By RICHARD SCHACK
In the wake of this summers anti-immigration
controversy, new campaigns have set out to empower the Queens immigrant community, and put
an end to exploitation and discrimination against those who have come here from other
Standing next to a poster he placed at a subway stop, Brian Pu-Fokes is at the
forefront of the campaign to combat anti-immigration sentiment.
"Immigrants are ripe for exploitation,
discrimination, harassment, and are constantly victims of poor work and housing
conditions," said McLaughlin.
As a result of their billboard blitz, ProjectUSA received a
large response, and excluding a rally held by Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, the
Queens immigrant community had been quiet, remaining low key.
Queens immigrants are responding with a pro-immigration
poster campaign, as well as plans to form a new coalition bringing various immigrant
"New Immigration Community on Empowerment" as one
The campaign is spearheaded by Jackson Heights
attorney-at-law Brian Pu-Folkes.
Pu-Folkes has put up posters to counter anti-immigration
sentiments that have been prominent in Queens as of late and he is also planning to start
an coalition on immigrant empowerment.
A rally was held in Manuel De Dios Park on Roosevelt Avenue
in Astoria presenting the new pro-immigration posters.
Nearly 100 people attended the Sept. 1 event which was put
together by Pu-Folkes and co-funded by local residents and merchants.
Over a dozen immigrant advocacy organizations attended the
rally, including the New York Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans Inc. and
the Queens Hispanic Coalition.
Just The Facts Posters
There is a subway campaign spreading word of the message.
Pu-Folkes created the "Just The Facts" posters campaign, and there have been
four posters placed subway stations along the number 7 line.
The contracts for the posters expires October 1, and will
be placed again if deemed necessary.
Leo-Yu-Wan Lee, president of the Organization of Chinese
Americans, elaborated on the phrase Just the Facts.
Billboards, like this one paid for by the group ProjectUSA, began appearing in
Queens this summer.
"Project USA is giving people one-sided
statistics. There are two sides to every coin, and we wanted to point out some facts that
ProjectUSA conveniently ignores. Were getting our message out, and are constantly
looking for new locations, such as malls and highway signs to convey the truth," said
The subway station posters are visible at 52nd Street in
Sunnyside, 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, 103rd Street in Corona, and 111th Street in
"The main reason for the Just the Facts
posters is to counter the negative messages publicized by ProjectUSA. I thought it was
very important that members of the immigrant community speak out against these divisive
messages. By staying silent, we would, in essence, be giving them (ProjectUSA) more
power," said Pu-Folkes.
From Outside The Community
"Each day were seeing improvements. Were
enjoying economic growth, expansions, and surpluses, and our immigrant population has not
gotten to enjoy the benefits," said Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin.
McLaughlin along with the New York Archdioceses
Cardinal John OConnor, and the New York City Labor Council, which McLauglin heads,
have recently announced a new initiative expected to watch over immigrants, conduct
comprehensive studies, and release reports chronicling the ways immigrants are taken
advantage of in our society.
The actions of McLaughlin have been prompted in part by
billboards posted over the summer in Queens that denounced immigration and blamed
Queens immigrant community for some of societys woes, including overcrowding.
McLaughlin, OConnor, and the NYC Labor Council will
also publicly announce their campaign by taking out 50 billboards to convey their message.
They will state "If you or someone you know is an immigrant and has been a victim of
discrimination call our hotline number." The hotline number will be released October
12. For now, victims of discrimination can call the NYC Labor Council at 212-685-9552.
Replicas of the billboards will be released and posters
will be placed in all parishes. Also, the Labor Council will do grassroots distribution of
flyers in neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrants. Flyers will be translated into
nearly all languages. "Immigrants come here for a better life, and become victims of
exploitation," said McLaughlin.
Jessica Lee is the Executive Director of the Coalition for
Asian-American Children and families, and is alarmed by recent rash of anti-immigration
"Immigration brings diversity to communities. I
dont understand how we are condemned despite what we do for economically and
culturally. We make neighborhoods richer. They are always starting small businesses, which
is the backbone of our society."
