Assignment: Research a social justice story about any topic. It should be about a human being or people, perhaps in your community, having trouble with an eviction, immigration, money, domestic abuse, facing discrimination, solving the challenges of global warming or any other topic. The story must include quotes from at least three people. The quotes should come from the people you focus on and an expert who might have more information or offer a solution.
TORONTO — The brown sugar bubbled in the pan. The marinated goat meat sizzled when added. Spoonfuls of olives and capers were heaped into the mixture. Then Altagracia Alvino, who can make this dish with her eyes closed, froze.
“Did I put spice in here?” she whispered to herself in Spanish.
Alvino, 66, was careful to make as little noise as possible because it was 7:22 a.m., and her husband and her 20-year-old grandson, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., one of baseball’s brightest young stars, were asleep in their rooms of the family’s Toronto apartment. The familiar scent of cooking meat was unavoidable, though. Read More
You see the artic fox on the subway. You
see it in college hallways. You can find it in Starbucks. Fjallraven Kanken,
the popular backpack with the red and white logo that translates as “The Arctic
Fox,” is everywhere. The Kanken backpack has become popular among
college students. It has even gained popularity around the world as an iconic and
handy Swedish export.
“They are light and comfy. I have five of
them in different colors,” says Anamica, a fellow City College student. The Swedish manufacturer Fjallraven hit on
something in 1978 when it came up with the idea to create a backpack that is described
on its website as, “…simple, stylish, and functional.” The lightweight backpack
was originally designed for young Swedish school kids after many seemed to
develop back problems because of the heavy loads of books they carried. An old Swedish saying, “Straight backs are happy backs,” inspired the
On the City College campus, students who carry
the backpack agree with the saying. Even though the $50-$150 price range makes it a splurge,
people will buy them to keep up with a trend. Not only are they trendy but are
more practical than other backpacks. When you see them hanging in Urban
Outfitters and other retailers, they seem small. But the rectangular shape
allows you to stuff a lot in without destroying the shape.
Brianna, a shopper at Urban Outfitters
hesitated before buying a second Artic Fox.
She complained about her first bag. “It looks great, but I wouldn’t have
bought it if I knew it got dirty this quickly. It collects dust easily and
shows on light colors.” Yet many people like the backpack’s ecofriendly
material made of recycled polyester, G-1000 Eco and traceable wool. It’s also made of durable, lightweight Vinylon
F. The Kanken has a large main compartment with a wide opening, two side
pockets, a zippered pocket in the front, handle at the top, narrow, supple
shoulder straps, a sitting pad in the pocket and logo that doubles as a
reflector. And that helped
propel its popularity. The manufacturer likes to promote its environmental work
and that’s one reason that the bag was named after the endangered artic fox. It
says it is, “honoring the small highly adaptable predator that lives in the
Swedish mountains under the harshest conditions.”
The Fjallraven website states that, “Our core mission and driving force has always been, and
always will be, to enable and inspire more people to spend time in nature…we
don’t chase short-term goals, follow trends or compromise on quality.” Ironically,
many people on campus now wear them because they are trending, not because it
has anything to do with nature.
“I know what it’s like to have hopes and dreams when coming to the United States and to have them torn down at the border. I lived that experience not once but twice. What they are doing is just inhumane,” Julio A. said. The detention of immigrants, the policy of separating children from parents and the hostility towards immigrants upsets him, “Seeing that on TV had to break my heart,” he told us
The twenty-seven-year-old came
to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and his struggle to get here
remains fresh in his mind. He works two jobs, including one as a busboy at a
restaurant in lower Manhattan. His fiancée Jessica
G. says, “He is honestly a great guy and the most hard-working man I know. He
works six days a week, two jobs to be able to live decently.”
The news stories about President Trump’s effort to stop
migrants at the U.S. border bring back memories of his own dramatic story, of his
failed attempts to enter the U.S., and how he finally made it. He described it
as “…the most terrifying experience I have ever lived, the worst part was there
was no turning back.”
