Day Labor Organizing Network advised day laborers and household workers on how workers can do to protect their own interests when dealing with employers.  This includes being paid in cash the same day of the work and taking careful documentation on the employer in case he/she fails to pay.

Justin Hewgill, wage attorney with the Employee Rights Center in San Diego gave solid advice on the need to carefully prepare paperwork in filing wage theft claims, and offered the services of the ERC.

Praire Bly, directing attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance office in Oceanside, spoke about how CRLA handles wage theft cases, and she offered to take on some cases including a workmen’s comp case at the workshop.

Michelle Leneoue and Sergio Cardona of Interfaith Services (Escondido) spoke about wage theft in Escondido and how Interfaith relates to day laborers and household Workers.

We alternated speakers presentations with theatrical skits showing how we confront “wage thieves”  (recalcitrant employers).  One of the more popular skits starred Katia Rodriguez as a household worker and Professor Fredi Avalos as as diva-esque housewife who castigates her employee for breaking a picture frame.  This skit was titled: “La Crisis de Enedina.”

Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee spoke on the dangers of S-Comm (so called “Secure Communities) and how it divides immigrant communities.

Burglars hit Hayward nonprofit agency over holiday weekend

5 de enero 2012 - 12:47pm

By Chris De Benedetti | Source: Hayward Daily Review/ | January 4, 2012

HAYWARD — The Hayward Day Labor Center, a nonprofit agency hit by burglars over the New Year’s holiday weekend, is asking for help replace some stolen items.

The job-training organization — which provides a variety of social services to those in need in the greater Hayward area — lost computers printers, and gardening tools in the burglary, said Gabriel Herndandez, the center’s executive director.

The burglars also damaged a book-dispensing vending machine and stole soccer uniforms from Tennyson High School that Hernandez, the squad’s head coach, was storing at the center.

The estimated cost of the stolen and damaged goods was between $8,000 and $10,000, Hernandez said. The crime took place sometime between Friday and Sunday morning, when a delivery person discovered that the center had been robbed, police Lt. Roger Keener said.

Anyone wishing to donate to the center can write a check made payable to Community Initiatives, c/o Hayward Day Labor Center, and mail it to the center at 680 W. Tennyson Road, Hayward, CA 94544.

Rights center may be moving

4 de enero 2012 - 10:41am


CARRBORO - The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center may have found a new home around the corner from its old neighborhood.The center put a three-bedroom, brick ranch house at 107 Barnes St. under contract Dec. 23 for $155,000, director Judith Blau said. County records show the 1,075-square-foot house was built in 1970 and is owned by Dorothy and Bernard Atwater. It is valued at $138,363.

They still need to close on the house, but after the sale goes through, Blau said they might improve the gravel driveway and build another room.

Interim Town Manager Matt Efird said the group first must seek a home occupation permit or some type of rezoning. The exact requirements will depend on the information center officials submit, possibly by early spring, he said.

Blau and center community organizer David Rigby said they couldn’t have found the home so quickly without the local NAACP and its president the Rev. Robert Campbell, Community Realty agent Bronwyn Merritt, Carrboro town officials and members of Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

The Abbey Court Homeowners Association voted Dec. 1 to give the center until March to move out of the two units it owns in the Jones Ferry Road complex.

Management officials said it had tried to work out liability concerns for more than a year. The center also violated homeowners association rules by serving “a public and commercial use” for large numbers of non-residents, they said.

Occupy protesters marched a few days later to protest the decision and support the center and Abbey Court residents, many of them Latino or Burmese refugees.

Rigby said Tar Heel Companies, which runs Abbey Court, contacted them after the march to suggest filing a petition to have the lease extended to May.

Day laborer center

Rigby said the move will allow the center to operate more effectively and make it clear that the services are for anyone who needs help. The house is near Royal Park Apartments and convenient for low-income residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and at Abbey Court Condominiums, Ridgewood Apartments and Carolina Apartments, Blau said.

The house also has room for a long-awaited day laborer center where people can wait in a safe place out of the elements; learn computer, ESL and other job skills; and get help with employment problems. Blau said they will ask the town for a sign at Jones Ferry and Davie roads, where the workers now wait for jobs, to direct employers to the new center.

The house is next to Wilkinson Supply Co., the former Mellott company property and a large tract owned by VAC Limited Partnership, a real estate company based in Richmond, Va. Two doors down, Waymond Ingram said he thinks the center will be a good fit.

Ingram has lived on Barnes Street since 2005 and watched the neighborhood grow more youthful as the longtime, older residents moved out. There used to be a lot of problems, but it’s starting to clean up a little, he said. While not too familiar with the center’s work, he said it might give young people a more positive way to spend their time.

The new center will serve various needs throughout the day, Blau said. From early morning to mid-afternoon, day laborers will come to find work. As they leave, children will arrive for after-school programs, and evenings and weekends, adults and children can take advantage of classes and other activities. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for the soccer program, she said.

Beto Rodriguez, the center’s computer lab director, will live there, and Rigby will be on site to resolve any issues, register employers and build community bridges.

Fighting wage fraud

The employer registration program will fight the growing problem of wage fraud and other abuses, Rigby said. While most employers are “honorable,” a few hire the men and refuse to pay them later - at least two or three cases every week, he and Blau said.

Of course, some employers may choose to stop hiring day laborers if asked to register or if the center seeks out stolen wages, Rigby said. The day laborers understand that and are OK with it, because they need the money to support their families and those jobs don’t pay anyway, he said.

Rigby said they want the workers to be invested in the center. They are now drafting a code of conduct that will, among other things, prohibit drinking and people loitering outside. Many also have specialized skills that they can teach others, he said.

Rigby said he hopes the changes created there will ripple into the community.

“I have the highest hopes for this center that over the next two, five and 10 years … that we can do good things for the community around us and … for under-represented and under-privileged people,” he said.

Farmworkers in El Paso Glum About 2012

3 de enero 2012 - 6:16pm

January 1, 2012 | Source: Fox News Latino

Close to 70 agricultural day laborers arrive every day at the Centro de los Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos (Border Farmworker Center) in El Paso in hopes of being hired to harvest nuts and red chilis, but with little hope at all for next year.

Around 1:00 a.m. the farmworkers gather in the street hoping that the overseers or farm owners will soon show up to hire them.

“The harvest season is almost over, which is why the overseers can pick and choose the workers they want. They always prefer the youngest and strongest,” Mexican laborer Roberto Miranda told Efe.

Once in the fields, he said, they put what they pick in baskets and get paid 80 cents for each basket they fill.

“After eight hours of work without anything to eat, they give me between $25 and $30. But some days I only earn $10,” Miranda said.

Many of his fellow farmworkers also complain about the meager pay they get for toiling in the fields, but are universally afraid to say anything about it in public.

Even in temperatures hovering around 40 F (4 C), the men remain in the street hoping to land some work in the fields.

