DCentric Picks: Contemporary Dance Explores Asian American Experience

Zain Shah / Courtesy of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co.

Katia Chupashko performs in "Becoming American," about being a Korean child adopted by white Americans.

What: Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. spring dance performance.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Where: George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre (800 21st St. NW).

Cost: Tickets range from $15 to $25.

Why you should go: The contemporary dance performance focuses on identity and the Asian American experience, including a piece that tells the story of a Korean child adopted by white American parents and how Asian Americans live as “hyphenated” Americans.

State of the Union: DCentric Outtakes

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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

President Barack Obama devoted much of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to leveling class disparities between the middle class and the very rich.

He didn’t embrace the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement – namely that 99 percent of Americans are suffering while 1 percent hold the wealth. But the president did say that 98 percent of Americans make less than $250,000, and that their taxes shouldn’t go up. Raising taxes on the wealthy is an issue with local relevance; the D.C. Council in 2011 narrowly approved a tax hike on those making $350,000 or more a year.

President Obama pushed for a resurgence of American manufacturing to combat joblessness. He also said there are available jobs in the technology and science industries, but not many people are qualified to fill them. Such a “skills gap” exists in D.C., where many of the unemployed lack the credentials needed to fill available jobs. President Obama made a “national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.” That commitment may be easier said than done. D.C.’s job training programs have been fraught with problems and don’t always lead to jobs. There are current efforts underway to reform them so such programs are more effective.

Immigration also had a brief moment during the State of the Union address. Deportations have reached record levels under President Obama. He called for “comprehensive immigration reform” but failed to give specifics. He did, however, urge the passage of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and soldiers.

The issue of race was barely mentioned, with President Obama focusing mostly on class issues, despite the fact that class disparities fall sharply along racial lines. For instance, the black unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate. Here’s the most explicit mention of race, and it came as President Obama directly addressed members of Congress:

Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

Do you think race should have been more directly addressed? What are your thoughts on Tuesday night’s State of the Union address? You can read the entire speech here.

DCentric Picks: ‘Communities in Translation,’ Gold Leaf Closing Party

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What: “Communities in Translation” movie screening.

Where: Gala Theatre at Tivoli Square, 3333 14th St., NW.

When: 6 p.m., Thursday.

Cost: Free.

Why you should go: The film screening is part of a larger event, “Many Stories, One Night,” which will focus on immigrants’ experiences accessing public services in the District. The documentary by Robert Winn depicts how language barriers have impacted D.C.’s immigrants during emergencies, such as the 2008 Mount Pleasant fire.

Other events to consider: D.C. will lose 11 artist studios by the end of the year to make room for a $57 million mixed-use development. But before Gold Leaf Studios shuts down, band Ra Ra Rasputin is hosting a closing party. The show kicks off at 8 p.m., Saturday at 443 I St., NW.

Immigrants and D.C. Unemployment

Courtesy of Patrick Madden / WAMU 88.5

Esayas Ayele, right, getting hired by 7-Eleven representative Mark Crist at a city-sponsored One City, One Hire employment event.

D.C.’s unemployment is 11.1 percent, but it’s uneven. In some wards, it’s at 3 percent, while in others, it’s as high as 20 percent.

In response to D.C.’s unemployment divide, the District launched a campaign to boost hiring of the city’s residents. WAMU 88.5′s Patrick Madden reports from a city-sponsored hiring event for 7-Eleven on Monday, where the first hire was Esayas Ayele, a recent Ethiopian immigrant. Ayele told Mayor Vincent Gray, “I was a senior banker in my hometown with a degree in accounting. I am lucky, a very lucky guy.” As Madden reports, not everyone was happy as only 26 out of the 100 people there were hired:

Ayele feels lucky, but maybe not loved; nearby, Stephanie Taylor watches his hiring disapprovingly. She was turned down for one of the openings.

“I think this was a waste of time,” says Taylor. “If you just want to hire foreigners, you know, why would you have a jobs fair?”

Taylor’s frustration that immigrants get jobs over native born D.C. residents is nothing new; a similar sentiment is being echoed by those critical of Gray’s recent signing of an executive order that prevents police officers from questioning the immigration status of arrested individuals. Some are even going so far as to say that immigration should be curtailed or stopped until unemployment is down.

Pat Buchanan on How to Lower Black Unemployment

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Political commentator and former presidential adviser Pat Buchanan.

Conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan discussed his views on how diversity harms America this morning on WAMU 88.5′s “The Diane Rehm Show.” After the show we caught up with Buchanan, who is a native Washingtonian, and asked how he proposes addressing D.C.’s wealth disparities that break down along racial lines.

Buchanan said that D.C. is one of the wealthiest places in America, in part because of federal government jobs. “D.C. has problems, but I don’t think D.C., with its unemployment rate and things like that, is hurting as bad as some of the other cities and states around the country,” he said.

D.C.’s unemployment rate is 11.1 percent, which is higher than the national rate of 9.1 percent, but still lower than some of the hardest-hit states, such as Nevada. The District is also home to extreme poverty. Some nearly all-black wards of the city face Depression-era unemployment levels. Buchanan suggested a solution to the disproportionately high national unemployment rate among African Americans, now at 16 percent:

“One thing I would do is stop immigration into the country until all unemployment is down to 6 percent,” he said. “We’ve got to start putting our own people first.”