From the time he was thirteen, it was common to hear people
talk about crossing the border with friends and relatives paying “coyotes” to
help get them to the U.S. In 2012, when he turned 18, he became curious about the opportunities he
could have if he crossed the border. His parents in Pueblo, Mexico, opposed the
idea, but it did not stop Julio from pursing his dream. He and a friend found a
coyote willing to help them cross for $8,000.
They flew from Puebla to Reynosa, Mexico where they expected
to meet a coyote at the airport. “Getting off the airplane, there was already
an off feeling. I felt my heart sink and breath getting shorter. Not only
because of what I was about to do but because Reynosa is a very dangerous city
owned by cartels and drug lords,” Julio recalled.
The coyote did not show up and Julio and his friend rented a
motel room. Four days later, the coyote contacted them. He told the young men
to go to the neighboring village where he would pick them up. Julio and his
friend were taken to a house with about thirty
others who hoped to cross. Four or five days later, unaware of how they were
going to cross, Julio, his friend and ten others hopped into a van. Three hours
later, they were at the Rio Grande, the river between Mexico and the United States.
When it comes to crossing, immigrants
describe it two ways: wet and dry. Wet is when one crosses through
the river and dry is when one crosses through the desert.
“At this point, I am regretting everything. The only thing I
can think of is of what I am leaving behind, which is my family,” Julio said.
At the river, Julio and another twenty people were herded on to a boat. He
said, “It’s pitch black and around 10 p.m. I can see the moon’s reflection perfectly on the river as we start. It’s like a
twenty or thirty minute cross when finally we reach the American side.”
Once they got out of the boat, trouble started. “Not two
minutes have passed when suddenly, two, three, four immigration vans from all
over start popping up with their sirens. Everybody started running for their
life. I ran into a bush but tripped over and the helicopter light spotted me,
making the ground guards catch me. Somehow, I managed to escape, ran for two
minutes, but tripped over again and got caught again,” he explained in sorrow.
In the span of seven to eight days, Julio was in three
different jail facilities until finally U.S. law enforcement officers set him
free in Mexicali, Mexico. There he managed to get in contact with a coyote who
told him he had no other choice but to try to cross again, if not he would lose
the money he paid. Scared and worried, Julio returned to the refugee house
where he had stayed before.
Three days later, he and ten other people returned to the Rio
Grande. When they arrived on the American side, they walked until they reached
a wall. Julio said he felt excited, “At
this point, I had made it much farther than the first time. In my head I said,
I am finally going to make it. As we start crossing that damn wall, the
migration vans are hiding on the left and right side on the other side of the
wall ready to catch you. Sirens go on and I run back to the river but the boat
He felt frightened but determined not to get caught again. He
managed to hide under a bush. A couple of hours later, he heard two other men
from his group talking nearby. Once all three united, one of them called the coyote
and asked him to send someone to take them back to Mexico. The coyote did not
want to risk sending a boat. So he sent a floating tire instead. Julio and the
two men grabbed on and swam back across the river to Mexico.
They swam for an hour and when they reached Reynosa, the coyote’s men took them back to
the house where they started. Julio was ready to give up, go home and stay in
Mexico. The coyote, again, told him he had no choice but to cross or lose all
the money he had paid. Julio decided to try it again rather than lose $8,000.
Julio made his third try to get to the United States at 10
p.m. the next night. He and 15 others huddled on the boat crossing the Rio
Grande. When they reached American soil, they did not walk towards the wall.
They headed in a different direction. Julio remembered, “It was a two-hour
walk, and no signs of migration vans. I felt a sense of relief to know I had
made this far this third time.”
They eventually found a fence and had to crawl under the
electrified wire to get into McAllen, Texas. “From there on it was all farms
and more farms, and just walking for hours until getting to Houston, Texas,” he
said. It took two days to get to Houston, and then he got into a van that brought him to New York City
Seven years later, Julio
reflected calmly and said, “The experience of crossing, of living on the
edge, of starving and failing shapes you differently. You grow into a different
person. Not even to mention once you get here, the starting over. Literally
starting over, no clothes, no shoes, no knowledge of where you are or whom you
are with. Learning a new language, looking for a job and starting in lowest of
the lowest position. It’s not easy, but it makes you a much, much stronger
person,” he said.
carries around a Mexican peso he brought with him when he left Mexico. It is
the only souvenir from that time. He says it reminds him of the struggle he had
to go through and even though he suffered, it made him the man he is today.