They say the reason many of them sleep outside the Centro is so they can be at the head of the line for a day’s work.

“The Centro Agricola offers all of them a roof over their heads where they can shelter from the winter cold,” Alicia Marentes, director of social services for the non-profit organization, said.

Marentes said that when their day’s work is over, the farmworkers go to the Centro where they can shower and stretch out on air beds or blankets arranged on the floor.

The laborers receive a daily meal from the Centro, as well as legal counsel, English classes and other basic services.

“We have a television for their entertainment while they’re waiting for sunrise,” the director said.

Though most of these day laborers come from Mexico, all have legal documents for working in the United States.

“Every day we pass through an immigrant registration checkpoint. The officials get on our bus and check our papers in great detail,” said another farmworker who asked not to be identified.

“The next harvest season is in June - so how are we going to survive until our work starts up again?” Mario López, another of the workers waiting in line to be chosen by the overseers, said disconsolately.

Lopez said that for each day in the fields he earns $30, but that he has to pay $7 to the driver who takes him to work, and if he buys a burrito to eat and a bottle of water, the money he has left to send back to his kids in Mexico is minimal.

“The future of farmworkers in the United States gets gloomier every day,” he said. “We have to ask God to lend us a helping hand so we can survive.”

Immigrant laborers inspire painting, donation from Morristown artist Ron Ritzie to Neighborhood House

22 de diciembre 2011 - 11:42am

Posted by on December 22, 2011 | Source:

They sit with shovels and rakes and spades, waiting.

The faceless day laborers in Ron Ritzie’s painting, Waiting Game, are a face of Morristown that he cannot ignore.

“You see their images all around town, looking for work,” Ron said on Wednesday at the Morristown Neighborhood House, where he donated a signed giclée (digital ink-jet) print of the painting to Pathways to Work.

That program, now in its third year, matches workers with people seeking to hire casual labor.

'Waiting Game,' by Morristown artist Ron Ritzie. he donated a print of the painting to the Pathways to Work program at the Neighborhood House. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Pathways Manager Rosa Chilquillo said she was “escstatic” about Ron’s gift. “It depicts what Pathways to Work is is,” she said. “We work with anybody who is unemployed, who needs work.”

Morristown artist Ron Ritzie poses with 'Waiting Game,' his gift to Pathways to Work. Photo by Bill Lescohier

More than 500 members are enrolled, and more than 4000 work days have been brokered so far, said Rosa.

The program is supported by community groups and churches, and is affiliated with the nonprofit Neighborhood House, which has assisted immigrants and minority groups for more than a century.

There was extra joy at the Nabe on Wednesday. After Ron gave his artwork to Pathways, Rosa distributed gift-wrapped warm clothing to day laborers, courtesy of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.

Ron, a 1977 graduate of Morristown High School, is working on a series of paintings about immigration.

“It touched me, because everyone is looking for work, to feed their families and start their own small businesses,” he explained.

Rosa Chilquillo and artist Ron Ritzie with his painting, 'Waiting Game.' Photo by Bill Lescohie

Day laborers pose with artist Ron Ritzie and Pathways to Work Manager Rosa Chilquillo at the Neighborhood House in Morristown. Ron donated a painting, 'Waiting Game.' Photo by Bill Lescohie

Where Did Los Angeles’ Day Laborers Come From?

22 de diciembre 2011 - 11:35am

Paresh Dave | December 21, 2011 | Editor-In-Chief | Source:

Reuniting With Friend, Losing All Income

Fifty-year-old Michael Kembe, a professional cook and dishwasher, knows he’s in the middle of a simple problem.

“Everybody wants to work,” he says in his accent, like a father imparting life advice to his son. “In today’s economy, there’s no jobs.”

After a decade of saving some his some earnings from working at Baguettes and Bagels Deli just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Kembe arrived in Los Angeles in mid-2010 to reconnect with his only friend in America.

Finding a steady job in L.A. has turned out to be much more impossible than the optimistic Kembe had expected. At most, he thought it would take three months to find a job. It’s been 15 months.

“Everywhere you go they say the business is slow,” he said. “I mean everybody, business slow, business slow. Even the warehouse, business slow. It’s not just the restaurants. Warehouse. Security guards.”

Now, he’s stuck. He alternates stays between a shelter and his friend’s house. When he gets the occasional job through a day-labor center, he can splurge on food. Otherwise, he collects food when he can from the shelter and the jobs center.

“You got to appreciate what you are receiving,” he said.

No doubt, he said, that he regrets leaving Atlanta.

“I don’t comment on that too much,” Kembe said. “It is what it is.”

As much as he wants to escape the economic deathtrap of California, the chances of him saving enough money to even travel as far as Texas is impossible.

“If I get the opportunity to go back to Atlanta, if somebody offers me something, I go,” he said. “How long am I going to stay like this?”

Sacrificing Self-Pride A High Cost To Return To Mexico
After nearly three decades in America, Oscar Chavez isn’t ready to swallow his pride and return to his parent’s home in Chihuahua, Mexico despite having to live in a shelter the past two years.

After all, the shelter’s an improvement over the year he spent on the streets, he said. And he’s certain the economy is improving.

“There’s more work this year than last year,” he said in Spanish at the Downtown Community Jobs Center, where he comes each day in hopes of earning a temporary assignment. “It’s getting a little better.”

Chavez has gone from working for several years at a factory that made paper towels to eating a full meal once a day off a paper plate.

The thought of hitching a ride back into Mexico regularly pops into his mind. He hasn’t earned enough money to regularly call back home. Most of what he earns on day jobs – unloading and loading cargo trucks, usually –  goes to pay the negotiable $45 weekly rent at his shelter.

When he does call home, the message from his mother, father, brother and sisters is always the same.

“They tell me to come back every time,” he said. “’No, no, I can’t,’ I tell them. I got to think about it though if I don’t have anything next year.”

Chavez first immigrated to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Then it was onto Las Vegas. But he was scared about staying there during the anti-immigrant wave just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Los Angeles became his home – and a wonderful one at that – until 2006.

“Now too many people applying. Too many people right here in Los Angeles,” Chavez said.

For now, the day-job market is bringing him enough money to buy some new clothes and socks for the first time in a while.

“It’s very difficult, but I think it’s going to better sooner than (government) officials think,” he said.

Like reporter Paresh Dave on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, circle him on Google+ or send him an e-mail.

Illusions Of The American Dream Remain For Day Laborers

22 de diciembre 2011 - 11:23am

Dan Watson | December 21, 2011 | Editor-In-Chief | Source:

“A day laborer’s life is a very sad one. A very hard one. They have this idea that when they come to the U.S. their problems are solved. They don’t realize, their nightmare is about to begin.” - Art Zepeda, CARECEN Day Labor Program Organizer

Carlos Vareli wakes up most mornings knowing he won’t find work.

