Equality and Justice for All
Weinberg senior is committed to helping secure justice for this country's immigrant population.
by Jenny Freedman
We’ve already asked to speak with the woman who works in the home, but the owner denied she was there. We still watch the window from across the street. After about 1 1/2 hours, the window shade moves. Nina (not her real name), a Malawian woman working for a wealthy Malawian family, waves at us, a happy yet apprehensive expression on her face. Immediately, we call the police and explain that we know of a person who is being held against her will.
When it’s all over, Nina walks out of that house, head held high. She has been working for this diplomatic family for the past nine years, being paid between $100 and $400 a month. To see her finally leave the house brings tears to my eyes. Her strength and perseverance inspire me. She slowly and shyly tells me of the inhumanity she has experienced, including a ban on phone calls and other outside communication. Her continuous “thank-you’s” during the entire car ride to her new home reassure me that I am spending my days making a difference.
My passion for the human rights struggles of recent immigrants began with volunteer work at Centro Romero, an organization that serves the Latino community in Chicago. During my junior year I assisted with the women’s domestic violence workshops. Once a week the program director and a few of us volunteers met with these women. It was hard to know if I was making a difference, but when I went home for the summer, several of them told me they hoped I’d return. And as with any communication across languages, much was unsaid but expressed through their smiles and the tears in all of our eyes.
My experiences at Centro Romero led to an internship with CASA of Maryland over the summer. I worked with the legal department, assisting with nonpayment-of-wage cases.
When I started, I was nervous about my Spanish and my knowledge of the legal system. But within a week I was on the phone with employers, demanding wages on behalf of workers who could not do so for themselves. And my Spanish quickly improved.
I saw clients who were owed thousands of dollars, employers who pulled every trick in the book to avoid their obligations, diplomats who abused their immunity to avoid paying minimum wages to their domestic employees. And these workers could not afford to wait.
Many clients could not say where they lived. They did not have a phone number or would not answer the phone for fear of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Some did not know how to spell their own names. They congregated in 7-Eleven and McDonald’s parking lots before dawn every day, hoping someone would drive up and need a carpenter, painter or construction worker. Such is the life of many a day laborer: living, eating and working from sunup to sundown, concentrating only on tomorrow.
I learned through CASA what it’s like to be hanging on by a thread. I realized the enormous demand that exists for assistance to recent immigrants. I was inspired by the dedication of the staff members.
Most of all, CASA made me realize I want to use my skills to help the Latino community in the United States; I want to strive for the equality that is so fundamental to our country’s existence. As a graduating senior, I’m not sure where my path will lead, but probably somewhere along the way is law school. Yet most central to my thinking is the idea that every bit of effort, no matter how small, really can make a difference.
Jenny Freedman of North Potomac, Md., a senior in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is majoring in Spanish literature. She lived in Spain for a semester and hopes to work for a nonprofit organization in Latin America after graduation.