Julio is just one of the thousands who have crossed the border.
According to Pew Research center, as of 2016 there were 12.0
million immigrants from Mexico living in the United States. Roughly, 45 percent of them are
Genesis M., Julio’s coworker, and close friend, says, “Julio
is one of the realest persons I know. I also know he went through a lot to get
here, so to hear news stories about Mexicans being criminals and rapists, it
boils my blood because not everybody is like that. People sometimes can be so
I remember being eight years old in Pakistan seated on a peeling leather sofa under a slow ceiling fan, rubbing the wooden stock of a Kalashnikov. The weapon was a 7.62 x 39mm fixed stock assault rifle invented by the Soviet Union that eventually became the preferred weapon of the poorly-funded jihadist. The owner of the shiny weapon I took interest in, though, was my uncle, member of the Peshawar police force. My cousins and I would make Dua, chew paan together and listen to him recount seemingly fantastical stories rife with violence and acts of terror. We’d then go outside to the field behind his modest home and act these scenes out with toy guns.
Pakistan is home to a gun-friendly society. The number of firearms owned by civilians here is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out to a rate of 11.6 guns per 100 people. This was clear to me from the beginning. Every friend’s house I visited had a gun that belonged to the family inside. Every Eid, bullets were sprayed in the air as celebration, and the same spectacle took place at every wedding. Guns have always been an intrinsic facet of the culture and deeply rooted in tradition, especially in the northwest in villages and small provinces far away from urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore. Guns provide food, protection from the Mujahadeen, and a potential heirloom for sons and their own sons. But the misuse is apparent; With such easy access to weapons, criminals and militants have liberally stockpiled them to sell or to put to use.
The effect of the many guns is obvious: Pakistan is currently the number one country where the most violent crimes that result in murder occur. This is even more startling once you take into account that reporting and documenting homicide is much less common there compared to the Western world.
Fortunately, there has been a push towards reformation and restriction of gun ownership in the country. Pakistan’s National Report (2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan of late has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime now exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the 2012 Arms Control Policy. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister. Although there are still challenges to overcome and problems to solve, the country is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.
My friends from around the country have varying opinions on firearms and their views seem to reflect the national debate about gun reform. Katie Wolfe from Montana said, “I shot my first gun in the backyard when I was probably six. I got my hunter’s license when I was 14 and received a rifle as a gift when I was 16 and a shotgun as a gift when I was 17.”
There have been 288 school shootings in the United States since 2009. That is 57 times as many as other nations such as Canada (2), France (2), and Japan (0). Aside from school shootings, a gunman murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Then in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in 2017, 58 people were killed and more than 850 were injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Christopher Delgiorno, who lives in Las Vegas, said he shot his first gun when he was either eight or nine years old. He said “It’s not like everybody is strapped up but you see a lot of people open carrying in the gym, the park, etc.” But he thinks gun laws need to be made stricter to prevent school shootings and he said, “Everyone needs to be involved in prevention throughout the whole process. Instead of just arming teachers or increasing security, we need more mental and social health programs in schools and communities.”
Katie Wolf had a different opinion. She said “I don’t think the gun laws should be made any stricter. I think we could require a class to be taken to teach how to safely use a gun and encourage adults to keep them locked up where kids cannot get to them.”
In order to change some of the gun laws around the country, Americans will have to come to some sort of agreement. As of 2015, eighty-two percent of weapons used during mass shootings were purchased legally. The problem is not handguns or hunting rifles, but in most states people can purchase an AR-15 at the age of 18. This military style weapon can shoot over 100 rounds per minute. Yet because guns play a big role in the lives of millions across the country, it will be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Jacob Benavides of Texas said, “The gun culture runs so deep that people don’t even think about whether they like them or not; guns just exist, and they always will.”