Regardless, he still gets out of bed while most of Los Angeles sleeps. He might drive if he has gas money. A car allows him to pack his priceless tools, but it’s been awhile. Instead, these days he usually bikes or walks the three miles, leaving behind those tools, and his wife in their one-room apartment at Washington and Western.

At the downtown Home Depot parking lot, a last-gasp wilderness awaits.

At 7:30 a.m., the parking lot is brimming with hundreds of desperate men like Vareli; each hoping his spot will be the lucky one today. Scores of them are scattered throughout the lot, some along the driving lanes, others behind truck beds, more bursting out of the landscaped islands; every nook and cranny.

Vareli once was a professor in Central America. Today, in the U.S., he is a day laborer.

Among the jobless in Los Angeles, day laborers have been hit especially hard — “it’s never been worse,” Vareli says. While more than 26,000 L.A. County day laborers hope for a few hours of work every day, the housing crisis and recession have abandoned most to a fruitless search, made even tougher by anti-immigration sentiments, ineffective city-funded day laborer centers and an influx of Latin American immigrants, all competing against a much larger demographic than previously existed.

“I have not heard of positive signs for day laborers yet,” said Lynn Svensson of the Day Labor Research Institute. “I believe that day laborers may be the last to get the benefits of the ‘recovery’ because their wages are determined on the spot by employers.”

Still, they meet, and in record numbers. Most meet at strategic corners; maybe a busy intersection, or outside a shop that corresponds with their skillset. Others meet at day-laborer centers, where depending on whether the center is privately or city-run can differ drastically in service. No matter where they meet, the problems are escalating from all angles.

For a long time, day laborers have had to fight to simply solicit work from public corners. This year, in Redondo Beach, a federal appellate court struck down an anti-solicitation ordinance as being unnecessarily and overly broad.

Vareli hasn’t had a single job for four months now.

“Eight years ago, the people came here, the constructors, and when I asked them how much they could pay, they’d say ‘Oh, I can pay 10 dollars per hour,’” Vareli said. “Now, It’s impossible. They say, ‘I can pay 7 or 8 dollars an hour,’ and many people say, ‘I can go.’”

Exploitation runs rampant

In one corner of the downtown Home Depot is a non-profit day laborer center run by the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). Despite requiring a $10 minimum wage, organizers, like Art Zepeda, witness hundreds of day laborers in the parking lot getting exploited every day by people looking for cheap help. Many are paid well below that minimum wage, if not below the state minimum wage ($8).

The parking lot is a wilderness they can’t control.

“Carlos is trying to educate them, because he went to a university, he understands more,” Zepeda said. “He’s more developed in his critical thinking. ‘Don’t do this, they’re taking advantage of you!’ he says. But they can’t see it.”

There is nothing CARECEN can do except educate.

The numbers are lopsided, with the ever-increasing ranks of the unemployed laborers vying for the attention of fewer employers seeking their help. An estimated 136 day-laborer corners dot L.A. County, but only 16 centers offer a range of employment and social services, according to experts.

Despite the recession, workers continue to come from Mexico and Central America; a pattern Zepeda has seen escalate in the last two years.

“In Latin America, a lot of these employers are used to cheap labor and exploitation,” he said. “They feel if it’s happening over there, it’ll happen here.”

Walking around at CARECEN, Zepeda detects language dialects he never used to hear before, many Mayan. It’s a demographic they’re not really prepared for, he says.

“The poverty here would be equivalent to the middle class over there,” Zepeda said of Latin America, where one in every five children lives in extreme poverty. “That’s why they continue to come.”

Vareli won’t accept the lower wages. He feels his skills and tools make him worth at least minimum wage, if not more. But he’s seen the few available jobs go to those willing to accept the lowest amount.

Many centers try to prevent exactly this scenario.

“But they (employers) don’t come here,” Vareli says, pointing to CARECEN. “They go over there to Home Depot.”

Centers struggle to find workers jobs

It’s a problem many centers are facing.

CARECEN organizers try to pull in as many corner day laborers as they can, but Vareli readily admits that most people go to the center for the free food, English classes, and family environment; not to actually look for jobs.

Antonio Bernabe, a day laborer organizer for the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, is openly critical of the city’s system, which is different than the one run at CARECEN.

“They don’t know what to do with day labor centers,” he said. “They don’t realize it’s for the people to work. They open day labor centers because the community complains because they don’t want to see people at the corners.”

For 12 years, Bernabe worked at the city-run center in North Hollywood.

“The centers help the people to survive,” he said. “Some of them have some kind of food, and churches go to help the people. Many bring food during the morning. So, some people go to survive. But then they have to go to the corners, because they’re looking for work.”

The emphasis, many complain, is that the focus is on services, not getting the day laborers work.

Not all centers, however, are ineffective, according to Svensson, who authored the study “Comparing Solutions: An Overview of Day Labor Programs.”

In her paper, she differentiates between two main models of service: the social service agency model (like the one run by the city of LA) and the union-model (as run by CARECEN). The union-model keeps work the top priority.

“The characteristics of a union-model day labor center include self-funding through worker dues, focus on work (rather than social services), a fair and strictly enforced minimum wage, and rules and policy decisions decided by workers through consensus reaching member meetings,” she said.

Despite her endorsement, CARECEN continues to struggle. As did the former day labor center at the Home Depot in Glendale, which closed in July. According to city officials, the center failed to attract skeptical workers, who preferred to seek work at nearby curbsides.

But even at those curbsides and corners, there is no escape from the economy.

Meet L.A.’s Day Laborers

Fifty-year-old Michael Kembe, a professional cook and dishwasher, knows he's in the middle of a simple problem.

Oscar Chavez has gone from working for several years at a factory that made paper towels to eating a full meal once a day off a paper plate.

Demographics now tied to poverty, not ethnicity

Most devastating to day-laborers has been the real-estate crisis, followed by the recession, say center directors. Construction has long been their bread-and-butter. However, the real estate crisis killed construction of new homes, with many day laborers scurrying to pick up new skills, or getting left behind.

The latest nation-wide study on day-laborers, done in 2006, just before the real-estate crisis, found 49 percent employed by homeowners and renters, and another 43 percent by construction contractors.

And while the necessary skills are changing for the professional day laborer, many new unskilled day-laborers are being forced into centers in a last-ditch effort to find work.

Before the recession, most day-laborers identified themselves as such; it truly was an identity, a profession.

“Most of the participants we had were day laborers, like 95 percent. It’s a living, a way of life,” said Mario Lopez, supervisor for the city-run Downtown Community Job Center. “The caricature that defines a day-laborer is someone that comes to this country looking for jobs and becomes a day-laborer and they don’t change because they like it.”

The demographics no longer lend themselves to that caricature.

They’re in and out. They’re white, black, Asian, or Latino. They’re often unprepared.

They’re all desperate for work.

“The wages are decreasing,” said Lopez. “It’s really tough right now. They’re getting less and less jobs and there’s more competition, especially from people that weren’t day laborers before.”

