Through the eyes of immigrants

      HUNDREDS OF guests and speakers from all over the Northeast gathered together at Washington Square Park on April 3, 2009, with NYU Wagner’s student group The International Public Service Association (IPSA).  The event was IPSA’s spring conference, “Living Migration: Spanning the Local & Global Divide.” It explored how local experiences in New York City, quintessential American city of immigrants, are enmeshed in global migration patterns.

      Following a welcome delivered by Wagner Professor Paul Smoke, Professor Natasha Iskander opened with how the lived experience of migrants often spans the segmented conversations that typically separate local and global concerns.  Iskander stressed the importance of understanding the lives of individuals in  addition to the aggregate picture of population flows.  Indeed, the only effective way to accurately examine migration is by exploring the stories of immigrant lives.

     Iskander moderated a morning panel featuring a trio of leading experts: Janice Fine, an organizer of worker centers for low-wage immigrants; Devesh Kapur, who explores the social and political effects of global remittances, and Michael Piore, a definitive voice on migration, labor and political economy for more than 30 years.

     The commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Guillermo Linares, gave a heart filled keynote speech about the past, present, and future of immigrants in New York City, addressing, as well, many of the citys recent policy initiatives designed to help newcomers.  

      Linares came to America at age 15, supported his family and put himself through school working in a bodega and as a taxi driver.  He was the first Dominican elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on the New York City Council in 1991.  

       Ten of New York City’s leading practitioners and academics who work closely with immigrants led afternoon workshops, facilitating discussions about their daily challenges and opportunities.  The highly participatory groups each explored different themes: labor organizing and rights, citizenship and legality, and transnational connections.  

        Workshop leaders included:  Ana María Archila (Make the Road New York, Latin American Integration Center), Héctor Figueroa (32BJ SEIU), Victoria Hattam (The New School), Monami Maulik (DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving), Maritsa Poros (CUNY), Haeyoung Yoon (CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities), and Saru Jayaraman, Fekkak Mamdouh, and Sekou Siby (all of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United).

       IPSA concluded the conference with a fun-filled reception, featuring the soulful musical stylings of Beatriz Maass (a Wagner student) and Paula Restrepo (Wagner alumnus) and accompanied by the migration-related visual graphics of Arya Iranpour (Wagner student).