Thousands of students and activists found each other on Twitter after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. Many, including me, felt extremely upset by the shooting and the lack of laws to prevent gun violence in this country. We use Twitter to voice our opinions and spread awareness about the dangers of gun violence. I have met activists from all around the world who belong to different student led gun control organizations that we have turned into a small community of gun control activists.
March For Our Lives brought a lot of us together. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and others formed March For Our Lives which started out as a student led gun control march in Washington DC on March 24, 2018. It got a big boost from Twitter and soon spread into a larger movement.
Students from all over the country formed small March For Our Lives chapters in their communities to try to put a stop to gun violence by organizing local town halls, advocating for gun control candidates, and protesting candidates who take money from the NRA.
One day, an activist I follow tweeted about wanting to make a group chat with other activists. I responded and said how I would love to join. All of a sudden, I was in a group chat with 30 others and we activists became close friends. We learned that some have even been affected by gun violence at their schools or in their communities.
Mollie Davis from Great Mills, Maryland, said “I got involved after the Parkland shooting and organized my school’s walkout on March 14th, 2018. But then less than a week later on March 20th, 2018 there was a shooting at my school. I got more intensely involved when the issue became personal. I don’t want other people to go through what I did”. The shooter killed Jaelynn Willey at Great Mills High School. It was one of the 65 schools where a shooting occurred in 2018.
This movement also started to focus on things like gun violence in urban communities. I met Diego Garcia from Chicago online through other activist friends. He said, “I got involved in the movement because gun violence is normalized in the southwest side of Chicago and it shouldn’t be that way. Gang violence isn’t really mentioned in the movement and I want to make sure that it stays in the loop”.
A lot of the time the guns used in these shootings are purchased legally. More than 80 percent of the guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally. “Even though Chicago has one of the strongest gun control laws, other places like Indiana don’t. That makes it very easy for people to drive over to a different state, get a gun, then shoot someone without having to go through a difficult process.” This is why a lot of students are advocating for the extensive background checks bill which House Speaker Paul Ryan says will not pass. Students are holding their local politicians accountable for these shootings. Mollie said, “We need stricter gun control because it’s common sense. Mass and school shootings are a uniquely American epidemic that is preventable. The government isn’t doing enough”.
Some students are so outraged by the lack of action from their government that they are protesting outside of politicians’ offices. Naomi Caplan, a friend from Maryland, who I also met through the movement, was one of four girls arrested for protesting outside of Speaker Ryan’s Office on April 18, 2018. She said her reason for doing it was because “He doesn’t do sh*t when he could, and we needed to send a message.”
“There are no excuses at this point and it’s infuriating to watch politicians continue to be silent.” said Mollie Davis.
“I’m not necessarily pro-gun but I’m not anti-gun either. I think the laws should be stricter on how people can obtain a gun legally, but I don’t think outlawing guns is going to help [solve the problem] in America,” said Overland Park, Kansas, resident Emily Butler.
Emily and others I interviewed from my hometown in Olathe, Kansas, and the surrounding area began to think about gun control after the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 dead. Guns are extremely common in Kansas, a fact that I learned from a very young age. You simply cannot escape their presence. I remember when I saw a man in Olathe carry a gun into a local barbeque restaurant at lunchtime like it was perfectly normal. The restaurant was busy and others noticed as well. No one said anything, but many looked away uncomfortably.
People in Kansas carry guns for recreational shooting, hunting and looks. “You see a lot more guns out here,” said my father, Larry Fotovich. My dad still lives in our hometown. He remembers when he saw a local man try to bring a gun into a gun-free building. “He got out of his truck and realized he couldn’t go into the post office with a gun on his hip, so he bent down and stuck it under [the seat of his car]. People are rabid about guns in Kansas,” he said.
Since I moved to New York City I haven’t seen any firearms.