In 2005, the Downtown center would see 30-to-35 day-laborers every day. In 2011, that number has climbed to about 60, Lopez said.

“Right now, we know people that are losing everything; jobs, transportation, they sold their tools,” Lopez said. “It’s horrible. They are acclimating to that, but it’s horrible. It’s really sad.”

Lopez has to turn away a fair amount of people whose skills don’t match what the center offers, or who find the work too harsh because of their former job.

“Imagine someone that was an accountant or a professional working in an office and then they go to work in a warehouse loading and unloading boxes,” Lopez said. “Sometimes, people can’t see themselves doing that.”

For many, the physical strain experienced at the jobs, and desperate daily search for work is brand new. Whereas, before the recession, 83 percent relied on day-labor work as their sole source of income.

“We have a job lined up in a few minutes, where I’m going to send out four workers,” Lopez said. “I believe this crew is going to have a couple Latinos, one African American and another white guy. The African American and white guy have never done this job. So, they go with those who know so they can see how the job is done.”

Poorly done jobs hurt the professionals.

“I’ll say ‘Hey, we need a painter, Does anyone know how to paint?’” said Zepeda. “And everyone raises their hand. But out of those 20 people, only two know how to paint.”

Getting to America, and staying

For day laborers from Mexico, Central or South America, the sacrifice to reach America — and the “American Dream” — can be huge.

Trying to cross the border, undocumented immigrants can be held ransom and killed if their families do not wire money. If they do get across, they often owe “coyotes” between $5,000 to $7,000. When they do get established in Los Angeles, and find work, “they are often seen as criminals,” Svensson said. Theft of wages is common, as employers threaten to turn them in to immigration.

“The recession has, in fact, forced the wages down, as has the anti-immigrant movement,” said Svensson. “Bosses wrongly feel that workers are undocumented and wrongly think that this means workers have no rights.”

Day laborers are helpless, said Vareli.

“Contractor say ‘Hey, if you put a warning for me on Labor Commission, I’ll tell immigration.’

“People live in fear,” he said.

Holiday Season in America

Many people from Latin America also live wanting to return home, if only to see family members they left behind to chase the American Dream.

At CARECEN, no matter the dire circumstances, day laborers from all countries have, to a certain extent, a home.

“Everyone identifies with everyone else,” said Zepeda. “Everyone’s undocumented. They identify with that. Everyone speaks Spanish. They identify with that. Everyone struggles. Everyone’s poor. You create this brotherhood.

“We’re all in this. We’re all suffering, and I’m not the only one.”

With the arrival of the holiday season, the harsh realities of life in America, away from family members left in Latin America, amplify.

“We tell them, we understand you’d rather be home with your family, but unfortunately, the economic situation in your country forced you to come here,” said Zepeda. “We’re as close a thing to your family as you’re going to get. A lot of them will start talking about how ‘I want to be with my son. I haven’t seen my family in years.’

“There are a lot of emotions for a day laborer. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are a lot of tears.”

Zepeda calls himself a “trans-national parent” to the day laborers.

“They came here because they don’t want their kids to day labor,” he said. “We replace that. I do. I become a family member to them. A son.”

This Thanksgiving, Zepeda helped serve turkey to hundreds of day laborers at CARECEN, including Vareli.

Arizona governor defends day-labor restrictions in state’s immigration enforcement law

15 de diciembre 2011 - 6:53pm

Source: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 15, 2011

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer has asked a judge to dismiss a request by opponents of Arizona’s immigration law to block enforcement of the law’s ban on people blocking traffic when they seek or offer day-labor services on streets.

The ban was among a handful of provisions in the law that were allowed to take effect after U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton halted enforcement of more controversial elements of the law.

Opponents had sought a court order to block enforcement of the day-labor provision under the argument that it unconstitutionally restricts the free speech rights of people who want to express their need for work.

Brewer’s lawyers argued that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the blocking of traffic and that the law is aimed at promoting traffic safety.

Day laborers keep up hopes on Guadalupe Day

14 de diciembre 2011 - 12:00pm

By: Ed Langlois, Staff Writer | 12/13/2011 | Source:

Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois. During Guadalupe procession by day laborers, Jesus Sanchez carries statue while Paul Riek, Matt Cato and Francisco Aguirre sing.

In the corner of a former Northeast Portland garage, day laborers on Dec. 12 lovingly pieced together a shrine with a two-foot-tall statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. One worker with rough hands gently slipped a rose into a soda bottle and placed the flower beside the image, one of the most important symbols in Latin American Catholicism.

“It’s a very special day. It’s like my heart,” 29-year-old Marcos Alvares said through a translator.

A native of Michoacan, Alvares recalls celebrating the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a boy — songs in a splendid church at midnight, steaming cups of cocoa and trays full of sweets. On this Guadalupe day, 17 years after he came to the U.S., he’s happy to huddle for warmth with other men hoping to be hired for manual labor.

Laborers sing as they march past a neighborhood store in Northeast Portland.

Alvares, a member of St. Anne Parish in Gresham, once owned a small construction company. He would drive to this same tidy little garage — the VOZ Worker Center — to pick up laborers. After the crash of the economy and the failure of his business, Alvares himself is in need of work.

More than a dozen workers braved raw cold in the early morning Dec. 12 and processed for a mile with the statue, singing traditional songs in honor of Mary. On busy Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., curious motorists stared. One pedestrian, a young woman in a long wool coat, stopped and smiled as the men streamed past.

At Southeast 6th and Ankeny, a corner where laborers once waited for jobs before the center opened a few blocks away in 2008, the men waved to bicyclists and wished the riders “Buenos Dias.” The marchers invited a group at a nearby bus stop to join in the walk and return to the VOZ Worker Center for Mass and a plate of tamales.

Juan Sop plays guitar as Angel Bueno sings during day laborer Guadalupe procession.

One of the walkers was Angel Bueno, 40. He comes to the center every day and sometimes is hired. On other days, he waits in vain until sundown. On those bad days, he says, he prays to Our Lady of Guadalupe for comfort and aid.

“Since I was a child, I’ve believed Our Lady of Guadalupe is very special,” says the mustached Bueno, a hood pulled over his baseball cap. “She helps me in my daily life.”

On occasion, groups of men would slip away from the singing to meet an arriving truck, an employer in need of help. Those left behind waved to their friends and wished them luck, all the while praying their number would come up soon.

VOZ is funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which parishioners support with a collection each November. A committee of laborers helps lead the center, located in a small lot on the corner of Northeast MLK and Everett.

Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, marched and sang with the workers in the morning frost. Cato is aware that city officials have extended the Worker Center lease, but that VOZ organizers would prefer more stability.

“The hope is to convince the city to give them permanence here,” Cato says.