The notion that immigrants take jobs from out-of-work African Americans is the subject of recent debates in D.C. where 13 percent of the population is foreign born. Critics have raised the issue in response to Mayor Vincent Gray’s signing last week of an executive order that prevents police officers from inquiring about the immigration status of those arrested. Leo Alexander, 2010 mayoral candidate, told the Washington Examiner that Gray was “blowing the opportunity to make sure undereducated populations have jobs.”

Overall, Buchanan said “a lot of these things demand national solutions rather than local ones.”

(Video) Deportations and Uncovering Hidden Abuses in Detention Centers

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed an executive order Wednesday prohibiting police officers from questioning the immigration status of those arrested. This comes the day after the U.S. government announced it deported a record number of undocumented immigrants in 2011.

But the District may have to eventually implement Secure Communities, a controversial federal program that requires law enforcement officials to share arrest information with immigration officials. A new Frontline series focuses on Secure Communities, the deportation process and hidden abuses in immigrant detention centers. The program, “Lost in Detention,” was the result of a collaboration with American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop

Reporter Maria Hinojosa recently spoke with PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan about the possibility that more sexual abuse is taking place in detention centers than is reported.  “If you’re an immigrant who is detained in a detention center,” Hinojosa said, “and you’re an immigrant with papers or without, if you are sexually assaulted by a guard while you’re in a detention center, you may not have any legal right to hold anyone accountable.”

You can watch the first part of the Frontline series below:

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ICE Deportations Reach Record Levels

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Undocumented Guatemalan immigrants are body searched before boarding a deportation flight to Guatemala City, Guatemala at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on June 24, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.

The United States has deported more people over the past fiscal year than ever before, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE deported 396,906 people between October 2010 and September 2011. About 55 percent of those deported had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors.

“These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” ICE Director John Morton said in a press release.

ICE officials see the deportation numbers as positive, but the agency has come under heat for its recent practices, particularly over the controversial Secure Communities program. It directs local police departments to share finger prints and other arrest information with immigration officials. Critics say domestic violence victims and witnesses have been deported as a result, and that can foster distrust between immigrant communities and police. Federal officials have announced reforms, although there is still skepticism over how such changes will be implemented.

D.C. has yet to implement Secure Communities, but it may soon be mandatory around the country.


Indian Americans Increasingly Pursuing Creative Jobs

Indians comprise the largest Asian group in the D.C.-area, and although many are working professional jobs, not all are. But another interesting trend has taken hold in the Indian-American community: the number of Indian Americans who have taken up jobs in the arts, entertainment and food industries has doubled in the past decade from 2.9 percent to 6.1. percent, reports Chicago Business. This video the network produced features Indian Americans who have taken up jobs as chefs and comedians:

This is similar to what I’m witnessing, at least anecdotally, among my fellow Iranian Americans. Members of my parents’ generation have traditionally viewed doctor, dentist or engineer as the predestined careers for their children. It makes sense — they’re relatively stable jobs, and if you’re a new arrival to this country, particularly without a network of friends and family, you may not feel secure enough to go after a “risky” career.

But those of us who were born here may have more stable-footing than our parents did — we have families, institutions and communities here that raised us and that we can rely upon.  We may even have a measure of accumulated family wealth, thanks to the hard work of our parents. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I felt comfortable with pursuing journalism (not the most stable or well-paid of professions), and my brother, who once seriously considered medical school, is now an aspiring film-maker.

I’m curious — are others experiencing something similar, or is the pressure to follow a more traditional career paths still strong?

Former Post Reporter Comes Out as Undocumented Immigrant

“Undocumented immigrant” is trending locally and nationally on Twitter after news broke that former Washington Post journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas is an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas came out about his immigration status through a New York Times Magazine story, which was published online today. Vargas, originally from the Philippines, spent years working his way through the Post newsroom ranks in D.C., and chronicles his personal history and what led him to come out:

Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country. At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired me.

There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.

Vargas’ story struck me in particular because he spent so much time living and reporting here in D.C. He writes that during his time at the Post, “I began feeling increasingly paranoid, as if I had ‘illegal immigrant’ tattooed on my forehead — and in Washington, of all places, where the debates over immigration seemed never-ending.”

Vargas has now left traditional reporting to start Define American, a campaign meant to raise awareness about immigration. Watch this Define American-produced video to hear Vargas talk about his childhood and meet some of the individuals who have helped him along the way:

When Names are ‘Americanized’

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Last week, I wrote about my decision to drop my “Americanized” name in favor of my Persian birth name, and a number of you chimed in about the perils and pitfalls of having a foreign name in the U.S.

The choice to drop or legally change such a name can be complicated. For some, birth names don’t match the common name structure in the United States. Commenter Curtis Alia writes that U.S. officials documented the wrong last name for his Arab father when he immigrated to the U.S. due to misunderstanding the Arab naming structure:  “When I was born, I was given that same incorrect last name, and only until 1994 did we finally change our names to the actual family names from back home.”

Some immigrants make the decision to legally change their names rather than adopt an informal nickname, and marriage presents a convenient opportunity to do so. But that decision could mean losing a meaningful connection. Commenter island girl in a land w/o sea, who is an immigrant with a Spanish name, writes:

When I got married, I changed my name to my husband’s more “American” family name — a choice that i still struggle with. At the time, I was tired of people mangling my last name and making assumptions based on it. Yet now that my parents are gone, I sometimes wish that I had retained my father’s name, or at the very least, come up with some sort of compound-name compromise.

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