By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Although human trafficking is a huge and complex beast that devours young and old unsuspecting people alike, there are tell-tale signs if one is a victim.
Here’s a checklist: If you paid a huge job placement fee to land a job in the US or anywhere, if you were promised decent jobs and Green Card at the end of contract, if you were promised decent housing and transportation – but only to end up in the wrong (or no) job, becomes a debt slave, and imprisoned in inhuman treatment and conditions, then you are likely a victim of labor trafficking. So be careful of the sweet words of recruiters.
At the launch of the Women’s Immigration and Communications Cafe (WICCAFE) on September 6, 2019, speakers Atty. Lara Gregory and DOJ/BIA representative Susan Pineda thoroughly discussed human trafficking from the global, national, community and personal perspective. It was a night of enlightenment and encouragement, an opportunity of engagement and action through subsequent one on one linkages.
Also that night, I was able to relaunch my book on human trafficking – In the Belly of the Beast (University of San Carlos publisher) which first came out in 2016. Copies can now be bought from amazon.com.
I cannot thank the speakers enough, as well as the president of the National Federation of Filipino American Organizations – New York (NAFFAA NY) Laura Garcia. My UTS teachers and classmates were such affectionately supportive, I have to mention them – Vanette Colmenares, emcee, Wee Ramirez, invocation leader and technical wiz, Muriel Iturralde, and Elena Bahian whose presence added substance to the heavy topic that evening.
Forums on immigration thru WICCAFE has just begun. This project is a course requirement for my Graduate Studies at the UTS, wherein we are made to create a nonprofit organization prior to graduation that would help make our diverse communities so much better.
So WICCAFE is my humble contribution. It is a network of immigrant women and women in media and advocates of social issues, synergizing information and narratives with compassionate action (whether legal action or advice or advocacy).
As I wrote to my Thesis and Project adviser Dr. Andrew Wilson in the past semester, WICCAFE is not a brand new concept. In fact, it is being undertaken by various groups in the US as a self-help initiative and community support system. But because immigration concerns are so broad and deep, there is the constant need for us to create such helping networks.
Because of its relevance (read: the deportation scare), WICCAFE had been prematurely launched ahead of schedule in August. The Know Your Rights forum was initiated by our partner organization, the Filipino International Community in America which is headed by president Elena Bahian. Atty. Lara Gregory shed light into the topic in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
An important character of WICCAFE is its partnership (with other organizations) component as well as the entrepreneurial component of providing women entrepreneurs to provide the coffee and pastries during the forum. This becomes a platform for them to promote their small businesses.
As I have so thought, WICCAFE will be that safe space where women can tell their stories over coffee and cookies. This community shall see more of that in the coming days.