Where Do Your Rights Begin? Where do they end?

This week hundreds of protesters gathered on Wall St., the business capital of New York, to voice their disaproval of the present state of democracy.  The plan was to camp out on Wall St., for days, weeks, months if possible. According to the organizers’ web site, Occupy Wall Street, “We want freedom for all, without regards for identity, because we are all people, and because no other reason should be needed.However, this freedom has been largely taken from the people, and slowly made to trickle down, whenever we get angry.”

When protesters arrived at the designated site on September 17, they found that police barricades on portions of the the street, preventing protesters from fully occupying Wall St. Activist Luella Mink, from the Lupe Fiasco Street team was among the protesters. Through twitter she has shared that musician Lupe Fiasco has played a major role in the protest, donating tents and hosting discussions. According to Mink, it has been mentioned that the bigger tents may be used as learning facilities during the protest.

As the protest continues it will be interesting to see both the authorities and media’s reactions.

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Should the Welfare of a Country Trump Individual Rights?

Formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform was signed into effect March 23, 2010.The Affordable Care Act (ACA) met opposition at both the federal and state levels. Those opposing ACA either feared that the government was overstepping its boundaries by imposing a government sponsored health care plan, or found the law to be unconstitutional. Is the American government actually breaking the law by trying to provide affordable healthcare for its people?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) aims to provide health care for the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans by extending coverage to those searching for a policy to cover their pre-existing conditions, providing affordable treatment and medication, in addition to allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 and providing incentives for small businesses that provide health insurance for their employees. In exchange for the government providing these services, Americans would have to buy a policy before 2014 or pay a penalty fee.

To understand the oppositions’ beliefs one must understand who stands to lose more if the law is not repealed before 2014, when most of ACA’s mandate go into full effect. Before the Affordable Care Act, both pharmaceutical and health insurance companies stood to make millions from Americans, by overcharging for medication and treatment along with cutting cuts by discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions, and expensive treatments. By placing life and annual limits on health care benefits, agencies were not responsible to cover costs once an individual’s health care plan had reached its limit, whether annual or over the course of a lifetime, leaving patients with chronic illness out in the cold, according to the White House. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, individuals could now find health insurance policies that would cover treatment, procedures and medication for conditions existing before the policy went into effect. The health reform also cut costs of both brand name and generic drugs for adults with Medicare, according to HealthCare.gov. While the former health care system benefited pharmaceutical companies, health insurance agencies and investors, ACA benefits the people, by making healthcare both accessible and affordable.

Before the health reform law was passed it faced much opposition from majority of the Republican Party, as well as a few Democrats. Republicans are well known for disapproving any government inference in the market and industry, thus their reaction to ACA, was to be expected. Shortly following the passing of the healthcare reform there were several courts that declared the mandate that required Americans to buy an insurance policy, or pay a penalty unconstitutional. Among the rulings was one by Federal District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida who found that the federal government had overstepped its regulatory powers as stated in the Constitution. Vinson is only one of the many federal judges, senators, governors, and citizens who found fault with the health reform. Is Vinson’s claim valid? Did the United States Federal Government indeed overstep some sort of boundary? The Constitution is already prone to interpretation by the courts, however under administrative law, the government is expected to serve, protect, and provide essential services to its people. In exchange for such service, Americans are expected to give some individual sovereignty to the local, state and federal governments. One would only hope that health insurance for all would be included in those services distributed by the federal government.

It is hard to believe that such a powerful law that can and will impact the lives of all Americans rests on an individual mandate; pay for insurance, support the costs of insurance for your fellow Americans or pay up. It is possible that the mandate could be altered to exclude a penalty fee, however if an American citizen, by choice refuses to buy health insurance, in the event of a medical emergency will end up paying for the costs of treatment, medicine, doctor visits out of pocket, so why refuse the government-sponsored insurance. Therefore the law is in the best interest of its people and has been implemented to protect Americans in both the short and long run.

If indeed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is repealed, millions of Americans will once again have no access to health insurance, those with chronic illnesses will have to go without treatment, young adults without insurance will have to live cautiously, and the healthcare system will lie in disarray waiting for another reform or decision made by the federal government that will in no doubt be unconstitutional, stopping short of providing the necessary services for citizens. Federal District Judge Vinson’s argument seems to lack validity, would the health and welfare of millions of Americans not trump the childish squalor for power and money? One would only hope so.