Bad economy and San Jose’s budget crisis puts Silicon Valley’s first day worker hiring center on the chopping block

13 de diciembre 2011 - 2:15am

By Joe Rodriguez | | Posted: 12/11/2011 | Source:

Silicon Valley’s first hiring center for day workers might be forced to downsize or close at the end of the year, another victim of hard times that stretch from the streets to San Jose City Hall.

“I don’t know what I’d do,” Francisco Sanchez said recently at the Day Worker Center just east of downtown. The 58-year-old Mexican immigrant and “jornalero,” or day laborer, didn’t get a job that day, but he did get a free haircut, one of the many social services the center offers.

“I don’t want to join the guys standing in front of Home Depot,” Sanchez said. “I used to do that when I was young, but I’m not young anymore and the jobs don’t come as easy as they did.”

After the Great Recession, housing bust and financial crisis, the steady stream of contractors and homeowners who needed temporary help in flush times slowed to a trickle.

Directer Mary Mendez, left, talks with Martin Martinez, 52, an out of work dry waller who once made $54 an hour and now registers for day work at the Day Worker Center in San Jose, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011. In the background are some of the computers available for job search. The first day-worker hiring center in Silicon Valley may fall victim to San Jose's budget crisis. Started by a Catholic nun in East San Jose at the peak of anti-immigrant hysteria in California 18 years ago, the center, now located closer to downtown, on Story Rd., is scrambling for the $100,000 it needs to operate next year. (Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News) ( KAREN T. BORCHERS )

So did the grants, city subsidies or philanthropic donations that kept the hiring center humming for most of its 18 years. Its last, big funding source–a three-year, $300,000 grant from Home Depot funneled through the city–runs out Dec. 31. The nonprofit Center for Training and Careers, which took over the hiring center three years ago, knew the grant would expire but had expected to replace it by now.

“With the competition out there, it’s really tough,” said Lori Ramos a vice president and grants writer at CTC.

Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, who represents much of the East Side, said the city can’t afford to rescue struggling nonprofits anymore. Instead, she’s asking a private foundation to come to the rescue of the center.”Everybody needs money at this time, every nonprofit in the city,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a very unique center. We’re trying to save as many jobs as we can. They are part-time jobs, but they’re still jobs.”

The Day Worker Center and similar ones in Mountain View and Hayward were always more than just hiring halls. In 1993, California politics boiled over with Proposition 187, the “Save Our State” ballot initiative that called for draconian measures to detect, round up and deport undocumented immigrants. The measure passed a year later but eventually was ruled unconstitutional.

Sister Mary Peter McCusker, a Roman Catholic nun working in East San Jose at the time, came up with the idea of opening a hiring center. It would get jornaleros off the streets, match their skills with the needs of reputable contractors and homeowners, guarantee a day’s pay for a day’s work, and offer free English lessons, health screenings, hot meals and more.

Her first hiring center opened at the Tropicana shopping center in East San Jose. After a few years, the St. Vincent De Paul Society agreed to operate the center and moved it to the Catholic organization’s office and warehouse complex near Coyote Creek and Story Road.

With the help of city subsidies, St. Vincent added computers for job searches, showers and laundry washing machines. Enrollment grew. However, St. Vincent decided to give up the entire complex and sold it in 2008 to the Center for Training and Careers.

Barring an 11th-hour rescue, the Center for Training and Careers will downsize its operations and move to a sparse classroom next door, or shut it down entirely. In either case, Mary Mendez, who is 66 and has led the center for 18 years, would be out of a job.

“Personally, it would be a big loss for me,” she said. “But don’t worry, I’m of retirement age. I can find something part time. I worry about the workers.”

Irene Macias, born and raised in Silicon Valley, is one of the newcomers. Widowed only last year, the 49-year-old mother of two young children comes in regularly to look for jobs cleaning houses or grooming pets. The family lives in a recreational vehicle.

“It would be really hard if they close the center,” Macias said. “If we lost it, I’d just have to do it on my own.”

Ruben Rodriguez, 53, is one of the old-timers. Born and raised in San Jose, he thought back wistfully to the best job he ever had, assembling mainframe computers for IBM.

“That was a great job out of high school,” he said. “I’ve had some good ones, but things happen.”

He arrived at the center 11 years ago after his last steady job ended. Rodriguez lives in his van and gets by with the moving and plumbing jobs he gets through the center.

“Right now it’s very difficult,” he said. “This place has been good for me. I’d hate to see it go.”

Latinos Get Little Thanks For Rebuilding New Orleans

10 de diciembre 2011 - 7:22pm

by | December 10, 2011 | Source:

Part of a monthlong series

Day laborer Yohanni Castillo from Honduras waits for work outside a Lowes home improvement store in New Orleans. Jobs are drying up, he says, and he hasn't worked in four days. Even when work does comes along, he says, he doesn't always get paid.

Since Katrina, the Hispanic population in the New Orleans metro area has skyrocketed by more than 33,000 people. That’s a 57-percent increase in the past decade, much higher than the national average.

They came for the construction jobs — and they’ve chosen to stay. Often, you can find about a dozen Latino men hanging out near a home improvement store looking for work near a mostly black neighborhood.

Yohanni Castillo, 38, a carpenter from Honduras, says he’s been here since the early days of Katrina.

“Carpentry, demolitions, any kind of construction,” he says. But lately, he says there’s been less work available.

Castillo says the main problem is that employers want workers who have the papers to prove they’re here legally. Right after Katrina, no one really cared. The other problem, he says, is that sometimes he doesn’t get paid the wages he’s been promised.

And everybody here can tell you the same story, Castillo says, because it’s happened to everyone.

‘Hurricane Chasers’

Demographer Alison Plyer says the Hispanic influx since Katrina should surprise no one.

“There’s actually a phenomena demographers call ‘hurricane chasers,’ where, whenever there’s a hurricane in Florida or along the Gulf Coast, Latinos will go because they know there will be debris removal work and home repair work, and then they assume that they will stay just a little while and they will go somewhere else,” Plyer says. “But here that work lasted for several years and so folks stayed.”

It’s common to hear the immigrants say they know they played a major role in rebuilding the city when no one else would do the dirty work. Jordan Shannon is the spokesperson for Puentes, an advocacy group that formed following Hurricane Katrina.

“The city really owes a debt that it is not always so quick to acknowledge, but it nevertheless has really been rebuilt on the back of Latino labor,” Shannon says.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

David Stroder, an unemployed African-American dishwasher, says there’s no denying there’s some resentment in the black community here towards Latinos.

“They don’t like the fact that they’re coming in and taking all the jobs. Just like me, I’m trying to find a job, but I don’t build houses though. I can’t do that. If I could do that, I’d be making some money!” he says.

‘A Future In The U.S.’

But the work can bring some Latino immigrants closer to the attention of immigration authorities. Just last August about 30 workers were gathered in the parking lot of an apartment complex in nearby Kenner, La. They had just wrapped up a job raising the elevation of several homes.

“These workers spent two weeks of hard work and were expecting to get paid,” says Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer for a group called the Congress of Day Laborers. She says collectively the workers in Kenner were owed over $100,000.

