Annual Cabrini Day focuses on immigration

By Mercedes Dotter Lauren Schrei
November 19, 2004

Ryan Norris

by Mercedes Dotter

Who traveled Africa in a truck, smuggled Mexicans over the border and went undercover to expose corrupt prison systems, with the goal to spread social awareness for the greater good? This may sound like a mystery to you, but for distinguished author Ted Conover, these experiences have made up his journalistic life.

This past Thursday, Nov. 11, Conover was the honored keynote speaker for Cabrini Day. “I really think most of the fear derives from misunderstanding,” Conover said when asked why people fear immigration.

Despite a quiet voice that was sometimes a little more than a heavy whisper that forced the audience to be silent in order to capture the essence of what he said, the impression Conover makes in telling his stories to his audience is incredibly deep.

One way to battle fear, specifically that of immigration, is through education. By participating in his subjects’ lives, Conover, in his many articles and books, has educated readers through true accounts of hardship suffered. He has written about Africans to further research and education on AIDS, Mexicans by telling their story of achieving the American dream in “Coyotes,” and his latest book, “Newjack,” exposing the prison system and the answer to the question, “can your job change you?”

The common ground in Conover’s works, no matter how unique, is the social awareness message packaged into them in an appealing way. “I look for stories that are important to how we are living now,” Conover said. Arguably, social issues like AIDS, immigration and prison systems should be the attention of the global world. They were certainly on Conover’s mind. He searches for the story, which most people are oblivious to, whether by accident, distraction or denial.

It is no surprise, after meeting Conover, one would note he contains a special quality that is the reason he attracts the subjects in his books and can provide a true-life connection to the social messages from his heart. “The world is such an interesting place,” Conover said. “There are more strange things happening than I can ever make up.”

EPOP aids local
communities

by Lauren Schreiber

Zachary Townsend, who works for Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP), was invited to speak at Cabrini Day, and had everyone up and moving during his interactive breakout session. Townsend brought up questions such as “Does immigration directly affect your life?” and “Do you think Philly would be better if it had more immigrants?” All those present were asked to take sides of the room and were engaged in a discussion over why they were on the “yes” or “no” side. “Philly has a history of not attracting immigrants very well.” He clarified, and went on to explain that the low influx of immigrants is due, in part, to the high taxes placed on business owners.

Then, Townsend began to explain how EPOP goes about organizing aid groups to solve the self-interest problems occurring in a community. He gave the four steps EPOP uses to organize: form a leadership team within the community, a listening campaign, research campaign, and public action. It is important to find out the needs of the people of the community by actually “sitting down and having conversations with people.”

The Dominican Grocers are such a group, solving the problem of non-bilingual health inspectors and heath inspection information. The group is working to fix the problem because many small grocery stores are being closed since their immigrant owners do not understand what the English-speaking health inspectors are saying. Townsend finished by explaining that his faction of EPOP is currently working towards keeping children safe as they go to and from school. “The idea of organizating is getting down to the people.”

Speaker advocates
educating immigrant
students

by Kelly Murphy

“All Children are eligible to attend public schools in the United States, regardless of immigration status,” Debbie Falk, the English as a Second Language coordinator for the Upper Darby School District, said. For an immigrant family from West Africa this is just one of the exciting prospects of living in the United States; however, many American citizens and taxpayers don’t share the same enthusiasm.

This is the dilemma occurring in Upper Darby, Pa., a public school system just 12 miles from Cabrini. Falk spoke at Cabrini on Thursday, Nov. 11 in a lecture that elaborated on the issue of immigrant students attending school.

The situation in Upper Darby is that numerous immigrant families from Upper Darby itself and the nearby city of Philadelphia are sending their children to school in the Darby township district. Many Upper Darby natives don’t feel that their tax dollars should fund the children of immigrants, who require special programs, facilities, testing and paperwork.

At the lecture, Falk was enthusiastic to have LEP (Learning English Proficient) students in the classroom. She explained that having the children in school is a more positive option than having them learn negative behavior on the city streets.

Falk agreed that hiring interpreters and translating endless piles of federal paperwork is tedious and expensive. Teachers with immigrant students not only teach them English but also teach the children a whole new culture.

They teach the children that it is okay to look at teachers directly in the eye and most importantly you won’t get physically punished for doing so. They teach the children how to ask for help. They teach them confidence and how to have their own opinion. Most importantly they break the ethnic barrier, which allows the children to just be human beings regardless of race, sex, culture, class and the labels that come with being from an immigrant family.

Sometimes though, Falk explained, teachers don’t feel as if the parents of their students are interested in the child’s scholastic progress. What Falk says to them is, if the parents were willing to risk their lives to bring their children to a free society and work numerous jobs to support them, they are interested. Falk said, “I don’t think I could work as hard.”

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

Mercedes Dotter Lauren Schrei

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