Hurricane Irene

The first time I experienced a hurricane I was about five years old. We were living in a pink headmaster’s house in Cockburn Town, San Salvador, Bahamas. I can vividly remember the neighbors boarding their windows in preparation for the hurricane. When Hurricane Lili struck the island she came in full force, I now know it was because the eye of the storm passed over Southwestern cluster of islands that make up the Bahamas. I remember the wind blowing down a large tree, blocking any entrance or exit of our street. As the wind began to pick up our back door flew open and the birds, who were previously dealing with winds reported to have been over 100mph, flew into our small pink house seeking shelter, settling on pots that sat on the stove . As the birds and my family grew comfortable, my sister and I gathered by the front window to watch the hurricane’s wrath.  We gasped as we saw pigs from the farms on the other side of the  fly by, squealing. Note that according to The Bahamas Guide, the island is only 63 sq. miles.   We saw our satellite dish fly across the street onto our neighbor’s property. Now this was no small feat our satellite dish was nothing like those of today, in fact it was probably over 20 times larger than the small grey dish that now resides on the roof of my parents’ home, and was attached to a black pole, much taller than our house. I remember as the winds died down, walking outside to inspect the damage with my dad. Trees succumbed to Lili’s gusts of wind and had fallen all around us. Several animals displaced, miles away from their homes and farms. I recently learned from my parents that there were no deaths on the island during that hurricane.
Fast forward 15 years later, the night Hurricane Irene was expected to hit Philadelphia, I crawled into bed and slept as the hurricane killed, destroyed and caused floods on the east coast. While many believe that the hurricane was “hyped” by the media, I believe that it was the hype that saved lives and lessened possible damages. Americans were prepared for the hurricane as those Bahamians were 15 years ago. And as the sun shines on a beautiful Monday morning, I am thankful that the media created a “hype.”

Khmer in America: Philadelphia Students and Organizations Work to Bring Change to Ethnic Community

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The disheartening tale of Cambodians in America is only one example of the hardships faced by immigrants who enter this country, immediately experiencing socioeconomic, cultural and educational adversity. For these immigrants it is both the quantity and quality of education they receive that sets them apart from the recurring story of immigrants who become a statistic.

As refugees, Cambodians arrived in the United States in the 1970’s and 80’s. They left behind war, genocide, lost loved ones, and trust in government and other social institutions. Cambodia, located in Southeast Asia was taken over in 1975 by the communist group, Khmer Rouge. According to the Cambodian Information Center, the Khmer Rouge became known as one of the most violent regimes of the century. This communist group is responsible for the deaths of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians.

For many of the refugees who were resettled in the Philadelphia area, home became the inner-city neighborhoods, with high crime rates, violence and gangs. For Cambodians and many immigrants, especially those who do not speak the language of their host country, this is the test which determines whether the ethnic group sinks or floats. For these Cambodians, their fragile cultural network was unable to withstand the pressures of their new environment and soon many youth became involved in gangs, and crime.

In American education system, Cambodian Americans were often overlooked or lumped with Asian Americans. The Khmer, by no means, were prepared to meet the expectations held of Chinese and Japanese Americans, who excelled in the classroom, particularly in math and science. This phenomenon, also known as the model minority myth, caused frustration among many Cambodians who later dropped out of school, deciding not to further their education. These issues followed Cambodian Americans through the years and in 2000, the U.S. Census revealed that more than 60 percent of Cambodian Americans had less than a high school education, thus, the underrepresentation of Cambodian Americans in institutions of higher learning. However, in states with a large Cambodian community, such as California and Pennsylvania, there are student organizations devoted to promoting the Khmer culture, and informing the general population of the group’s ethnicity and existence in the community and the universities.

At Temple University, located in North Philadelphia, PA, the Temple University Society for Khmer Students works to inform the mainstream Philadelphia population about Cambodia, its history and culture, as well as to provide positive role models for younger Cambodian Americans. Stacie Leap is the student adviser of the organization. Leap, born Sienh Leap, has had a remarkable educational experience. The daughter of Cambodian refugees, Leap was strongly encouraged to excel by her parents, who refused to see their child become a mere statistic.

“I was the first to go to high school, the first to graduate high school, and I’m the first to go to college,” says Leap. She was an A student and on the honor roll throughout her academic career. Leap is now in her fourth year of university taking six courses, majoring in Therapeutic Relations, with a minor in Public Health. While she currently has four jobs, Leap is leading three student organizations on Temple University’s main campus; she is also member of several other student organizations.

Both of Leap’s parents were in some way affected by the Khmer Rouge. Her father, who served as a soldier in the Vietnam War was jailed. After his release, he returned to his parent’s home only to find that the house has been severely destroyed by fire. Hoping to retrieve some of his belonging, he ventured inside only to find his parents’ remains rotting away.

