Friday, January 15, 2010

Making a new life in Amreeka, Palestinian-style

Amreeka. This is where Muna, a single mother from Bethlehem, and her teenage son, Fadi, find themselves. When a long-forgotten green card application is accepted, the pair leaves behind harrowing border checks, the increasing inconvenience imposed on Palestinians, and their family to try life in Illinois with Muna’s sister. While the youngest cousin instructs Fadi on what to wear so as not to look like a FOB (fresh off the boat), Muna struggles to find a job. Set as America is invading Iraq, Fadi is faced with hostility at school, Muna discovers her two degrees and 10 years of experience mean nothing, and patients at her brother-in-law’s medical practice are walking out every day. 

A story of family, discrimination, and understanding, Amreeka will take you through the hard times and the moments filled with laughter and dancing as Muna and Fadi struggle to find their places in America.

In her debut feature, director Cherien Dabis makes strong observations without being repetitive. While she doesn’t focus on religion in the film, she shows her viewers some of the intricacies of religious identity and blanket generalizations: Muna’s family are Christian Palestinians, yet in small-town Illinois they are assumed to be both extremist and Muslim simply because they are Arab. And Muna’s understated new friend, one of the few who doesn’t discriminate against her family, is a Polish Jew. Dabis highlights these and other ironies and injustices simply, slipping them quietly into the family’s everyday life.

Winner of 4 awards and nominated for 6 more in 2009, Amreeka is definitely a movie to see.

Living the 'T' with Transgender Teens

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers is in many ways most human book I have ever read. Cris Beam narrates her experiences with transgender teens in California’s Los Angeles with wit, compassion, and incredible amounts of strength and humanity. Discrimination, back-alley surgeries, hard drugs, prostitution, homelessness – Beam describes how the teens she knew faced each of these problems and so many more as they searched for love, stability, and acceptance in a world where ‘transgender’ is nothing if not stigmatized. 

Kate Bornstein, author of Hello, Cruel World, aptly notes: “These kids are most usually know about rather than known. But Cris Beam knows them.” 

And each girl – Foxx, Cristina, Dominique, and the others – is certainly worth knowing. Take the time to read this book – it will definitely get you thinking, and not just about society’s definitions of gender.

Read it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Selling Children

FACT: two children are sold every minute.

Despite being outlawed by more than a dozen international conventions over the past 150 years, slavery still exists. Over 27 million people are enslaved today, meaning there are more slaves today than ever before in human history. TIME magazine defines slaves as “those forced to perform services for no pay beyond subsistence and for the profit of others who hold them through fraud and violence.” Slavery manifests in many forms in today’s world. One of the most prominent is human trafficking, which frequently leads to forced labor or sexual exploitation.

FACT: over 1.2 million children are trafficked annually.

The majority of females are trafficked into the commercial sex industry. Children in both the developed and developing world are used and exploited for sex, a lucrative business in some parts of the world. In some instances children are sold by family members, sometimes for as little as $10. Other children find themselves forced into prostitution due to destitute conditions, either trying to feed themselves or their families. Many are lured away from their homes by the promise of a job and a better life, only to find they have been sold to a brothel.

FACT: children as young as 5 are sold for sexual exploitation.

Gang rape, drug provision, sleep deprivation, and torture are used by traffickers to “break” new children into the sex trade in Bloemfontein, South Africa, according to a recent TIME magazine article. Forced abortions and unprotected sex are often part of the equation. In brothels in southeast Asia, “menus” are sometimes offered to clients, describing the children: “#145, age 7; this will be her first [x]; it will cost $100 to [x]”; “#144, age 11; [x] and [x] are OK. $200 for entire night, add $100 for extra [x].”

FACT: over 100,000 U.S. children are forcefully engaged in prostitution or pornography each year.

Trafficking in children is not limited to the developing world, where clients are sometimes attracted for “sex tourism.” The sexual exploitation of children also occurs in developed nations, such as the United States. In South Africa, the continent's wealthiest country and host of this year’s World Cup, as many as 38,000 children are trapped in the sex trade. Children in South Africa can earn more than $600 per night, and a recent TIME article revealed that many traffickers are “looking forward to doing more business” during the World Cup.

FACT: the United States spends more money in a single day fighting drug trafficking than it does in an entire year fighting human trafficking.

The Obama administration has pledged to make the issue a top priority. Thus far? No change. The South African president, as well, has pledged to fight human trafficking and the unexpected opportunities for trafficking created by hosting the World Cup. In many places of the world those fighting human trafficking, slavery, and the sex trade find themselves standing alone.

Over the past few days, the child sex trade has been brought to my attention in various – somewhat unusual – ways. This past weekend I attended a concert of eight local bands, both bands I saw play back in high school and bands who are just forming. The show was a benefit concert for Love146 (read more below). This week’s TIME magazine contained an article about the child sex trade in South Africa. Finally, I discovered that today is National Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Please, take the time to acquaint yourself with the issues. There IS something you can do to help

Earlier blog on trafficking of human body parts: Trading in Humans
TIME magazine article: The New Slave Trade

Resources/ how you can help:

  • Love146: The vision of Love146 is the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation. Begun in 2004, Love146 works for the prevention of child sex exploitation, to rehabilitate children rescued from exploitation, and to promote awareness. The organization is named for a little girl with a spark of life in her eyes, who was seen by the organization’s founders during an undercover investigation of child sex exploitation in southeast Asia. By the time the brothel was raided and shut down, child number 146 was no longer there.
  • ECPAT: End child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sexual purposes (ECPAT); a global network of groups and individuals fighting child exploitation.
  • Somaly Mam Foundation: Their mission is to give victims and survivors a voice in their lives, liberate victims, end slavery, and empower survivors as they create and sustain lives of dignity. They also sell items hand-made by survivors.
  • Molo Songololo: a children's rights group based near Cape Town
  • COFS: combating the sale of human organs

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Submitting to Security

Most children think airplanes are really cool. When I was little airports were really cool, too. Sometimes I was allowed in the cockpit to meet the pilot and add his signature to my autograph book, and I could even go through security without a boarding pass to stand at a huge pane of glass, wondering which magical plane held whomever I was waiting to meet.

In the years since, passengers have been met with wave after wave of new security measures. First, only ticketed passengers were allowed through security. Next, nail clippers and lighters were banned. Then liquids (some airports even include tubes of lip gloss in a passenger’s liquid allowance). In London, passengers are limited to one carry-on, while in the U.S. the size of allowed carry-ons is shrinking even as airlines start charging for checked baggage. Now, full-body scanners and mandatory profiling.

The Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound flight instigated the latest furor over security measures. The EU is discussing the installation of full-body scanners in all of its members’ airports and the U.S. has created a country list for mandatory profiling. Residents of a “sponsor of terrorism” – Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria – or of 10 other “countries of interest” will be required to pass through new security measures; the U.S. government has yet to release exactly what those measures entail.

While some passengers willingly submit to these new security measures as necessary for their safety, others have raised major doubts as to their viability, legality, and necessity. Full-body scanners are eyed with much skepticism by passengers who view them as a major invasion of privacy. Meanwhile, the new profiling regulations have come under fire from both sides: some call them a form of racism and others claim they don’t go far enough.

The debate ultimately comes down to this: what is the acceptable price for security? In an age of increasing trans-border movement, citizens are finding certain of their liberties – such as the right to privacy – curtailed in governmental attempts to guarantee security. In the U.S., we still have it better than most places in the world. We are free to criticize the government, to protest, to congregate. We have the right to a trial by jury and are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. We even have the right to privacy. How much of that are we willing to give up – and what if we didn’t have to?

Israelis don’t.

One could easily argue that Israel is a higher profile target for terrorism than the U.S., yet Israeli airports don’t use body scanners and passengers typically make it from the parking lot to the waiting lounge in 25 minutes. Israeli airport security studies behavior, not stuff – and security hasn’t been breached since 2002. Perhaps submission to hours of waiting and full-body scans and searches isn’t actually necessary.

Supposing the security measures passengers face in the U.S. are necessary, however, do they actually work? Less than a year ago I boarded a U.S.-bound flight with a Swiss Army knife in my carry-on bag (I forgot it was there). But then, I’m a clean-cut white girl with an American passport who carries a teddy bear around the world. Who could possibly suspect me of terrorism? Racial profiling – right there.

"Controversy over body scanners." Al Jazeera English. 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 5 Jan. 2010.
Kelly, Cathal. "The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother." The Star. 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 Jan. 2010.