“Instead of getting paid, they had a raid. Immigration Enforcement had coordinated with three law enforcement agencies,” Gonzalez says. “This happened on Aug. 29, 2011, the anniversary of Katrina.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans confirmed that ICE detained several individuals that day as part of an investigation of the company, Louisiana Home Elevations. Its owner and an employee have been charged with seven counts of harboring undocumented immigrants and money laundering.

Methodist Pastor Oscar Ramos conducts English classes for Latino immigrants in New Orleans. The majority of the immigrants say they arrived after Katrina to work in construction and intend to stay.

Despite the pressure from ICE, many New Orleans immigrants say they intend to hang on.

On a recent workday night in a local Methodist church, about 40 immigrants were attending English classes. The pastor, Oscar Ramos, called for a show of hands as he asked a series of questions. How many people arrived after Katrina?

Everyone raised their hand. How many have worked in rebuilding the city? A majority. Then he asked: How many people have been ripped off? Not paid the money they earned? Virtually every hand shoots up.

Later, Hugo Torres, a 37-year-old construction worker, says it happens because they’re undocumented. But then he says he doesn’t begrudge Americans who say he has no right to stay in New Orleans.

“I mean, the word undocumented, I do understand that. I mean, what part of the word undocumented we don’t understand? Of course, undocumented means undocumented. I do understand, but,” Torres says with a sigh, “with all this violence in Latin America like in Mexico and Central America, it is very difficult to live there. And I think the only way where we can see a future is in the United States.”

But what no one can yet say is how long New Orleans will see its future in these new immigrants.

Center for Day Laborers Opens in Centreville Shopping Plaza

5 de diciembre 2011 - 2:20pm

Facility is culmination of four years of community organizing.

By Frank Klimko | Source:

Pedro DeLeon, 50, one of the workers, said he was glad the center was opening. Credit: Anita Klimko

Organizers on Saturday opened the Centreville Labor Resource Center, an expansive facility that will provide an in-door gathering point for day laborers while they wait for jobs—getting them off the street.

The center is a culmination of a four-year effort by the Centreville Immigration Forum to provide the workers with a safe place to wait other than out-of-doors near the Centreville Regional Library. The center is in the Centreville Square Shopping Center, in a space donated by plaza owner and developer Albert J. Dwoskin, a longtime supporter of the center.

“This is a miracle that we were able to get this done,” said Ed Duggan, a Centreville real estate agent and member of the forum’s board of directors. “I’m sympathetic to a guy who will cross thousands of miles just for the chance to stand outside in the winter looking for a job.”

About 75 people attended the ribbon-cutting on Saturday, which was meant to show off the space to the community before it opens for business on Monday. In the crowd were a handful of the day laborers who will be using the center. Many of the workers are handy at remodeling and helped renovate the office space, said center Director Shani Moser, of Vienna.

It is privately funded and receives no public money, unlike other day labor centers, Moser said. The center will not set minimum rates for wages, which will ultimately be negotiated between the worker and his potential employer, she said.

Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey (right) with a volunteer at the ribbon cutting. Credit: Anita Klimko

The creation of the center has been met with criticism from some in the community. Dwoskin, of McLean, said he was glad that the organizers were able to see the project to fruition.

“Sometimes you are going to cause a little friction when you are trying to do something good,” Dwoskin said. “The ones who showed the real courage are the volunteers who saw this through. This is an example of a community coming together to do the right thing.”

It will be open from 6 a.m. until noon Monday through Saturday. Workers will sign up for jobs by specialty, many are expert drywallers or painters, and will be hired on a first-come basis by area companies who need the help. There will also be a general worker category.

Organizers anticipate that eventually about 40-60 workers a day will use the center. Centreville is home to a tight-knit community of about a total of 100-150 day laborers, most of whom are drawn from the same impoverished, rural section of Guatemala. As workers and employers learn about the center, organizers hope that the practice of hiring day laborers from the street will fade away.

Pedro DeLeon, 50, one of the workers, said he was glad the center was opening. “We are really excited and happy about it,” said DeLeon, a painter. “It will give us a safe place and will also give the contractors a safe place to hire us.”

Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey (R), a longtime advocate of the center, saw the opening as a win-win situation.

“It will eliminate the concerns of the workers who said they were sometimes treated unfairly,” Frey said, “and it will get them off the streets—which was a serious safety concern for the community,”

Helping the 99 percent — with less | La Raza Centro Legal

28 November 2011 - 12:00pm

La Raza Centro Legal fights to address the issues raised by Occupy, and it needs support

11.08.11 | Guest Opinion | Source:

OPINION - La Raza Centro Legal, an organization central to the empowerment of San Francisco’s low-wage immigrant workers, finds common cause with the Occupy movement during a time when our programs combining legal services and worker organizing are in jeopardy. Our hour of need falls within a window of tough times, but heightened political awareness, and we are calling out to the community to join us in solidarity as members of the 99 percent.

La Raza’s resonance with Occupy shows on a bilingual sign printed for the movement. Under a day laborer’s face, the sign reads, “We are the 99 percent. I’m blamed for the economic crisis, but what about the Wall Street banks?” Immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in government services, generate revenue exceeding the services they receive, subsidize the Social Security system, and provide labor that supports entire industries.

Contrary to the red herring propaganda generated by the 1 percent, the scapegoated low-wage immigrant worker is not the cause of the financial crisis in the United States. Occupy has resuscitated public discourse with the plain facts of shocking economic inequity and the corruption of our democracy. Immigration debate can now rise to the surface after nearly drowning in the lies that spawned the recent legal abominations in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

In the current political and economic climate, immigrant rights organizations face an intractable three-pronged challenge: dangerous policies born of anti-immigrant zeal, a crushing economic crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, and dwindling funds from the government and foundations that used to support our work. The Obama administration’s Orwellian-named “Secure Communities” deportation program creates an unprecedented stream of profits for privately contracted immigration detention facilities rife with human rights abuses. At the same time, employers take advantage of job scarcity to exploit low-wage immigrant workers. On the same days that our advocacy and services are needed more than ever, we’ve receive news that a grant that we depend on will not be renewed in the coming year.

Just like so many other members of the 99 percent, La Raza Centro Legal is in financial crisis. If the organization cannot find immediate support, some of La Raza’s programs that help so many people in the immigrant community could die. If La Raza is diminished, who will reunite a family unjustly torn apart, or take an employer to task for ripping off a day laborer so that the worker can feed his children? Who will organize the community so that, through La Raza’s Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective, low-wage immigrant workers can find their voice and build their own innate capacity for leadership in their community?

We aren’t giving up. Because the Occupy movement has pushed into public consciousness the well-established but long-ignored truth of how the status quo is hurting us all, it offers incredible hope. An October 20 community meeting kicked off a new fundraising drive for La Raza. San Franciscans and the city must join us in solidarity to help us find ways to support community nonprofits in declining economies and increasing civil rights abuses — which is when they are needed most.