The Corona-based Queens Community Coalition Chairman
Enrique Lugo feels "yes, there are problems with immigration, in particular illegal
immigration. Organizations like ours, and the proposed coalition, absorb and try to help
people become part of the American culture."
"The Community Coalition provides citizenship classes,
free computer classes, and free English lessons. Weve initiated a neighborhood
beautification project. Many do whatever they can to give back to their community,"
Alice Cardona is the President of "100 Puerto Rican
Women in Queens," and wants to get a positive message across.
"It isnt as open as it once was, but it is still
there. Decades ago, while walking in the street it wouldnt be rare for someone tell
me to Go back where you came from. Although it is not such anymore, the
prejudices are now unspoken. It is still very much there," said Cardona.
COMMISSION ON DIGNITY
Meanwhile, the group McLaughlin and OConnor will be
founding will be called the "Special Commission on the Dignity of Immigrants."
Self-funded, the program is set to begin on Columbus Day and will include six members of
the clergy and six labor leaders.
The Commission will be housed at the Central Labor Council.
On the hotline there will be plenty of volunteers, trained at a program that may be at
Each week the Coalition will meet with the Archdiocese and
go over patterns of abuse. Six or seven months into the year, a detailed report will be
released including recommendations for the progress of immigrants into mainstream society.
In starting an organization of his own, Pu-Folkes wants to
not only counter the negative messages about immigration, but also speak to and educate
Queens immigrants on issues affecting them, and how they can better be a part of their
He spoke with a number of community leaders about starting
a new coalition, banding together many organizations for the common cause of finding
innovative ways to empower the immigrant community.
Pu-Folkes has contacted regional organizations, such as the
Queens Hispanic Organization, the Queens Community Coalition, "100 Puerto Rican Women
in Queens," Haitian Americans United For Progress, the Queens Jewish Community
Council, the Bangladeshi Friendship Association, and the Korean American Association of
Also notified were citywide organizations like the
Organization of Chinese Americans, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Education Fund, the
Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, and the Department of Youth and
"There was a strong initial response to the posters.
There is a growing groundswell of support that indicated to me something such as a
coalition definitely should be done."
"There is not a strong enough bridge between community
to community, and community to government. Groups are exceptionally stronger when unified.
People of common interests and concerns have to team up to achieve common goals and
endeavors," said Pu-Folkes.
Half-Burmese and half Caribbean, Pu-Folkes is an
American-born son of first generation immigrants, and grew up in Queens. Now thirty years
old, he currently resides in Jackson Heights. Pu-Folkes is intelligent and ambitious
enough to demand change while many in the immigrant community have kept fairly quiet, as
they have traditionally, downplaying the recent spur of anti-immigration sentiments.
"The reason so many immigrants are quiet is they are
isolated by language. Also, many have a mistrust for the government based on experiences
not only with their government, but ours," explained Pu-Folkes.
Nayibe Nunez-Berger, President of the 250-member Coalition,
explained "at first we (the Queens Hispanic Coalition) didnt really want to get
involved. Ive been here 38 years, and I dont need anybody to tell us who we
are. We are hard working, decent people. These things happen, you just have to live with
"We are feeling concerned right now. While nothing
definitive has been planned, we will support him in whatever way we can. We want not only
to provide Latinos with political Empowerment, but help and provide information to all
immigrants," Nunez-Berger added.
McLaughlin summarizes his Committee on the Dignity of
Immigrants, and what he and the Archidiose hope to accomplish. "We want to send a
strong message to the community-at-large that we will not accept the abuse and
discrimination of our immigrants."
Pu-Folkes concludes. "We want to create a very strong,
effective organization which will empower our community so we do not have to wait for a
crisis to mobilize and react. We want power on every decision-making level, to speak out
on concerns ranging from day-to-day to global policy. We want a voice."
|To contact the Queens group organizing in
support of local immigrants and activist Bryan Pu-Folkes, call 718-478-6811 or email: