Bay Area protests language policies in Tibet

Photo Credit : Yangkyi Deteng

Dozens of pro-Tibet activists gathered outside San Francisco’s Chinese consulate on Oct. 29 to demonstrate against the Chinese Community Party’s proposition to make Chinese-Mandarin the official language in local schools.

A series of protests began Oct. 20 in Western China involving thousands of students following the announcement and activists are saying that this policy threatens the identity of Tibetans and other minorities established in China.

“These policies targeting a set of minorities resemble the tactics used back in the 80s during the Cultural Revolution,” said SF State student Lhamo Dolma, 21, International Relations major.

Dolma’s parents fled Tibet after the Chinese invasion in 1959, and settled in a remote village in Southern India before immigrating to California in 1996. Since then, Dolma has been active in the Tibetan movement by helping coordinate events and volunteering with Students for a Free Tibet, an organization campaigning for “Tibetans’ fundamental right to political freedom and independence.”

The online Tibetan news site Phayul.com reported more than 1000 students in Tibet marching through the streets of Western China and Beijing carrying banners reading “Protest ethnic minority languages, carry forward Chinese civilization.”

Photo Credit: Yangkyi Deteng

“Even though China is massively progressing in the world economy, policies like this proves the weakness of a government not able to protect the rights of its citizens,” Dolma said.

Protesters used bull horns to amplify their slogans while shouting “Equality of race and freedom of language.” The Tibetan advocates accuse the CCP of detaining 20 students already since last Saturday’s protests in China.

According to Article 4 of the Chinese constitution “The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.”

Xinhua News, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China released statements from officials denying allegations of targeting the Tibetan identity through the oppression of their language.

China was scrutinized many times for their ways of operating internet censorship and government controlled media.

Google experienced this first hand when it announced it’s decision to pull out of China back in March after the company discovered China-based cyber-attacks trying to breach Google’s infrastructure. The company moved to Hong Kong and China’s internet system is currently censored by government authorities.

Education Department Director Wang Yubo of the Qinghai province in China said “the program to teach classes only in Mandarin Chinese was not aimed at wiping out Tibet’s native tongue,” according to Xinhua.  Officials were reported saying that they will respect students and parents viewpoints before enforcing the policy but no promises have been made yet.

However, according to the document submitted to Qinghai government in China, over 300 teachers have signed their names to a letter requesting the Chinese government to reconsider their proposal, stating that it does not benefit the education system.

“Freedom to speak one’s own language is inherent to the principles of freedom and equality and are being forcefully denied to Tibetan students as a direct result of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet,” said Giovanni Vassallo, SF State alumnus and president of Bay Area Friends of Tibet.

Photo Credit : Yangkyi Deteng

The tension between ethnic minorities and the dominant Han Chinese has become an issue in the world arena since the March 2008 protests in Tibet that left over 200 people dead, and resulted in a ban against foreign correspondents and journalists to China. Ethnic groups in China were seen on cell phone videos uploaded on youtube demanding for the halt on Han Chinese migration to their rural towns through the new railway system which they said was hurting their local economy. San Francisco witnessed this first hand during the controversial Beijing Olympic torch‘s arrival back in April of 2008.

Thousands of activists opposed the torch relay ceremony that was held in San Francisco – the only city to receive it in North America. Advocates condemned China’s conduct in relation to human rights, including torch bearer Majora Carter, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx.

“So, although I have no longstanding connection to Tibet, I would not be able to call myself a drum major for justice if I did not speak my concern for Tibetans inside Tibet who are being persecuted by the Chinese government for expressing their desire for freedom,” Carter said in her statement to the press that day.

Though opposition groups accuse this policy of being a human rights issue in China, the Chinese government officials claim their intent is to bridge the education gap between China’s various ethnic groups and promote development in ethnic minority areas according to Xinhua.

According to Director Jiaxin Xie of The Confucius Institute at San Francisco State University “Language not only connect people, it connects the culture and economy.”

Xie said it’s good to teach different languages but “Every country needs a predominant language.”

Mandarin is the common language spoken by more than 90% of the Han Chinese population however, majority of immigrants tend to speak languages of their own dialect as a mean of preserving one’s culture.