Gun laws vary between states, especially between states in different regions of the country. In New York, a license is required for any U.S. citizen (or non-U.S. citizen that is a lawful permanent resident or has a valid alien firearm license) to own a handgun, but a license isn’t necessary to possess a long gun. The New York City laws are stricter, requiring a license to own both a handgun and a long gun. Kansas, on the other hand, allows any citizen above the age of 21 to openly carry a gun without a license.
A problem in Kansas involves people who try to bring guns into gun-free zones. “I had a kid in my school who tried to bring a gun to school. He was in my first hour class. The police got him before he came into school,” said Springhill, Kansas, resident Mary Kate Hale. Growing up in the Midwest helped shape Mary Kate’s opinion on gun laws. “Knowing how many people around me carry guns on their waist or in their car trunk gives me the creeps. It has definitely made my views towards gun control stronger. There is no reason to need to have a gun in public” she added.
Regardless of a person’s views about gun control, the total number of fatalities is fact-based. In 2018 New York totaled an average of four firearm deaths per 100,000 people, while Kansas totaled 13.3 firearm deaths per 100,000 people.
Leawood, Kansas, resident Jack McConathy recounted a story of gun violence in downtown Kansas City. “My aunt’s friend was leaving a bar one night and this car drove past her. A guy rolled down the window and shot her as part of a gang initiation,” he said. “Growing up in the Midwest, gun culture is kind of ingrained into society,” he added.
In some Kansas schools it is legal to conceal and carry firearms. Johnson County Community College, for example, has a concealed carry policy that allows students to carry firearms on campus as long as they cannot be seen.
Emporia, Kansas, resident Dylan Schneider supports concealed carry in Kansas, as long as proper background checks and training are implemented. “As a future teacher I want to make sure every school that I teach in, and every school in the nation, has the means to protect itself against active shooters, because the safety of the children is the top priority,” he said.
Many gun safety advocates think this strategy could be risky for the overall safety of the children. On average, one school shooting occurs every week in the United States and as of June 2018, the United States has suffered a total of 154 mass shootings.
“All I ever truly remember is asking god why it had to be my best friend. The person I was most close to. The only sibling I had,” says Elizabeth Granados as she recounts the passing of her brother to gun violence in Mexico.
Elizabeth left Michoacán, Mexico at seventeen, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and four children. She remembers that Tuesday, November 15, 2016 clearly. She was on her lunch break. At about 1:45 her phone rang, and her mother’s voice trembled as she told her that her brother James was killed in a gang-related activity.
Recently, sitting on a wooden chair, hands crossed between her legs, Elizabeth recalled the trip to Mexico to see her brother’s dead body and the gun used to kill him. “It was very traumatic for me to see my brother lying there. Not hearing me when I speak, not feeling my touch. Very traumatizing. And the gun? I was shaking when I saw that thing. I’ve never seen a gun prior to my brother’s killing,” she said.
With kids of her own, she worries for their safety and the possibility that gun violence may find them. “At the end of the day, crime is everywhere, guns are everywhere, imagine living in a country where there is absolutely no crime, no killings? It doesn’t exist,” she said.
According to the New York Crime Gun Analysis, New York State has one of the strongest gun safety laws in the country. But even so, criminals still get illegal guns. Seven states known as the “Iron Pipeline” — Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Ohio — supply many of the guns that reach New York.
“I know I live in one of the safest cities in the world, but truth be told anything can happen anywhere at any time. When you come from a place where there are high death rates, you always live at the brink of fear. But you never really believe it could happen to you and it happened to me, I fear for the lives of my children every day. There’s only so much protecting that I can do,” said Elizabeth.
Other New Yorkers say they are wary of guns and know that they are in their neighborhoods. For David Azcona, 23, who was born and raised in Washington Heights, being around guns was all too common.
“I’m so desensitized to shootings that I don’t react the way one should react to them just because I’ve witnessed so many of them. In my opinion, this is something that’s just always going to exist, but I believe New York does the best they can to handle this compared to other cities where gun laws aren’t as strong. In fact, the other day it was reported that for the first time in decades New York City didn’t have a single shooting over the weekend. You know, that’s a big deal, and just shows the great strides this city is taking,” he says.