Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Weeks in Texas

Things are going well as I end my second week in Texas! Last Sunday we moved into Casa Rutilio Grande. It's a three bedroom house in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood just a bit southeast of downtown Houston. Since there are seven of us, we're all sharing rooms (one room has three people), but our living room, dining room, and kitchen are all big, so I think there'll be enough space. On Monday and Tuesday of last week we all visited the organizations we're working with. On Monday we visited Catholic Charities Houston and YMCA International. On Tuesday we visited Bering Omega, which has an AIDS hospice, a dental clinic for people with HIV and AIDS, and an adult "daycare" center for people with AIDS. We visited a transitional housing project run by AIDS Foundation Houston, and we visited the Gulf Region Advocacy Center (GRACE), which basically (as far as I can tell) tries to get criminals sentences of life in prison without parole rather than the death penalty. This county executes more people than any state (except Texas, obviously). We also visited my organization, the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center.

My first day of work on Wednesday was nice and easy - I went to a workshop on Globalization, Free Trade, Migration, and Local Organizing. A lot of the information was pretty familiar (thanks Prof. Zunes!). The effects of globalization and free trade push people into such poverty that many migrate for survival and to care for their families. The workshop was structured using a popular education model, which I recognized almost immediately (thanks to Mike Duffy and Dave Batstone for assigning Pedagogy of the Oppressed). The whole organization uses popular education as its model for worker organizing.

On Thursday and Friday I spent time in the office, mainly preparing for a brief presentation I was asked to do on Sunday (and at the same time learning about what I'm doing for my job). We were subcontracted by an organization called Houston Rescue and Restore, which does human trafficking victim identification, to do outreach to domestic workers (this will be a good chunk of my job). Many trafficking victims are held in domestic servitude, but they're very hard to identify. I'll be doing direct outreach to domestic workers, and we'll be holding workers' rights workshops specifically for them, with a component on how to identify a trafficking situation and what to do if you do. The idea is that domestic workers will know the domestic worker community best and be the best people to spread the word. We'll train them to train others, and the hope is that this will raise the number of victims identified and rescued.

On Sunday I traveled to Austin for the first statewide Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition meeting. I learned a lot about human trafficking, and a lot went over my head (they love to use acronyms!). Houston Rescue and Restore organized the meeting, and since my project is one of their projects, I spoke briefly about what we're doing. Here are a few things I learned at the meeting: When the government decides they wouldn't be able to win a trafficking case, usually because there's not enough evidence backing up the victim's testimony, they don't prosecute and the victim doesn't get classified as a trafficking victim, can't receive services or funding, and may be deported. Everybody seems to want the state to step in because there's a state statute against trafficking, but state law enforcement is really ignorant about human trafficking, so they don't take cases either. Overall, the system is messed up in a lot of ways.

Here's your quote of the day: "Hay que cambiar de raíz todo el sistema." - Monseñor Oscar Romero. (My translation: "One must change the whole system from its roots.")

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