“He was in his twenties, or thirties, I think. So he was traumatized for life and because of that anything dealing with war, [even] the war in Iraq, we turn off the T.V.,” says Leap. “The only thing that the T.V serves for is to watch our movies. But, as far as news broadcasts, we don’t watch that because if he sees the guns or the violence, people getting killed, he gets very emotional. It hurts him, but it hurts me to see my own dad being so upset.”

As for Leap’s mother, twice married, her first husband, a teacher, was shot and killed as part of the Khmer Rouge’s plan to rid the country of educated. Her mother also watched as members of the Khmer Rouge swung her first-born child towards a tree that near the family’s property. The child, a daughter a few months old, was instantly killed.

Danny Yem, David Pindara Sao, and Savonchanmonin Alexander Sao are members of the Temple University Society for Khmer Students (TUSKS). Yem and David Sao serve as executive and assistant directors. Yem is a junior at Temple University, majoring in Chemistry. David Sao is also a junior, majoring in biology, with hopes to go into nursing. Savonchanmonin Alexander Sao, Alex, is a second year student at the Community College of Philadelphia, CCP, pursuing nursing. Alex Sao, but was impressed with TUSKS and often travels to Temple, to partake in the organizations activities.

The family of David Sao, who was born in America, migrated to the United States in 1980.  First the family settled in California and once they were sponsored to Philadelphia, where we currently live,” says David Sao.

As Alex Sao puts it his family’s experience was “almost the exact thing.” “Before we were transferred, [sponsored] to America we actually lived in the border between Thailand and Cambodia. And that’s when we got shipped to California and then from California to Philadelphia,” Alex Sao explains.

While completing K-12, Yem, David Sao, and Alex Sao had little help from their parents. “They gave us the best support they could.  They really didn’t have much and couldn’t do much because they have a language barrier. So everything we do was for ourselves, by ourselves,” said Yem.

Like Leap, Yem, David Sao, and Alex Sao’s parents were determined to have them attend college. “My family pretty much pushed it,” says Yem. “It wasn’t really an option. Once you graduate high school, you were going to college. There are no ifs, ands, nor buts about it.”

These parents were directly attacking the issue of failing Khmer American students, who were entrapped by negative cultural pressures of the early 20 century to avoid the pull of crime, and gang activity. In doing so, these parents ensured that their children were focused on attaining an education while remaining within the roles of  a Khmer family network. Leap recalls that in elementary school she had many Cambodian American friends and peers.  “But when I was in high school, it was in North Philadelphia and there weren’t really that many Cambodians, there were more Koreans. I had more Korean friends, I’d just talk a couple of my Cambodian friends from elementary school, but because some of them dropped out or got pregnant and I wasn’t one of those, they stopped talking to me because they were busy or they felt like I wasn’t part of their lives anymore.”

In addition to their studies, Yem, David Sao, and Alex Sao practice Kickboxing. “It is like a Cambodian martial art, old martial art. We’re trying to compete against Moi Tai, it’s a sport from Thailand,” says David Sao. “There is a lot of history between the two. Basically Thailand was our Cambodian neighbor, and [we] shared culture, so Cambodia helped them build an army and warriors, I guess. When Cambodia needed help during the Khmer Rouge, that’s when martial arts was exposed to the world, after Bruce Lee died. Thailand took martial arts and claimed it as their own. Cambodia never had the chance to claim what was theirs, because they were stuck with the Civil War, during the Khmer Rouge,” explains David Sao.

“I am looking to open a kick boxing to school, show that Cambodians are everywhere. We just need to be known a little better,” says Alex Sao

Additionally, Cambodian community organizations are working with the support of members of the community to reintroduce the Khmer culture to its youth. Organizations such as the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, which works out of South Philadelphia to unify the Cambodian population living in Philadelphia, and provide links to aid and information available. CAGP provides youth classes that teach the Khmer language, and traditional dances.

As an immigrant community begins to recognize problems within, the community is able to work together to move away from socioeconomic, cultural and educational adversity. When Cambodian refugees first migrated to America, almost 40 years ago, money, a fragile cultural network, and a language barrier prevented the refugees from accelerating in society. With organizations such as TUSKS and CAGP working to provide Cambodian Americans with a formal and informal education, the community is on its way to becoming visible to the general public and becoming prominent members of society in Philadelphia.

