Friday, February 17, 2012

Meanwhile, back in New Bedford...

While I was away, my compadres in the immigrants' rights movement here had not been idle. Some years back I helped found a labor rights organization, the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, and arranged for one of my students to work there several hours a week while I was away, so that there would be someone on hand who could take over some of the work I performed for the organization -- primarily, the writing of letters to companies that abused their workers. I helped arrange for Danielle to get some academic credit (through internships and experiential learning), but she had to stop working at CCT in January and during my last two weeks in Guatemala, Adrian kept on reminding me that they needed me back. That helped minimize the anguish of leaving Guatemala (and actually, as I have indicated in earlier blogs, since Guatemala has become part of my daily life, since I plan to go back in March, and since the internet allows me to stay in relatively constant contact with friends and colleagues there, the process of leaving was not as wrenching and anguish-producing as I had feared), since I knew that I would be able to throw myself back into the work almost immediately.

The very day of my departure from Guatemala, CCT signed an historic agreement with one of the big temporary employment agencies in the area -- one of the chief sources of employment for local immigrant workers as the companies now prefer to sidestep the issue of having to verify immigration status by letting the temporary agencies intervene and become the responsible party.  I was in transit but Adrian had told me this was happening before I left.

However, as I settled back into my routine here (commuting from Brooklyn to Massachusetts, getting back into the groove of teaching), he shared some more disturbing news: he had been assaulted at gunpoint, in broad daylight, outside the offices of CCT. Two men attacked him, one wielding a gun. They hit him, one said something like, "We're going to kill you" but he fought them off and they fled. He thought the attack was most likely politically motivated rather than an attempted robbery -- he noted that they had not taken his wallet or his phone, which they could have done fairly easily. But rather, he thought, it was designed to scare him, and others. Whether it was because of his outspoken advocacy for immigrant workers, or some trace of his activist past in Guatemala, he does not know. He did, however, after consulting with people from some of the community and religious organizations that have supported the work of CCT, decide to go to the police station and apply for a gun permit.

I just penned a short update on these events for the monthly newsletter of the American Anthropological Association. I will post the unpublished version here (I assume it will go through some editing before it sees the light of day).

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