Kate Hegé and Kate Deeny work in the Workers’ Rights Program at La Raza Centro Legal. For more information about how to help, contact Genevie Gallegos, Executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal at

Carrboro aldermen repeal anti-loitering rule Critics said rule hurt laborers

28 November 2011 - 11:18am

BY TAMMY GRUBB, Correspondent | Source:

Steve Dear, left, and minister Robert Campbell lead a gathering at Jones Ferry and Davie roads in Carrboro in late October to protest the town's anti-loitering ordinance.

CARRBORO - The Board of Aldermen’s unanimous decision last week to repeal a 2007 anti-loitering ordinance won’t change how police respond to the intersection of Jones Ferry and Davie roads.Officers will continue to respond “proactively” when residents call, Chief Carolyn Hutchison said, although “in a perfect world, we would like additional personnel to respond to that corner.” The department also will continue to build community partnerships with residents, day laborers, and groups such as the Human Rights Center and El Centro Hispano, she said.

The anti-loitering ordinance has reduced the number of people at the corner but has done little to reduce crime in the area, Hutchison said. It prohibited people from standing at the corner - a popular pickup spot for day laborers - between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m. and was passed in response to complaints of harassment, trespassing, drinking and public urination.

The ordinance’s critics were jubilant after Tuesday’s vote. Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center director Judith Blau said the group is focused now on leaving Abbey Court for a house nearby, where it can operate existing programs and possibly a workers’ center.

Since summer, members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network also have been working with a local task force to site a permanent day laborer center with access to water, restrooms and help with employment issues like wage theft.

Most of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said the anti-loitering ordinance was discriminatory, unconstitutional and reflected poorly on Carrboro’s reputation as a progressive community.

“I would oppose this ordinance if it were applied to my street or anywhere in town,” said resident Steve Dear, who has been eating lunch with other people at the corner every day since asking the board to repeal the law at its Oct. 25 meeting.

Dear said he decided to take action because he was disappointed with himself for not doing more and after hearing how the ordinance had affected the workers and their families. Mayor Mark Chilton said police did not stop the gatherings, because they were constitutionally protected political protest.

Some affected workers told the board how the ordinance limits the available jobs, since employers and residents often don’t seek help until later in the day, especially in winter. That leaves them with very little money to buy food and to provide for their families, they said.

Day laborer Santiago Hernandez said through an interpreter that he respects the police and respects the community but would like to be able to wait longer for work. Others echoed his request, and Jose Francisco Gonzalez said they also would like help with employers who refuse to pay.

Other residents who spoke said they were concerned that the neighborhood would return to its former state if the ordinance was repealed.

Bill Madden, who lived in Abbey Court before the ordinance and now lives on Fidelity Street, said he never felt threatened, but his female co-workers were hesitant to walk through the area, even to catch the bus.

“What I saw at the corner was that a lot of men would be drinking when they couldn’t get a job, when all the employers would leave in the latter portion of the morning, and the cops would chase them around Ridgewood, Abbey Court, behind the wooded area along Alabama [Avenue] and up and down Davie Road,” Madden said. “The community needs to take better action in self-policing. That if you see somebody out of line, call the cops, call 911.”

Sexual harassment, as well as drinking and public urination, were among reasons for the 2007 decision creating the ordinance. Alderwoman Jacquie Gist recommended the town find a way to pay for a community resource person and work next year to strengthen the anti-harassment ordinance so that lewdness directed at women would be considered hate speech.

“In any language, grabbing your crotch and saying, ‘You want some of this,’ I don’t think that that’s part of any culture,” Gist said. “That is a physical threat, and it is hate speech in the same way as, ‘I’m going to bash your head in because of your ethnicity.’ ”

The board voted unanimously to support Gist’s proposal and also to pursue Alderman Dan Coleman’s suggestion that the town collaborate with community partners to find the money for a full-time staff person at the corner.

Grubb: 336-380-1325

Entrevista a Yoshua Okón - “Pulpo”

25 November 2011 - 12:42pm

por Mabel Téllez | Source:

Click here to view the embedded video.

El proyecto Pulpo, de Yoshua Okón, uno de los artistas mexicanos con mayor proyección internacional, se exhibe actualmente en el Hammer Museum. Fue este el motivo, aunado a la importancia de su trayectoria artística, el que nos llevó a platicar con él acerca de la obra y de sus próximos proyectos.

¿Cómo se gestó la idea para desarrollar un proyecto como Pulpo?

El punto de partida fue la combinación de El arte del asesinato político, escrito por Francisco Goldman, y la experiencia de contratar a trabajadores en el estacionamiento de un Home Depot en Los Ángeles. Goldman, un neoyorkino hijo de madre guatemalteca, cubrió la guerra civil de este país como periodista durante los años 80 y 90. Su libro, además de narrar el asesinato del obispo Geraldi, presenta el panorama de la guerra incluyendo el hecho de que la dictadura guatemalteca fue instaurada, financiada, dirigida y sostenida por EEUU para beneficio de sus intereses económicos. Después de que Arbenz, presidente electo democráticamente, fue ilegalmente derrocado por la CIA, el nuevo presidente, un militar, fue llevado al palacio de gobierno en un avión militar estadounidense.

A lo largo de mi estancia en Los Ángeles, en numerosas ocasiones contraté a trabajadores indocumentados. Éstos normalmente se juntan en el estacionamiento del Home Depot esperando que alguien los contrate. Como coincidencia, el Home Depot, que está cerca de la casa donde vivía, es donde los miembros de la comunidad Guatemalteca Maya se reúnen para buscar trabajo. De esta forma me di cuenta que quienes contraté para un trabajo de albañilería, son algunos de los protagonistas del libro que estaba leyendo: ex guerrilleros o ex militares indígenas Mayas de la región alta de Ixcán en Guatemala, la zona más afectada por la guerra. En ese momento surge la idea de la pieza.

Tiempo más tarde, ya de vuelta al DF, fui invitado por el museo Hammer de Los Ángeles para realizar una residencia de investigación y fue entonces que decidí profundizar más sobre el tema. Finalmente el museo me invitó a producir y exhibir la pieza.
En Pulpo, relacionas la situación actual en la que viven los inmigrantes guatemaltecos en EE.UU, con la situación que vivieron bajo el monopolio de United Fruit Company, ¿qué tanto han cambiado sus condiciones?

Creo que entender una obra de arte en estos términos puede ser muy engañoso. La pieza no es sobre la condición de los inmigrantes guatemaltecos ni sobre la dictadura en Guatemala; ese sería el papel de algún estudio socio-político. Más bien conecta ciertos puntos para así mirar desde un ángulo distinto. En el contexto de EEUU, estos trabajadores no solamente subsisten en terribles condiciones y llevan a cabo los trabajos más pesados por muy poca remuneración sino que también son maltratados y discriminados por no tener papeles. Si le preguntas a cualquier persona el por qué de su presencia, la gran mayoría te responderá que están ahí porque aspiran a ser gringos, porque quieren ser como ellos: la intervención, la destrucción del tejido social de sus comunidades por EEUU, el hecho de que estén ahí por necesidad económica, nada de eso entra en la ecuación.