Trip to Olney

Every time I leave North Philadelphia, I experience a culture shock. I have yet to comprehend or accept the diversity and extremes that the city offers.  I ventured to Olney this past Wednesday for an interview and was rather intrigued by what I saw. First I learned that Olney was a train stop away from Logan, another area that I mentioned in my research paper, an area where Cambodians originally settled. Getting off the Broad Street Line, I walked up the stairs to find a street that did not look much different from N. Broad, however the people, they were different. I saw a mixed crowd awaiting the bus, which took an hour to come. Boarding the crowded 18 towards Fox Chase, I left the train station unsure of what to expect when I got off. Multitasking writing ideas for questions to ask during the interview, I looked around at the people on the bus. I watched as a man took up two seats, one for himself, the other for his bag while a pregnant woman stood, clutching the rail. I watched as a hispanic and a black man stood in the door way, riding the ground through the bumps and stops. Here I thought, maybe this area wouldn’t be too different from New York or even North Philadelphia. The bus stopped and I got off on Olney and 5th. Looking around, I realized that I was wrong. Olney was far different from North Philly. There was an African hair braiding store next to a Korean law office. A Cambodian consulate standing in the middle of residential homes. An Asian gift store on a block with a Korean hair salon. I’m not sure if my personal life or school work will ever lead me to again to Olney, but the trip did open my eyes to the idea that Philadelphia has a lot more to offer.

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Sentenced Home- Tugging Heart Strings

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending an event at the Asian Arts Initiative, located on 1219 Vine st. Hosted by CAGP, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia the event featured rapper and activist praCha, a presentation of Sentenced Home , a powerful documentary produced by David Grabias and Nicole Newnham, a short presentation by One Love Movement, followed by a short Q&A portion with an immigration lawyer.

The film follows three men living in Seattle, their civil worries, and deportation. Each of the men committed some form of an aggravated felony in their teen years, and for two of the men they were later sentenced to detainment by ICE- U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, followed by deportation. There was a part in the documentary when a father of two young girls was being deported, sent to Cambodia, a country that he was so disconnected from, that both I and the woman next to me began to tear up. I glanced over as tears streamed down her face and then reached to wipe the ones that had run down mine.

After the documentary ended, Rorng Scorn, executive director of CAGP, took the microphone, still overwhelmed by the film and began to explain to the audience how deportation affects refugees and immigrants of other ethnic groups around the country.

Scorn then introduced Ria, a petite Cambodian mom, whose husband was arrested and detained, along with four other men and is awaiting deportation. Ria, along with members of AZI Fellas, a prominent Cambodian rap group that speaks about the hardships that the Cambodian community has faced, are involved in the One Love Movement, which rallies to fight forthe freedom of men detained in September 2010.

 

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Progress?

Slowly progressing, but I’m currently working on my proposals. I have a definite angle for the news story and I’m working on one for the research paper as I go along. One statistic that kept popping up while I was reading on Cambodians, specifically education was that only a small percentage of Cambodian Americans go to college and according to one of my textbooks, Global Philadelphia, by Takenaka and Osirim, only 47% of Cambodian American graduate high school. I’m hoping to take a closer look at the journey most Cambodian Americans take through Philadelphia’s education system and show one or two examples of students who overcame the odds and went on to college.

I can only hope that I have a defined plan for the research paper.

Overwhelmed?

I would be lying if I said that I was not overwhelmed by the assignments for my Jou 3700 course. I can get it done, just need to find a way to do it where I don’t exhaust myself doing the simplest of things. Chapter 12 of Global Philadelphia by Takenaka and Osirim. There were several remarks made in the chapter that shocked me. First, I must acknowledge my ignorance, I know little about Cambodia’s history, so I’m doing my best to fix that, but I’m also learning that it is because of this group’s history that many of the older Cambodians have qualms about turning to financial institutions for aid. It is because of the fact that the Khmer Rouge, “a guerrilla army” that killed over a million , many older Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans have a hard time trusting institutions such as the police. Another alarming issue brought up in the chapter, that Cambodian-Americans are an “invisible” ethnic group in America. What makes any group the others, or invisible. These are just a few of my personal questions that I hope to answer while conducting research for this special studies elective.

One good thing is that so far I have the basis of an angle for my research paper, now for the news story…I did read that the high school graduation rate for Cambodians in America is low, according to Ellen Skilton-Sylvester and Keo Chea-Young, authors of chapter 12, 47.1 percent. And the percent that go on to get at least a bachelor’s degree, only 9.1 percent. Shocking yes, the rates are than those of African-Americans.

So, there might be some miserable posts in the near future, but once I work the kinks out things should start to look up.