En ese sentido, Pulpo no es una pieza sobre Guatemala, más bien es una pieza de sitio específico sobre EEUU y sobre percepciones generalizadas que se tienen del aquí y ahora en Los Ángeles.

Dentro de la video instalación, realizas una simulación de la guerra civil guatemalteca, cuál fue el proceso para establecer una dialéctica entre ficción, realidad y documental?

Me interesó hacer una recreación de la guerra con un alto nivel de abstracción. Apropiándome de métodos y estrategias militares, utilizo un conjunto de movimientos coreográficos que van dando forma al conflicto. Abordo el fenómeno de tal manera para que la obra se desarrolle desde diversos ángulos y promueva tensiones entre éstos: ficción y hecho histórico; acción y locación; recreación y registro, así como un espacio en el que se detonan situaciones propias al conflicto y que no pueden ser anticipadas por completo.

Por ejemplo, la locación se transfiere a suelo estadounidense, en un Home Depot, y la acción se lleva a cabo el 31 de marzo, misma fecha del golpe de estado guatemalteco (tradicionalmente las recreaciones de guerras se llevan a cabo en el mismo campo donde se libró la batalla original y en fechas que las conmemoran). Otra estrategia fue hacer que la producción fuera lo más discreta posible y sin permiso del local, para no perturbar el funcionamiento cotidiano del estacionamiento; con la finalidad de que compradores y empleados se comportaran como lo hacen normalmente y para que no se tuviera un control total de la situación generada. Así, escenas altamente escenificadas ocurren dentro de un contexto caótico y ex-combatientes de la misma guerra recreada, ocupan una posición liminal entre ser actores y representarse a sí mismos.

En este sentido, como bien lo planteas en tu pregunta, la ficción y el documento se mezclan de tal forma que es difícil distinguir entre ellos. Esta es una estrategia que utilizo a menudo y una clave para entender uno de los intereses principales de mi práctica. En el momento en que la mente no puede registrar de manera clara lo que está observando, pero al mismo tiempo se siente atraída, el mecanismo natural es indagar y analizar; como resultado, el espectador termina en una posición activa/creativa en la que formula sus propias interpretaciones.

¿Cuáles son tus próximos proyectos?

Este año tengo varias exhibiciones individuales y un par de colectivas. En la galería Kaufmann Repetto, en Milán, mostraré Hipnostasis, una instalación de 6 canales de video que hice en colaboración con Raymond Pettibon. Además, para esta misma exhibición, estoy preparando una versión distinta de Pulpo, donde utilizaré fragmentos de pequeñas casas prefabricadas de plástico, combinadas con proyecciones de video y pantallas planas. La estética de éstas, que normalmente son utilizadas para guardar herramientas de jardinería, simula el estilo de casas seriadas de suburbio y, como en el caso de Home Depot, la utilización de estas casa alude a la expansión mundial del modelo corporativo. Finalmente, la exhibición incluirá una serie de dibujos bastante grotescos basados también en la metáfora del pulpo como símbolo de la expansión del modelo Neoliberal.

Fotos: Cortesía de Andrea Belmont y Okón Studio

Hasta el 6 de noviembre.
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA.

A place where Guatemalan day laborers are survivors of war

25 November 2011 - 12:34pm

November 24, 2011 | 1:30 pm | Source:

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — A day laborer outside a Home Depot hardware store in northeast Los Angeles is riding in a bright orange shopping cart in the store’s parking lot, peering through imaginary binoculars, as if he were on patrol in a dangerous jungle.

Others are crawling under parked vehicles as if squeezing below barbed wire, or diving and body-rolling as if evading gunfire. Before a sale display for storage sheds, two men lie still on the asphalt, their legs spread, as if dead.

The laborers are undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and in an unsettling video installation by Mexican artist Yoshua Okon on view at a university gallery in Mexico City, they are war survivors playing themselves.

Before Okon’s cameras, the migrants are reenacting their days fighting in Guatemala’s long and catastrophic civil war.

The four-channel video piece, called “Octopus,” is Okon’s latest and possibly most provocative video in a career in which he frequently pushes against viewers’ comfort zones with the use of improvising non-actors.

A native of Mexico City, Okon has also lived part-time in Los Angeles. He bought a house in L.A. and came to participate in a rite of passage for many new U.S. homeowners in the last decade — hiring day workers.

The men he found at the Home Depot store in the Cypress Park district, it turned out, were indigenous Maya from Guatemala. They spoke a Mayan dialect and very little Spanish or English. They had escaped Guatemala’s war in search of work in the United States.

Some fought for the U.S.-backed military government and others for the leftist guerrillas. Some, he said, showed him scars of bullet wounds. Now, as laborers at the bottom of the U.S. social ladder, they fight for scraps of work in the slumping construction market.

“They’re more afraid of immigration than about talking about the war,” Okon said during a visit this week to the exhibition space in Mexico City’s Roma district. “To me, that’s what the piece is about. It’s the United States. The war is not over. The war is over there.”

Okon, 41, has made films with wanna-be Nazis in Mexico City, an isolated family in California’s high desert getting drunk on “White Russians,” and Mexican police officers who agree to make bawdy sexual gestures they probably shouldn’t in uniform.

While these works usually elicit in viewers a mix of chuckles and creeps, “Octopus” is different.

The new video is guided by a polemical stance, not self-parody. Home Depot customers amble past the bizarre scenes playing out with hardly a blink, showing that workers who build homes in the United States have “always been invisible,” Okon said.

The artist also had to work guerrilla-style in some form himself. He filmed on the store’s parking lot without proper permission. “I had to constantly negotiate with the security guards, until they finally kicked me out,” he said.

Over two days of filming in March, Okon said the men from Guatemala gradually stopped giggling through takes and began to seriously inhabit — or re-inhabit — their roles. ”It felt like a job,” one of the workers later told the LA Weekly. And indeed it was; Okon said he paid the men a double day-rate for their time.

“Octopus,” commissioned by the Hammer Museum at UCLA, will show at the Casa Jose Galvan exhibition space in Mexico City through January. Next year, Okon plans to take the piece toProyectos Ultravioleta, an arts space in Guatemala City.

A single-screen version of the 18-minute piece is viewable here. In one shot, as seen above, a motorist drives past Okon’s cameras with a bumper sticker that reads, “Voter for a new foreign policy.”

The shot was not staged.

– Daniel Hernandez

Photo: A screen-shot from “Octopus,” a video installation by Mexican artist Yoshua Okon. Credit: Yoshua Okon studio.