Jenny Leong who works at the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco’s China Town District said the center does not take any political stance regarding China’s policies. But, in regards to the importance of languages other than Mandarin, she said “Cantonese is spoken more than Mandarin in China Town and majority of the first Chinese immigrants spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin.”

Despite differences of political views, language has historically been marked as one of the key ingredients in preserving ones cultural background, and ethnic identity. A study conducted by the American Forum for Global Education cites language of choice as “a major way of asserting ethnic identity. Ethnicity in turn is tied to language loyalty: staying with a language even when you might expect economic forces to turn you away from it.”

“We call upon the Chinese government to adhere to its own constitution and respect these principles at the heart of the ethnic Tibetan identity, they must allow the Tibetan language to be respectfully taught in all of Tibet,” said Vasallo.


AB 12 extends foster care to young adults

By Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Photo Courtesy of All Saints Church

Foster children will now have the choice to remain in foster homes till age 21 or move out at 18 with federal assistance. The California Fostering Connections to Success Act, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30 has made this possible for thousands of foster youth who under current law are legally emancipated without state support at age 18.

The legislation, also known as Assembly Bill 12, will be effective January 2012 and will require youth to attend school, college, career oriented programs or work a minimum of 80 hours a month in order to receive funding. The bill also provides transitional housing support to those who qualify until age 21.

Amy Lemley, policy director for the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes in San Francisco, said the bill is an entitlement and “if all of California’s foster youth elect to participate, we are legally required to pay for them.”

San Francisco had an estimated 189 foster children emancipated within the last year according the database of the California Department of Social Services and the University of California at Berkeley. California had a total of 63,553 foster youth last year of which 5,332 were emancipated.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, a co-sponsor of the bill said, “AB-12 takes advantage of funding opportunities provided for the first time by the federal government toward California’s Foster care system.”

SF State communications major and former Guardian Scholar, Jewel Boone, 19, said statistics provide data on the number of kids in foster care, but does not provide information on how it impacts them directly.

“Identity issues of not knowing who you are is a psychological task and a big responsibility for children and young adults,” Boone said.

Boone was declared a “ward of the court” since birth and has been placed with two foster families. Last year she was legally emancipated without choice after turning 18. Boone enrolled in SF State through the support of the Guardian Scholars Program, an organization founded under the mission to “create a system of support that will meet the academic, social, emotional, and financial needs of college-bound students who are transitioning out of the foster care system.”

She still considers herself “one of the few lucky enough to have a strong family support system.” She said a lot of her friends in the foster care system did not have that. “A friend of mine was kicked out at 11:58 p.m on his 18th birthday along with a bag that had all his things in it,” she said.

Boone credits the Guardian Scholars program at SF State for supporting people like herself.

“Without the state’s funding programs for foster care, chances of going to college is almost an impossible battle,” she said. “There would be no alternative for students like me, and I would not be able to afford SF State.”

Amid celebrations of the bill’s passing, Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform said AB-12 does not solve the problems faced by foster youth. “It’s not enough because the this bill simply makes it less bad than other wise.”

Wexler compares this bill to a “catch-22” scenario. “It’s a case of treating the wrong wound when a worse wound is hidden and unseen.” He said AB-12 simply funds the foster families to allow the foster care youth to stay in their foster homes until age 21 with at least three meals a day, and “one would hope that love and support from the foster family would also be there.”

Wexler said the real problem is children being placed into foster care when they don’t need to be. “Poverty, neglect, and housing for homeless parents separate children from their families, which could simply be solved by providing decent housing and daycare centers for single parents,” he said.

Boone acknowledges that the Foster Care system is still a “fairly flawed system, and a lot needs to be done to improve it.”

She said, “Sometimes the system just reinforces the disadvantages we feel but legislation such as AB-12 is the move in the right direction.”

Currently the Transitional Housing Placement Plus Program administered by the California Department of Social Services is able to assist one out of five foster youth after they are emancipated according to Lemley. “Now, they do not have to compete for the limited number of slots available, instead every one of them would be helped if they voluntarily elect to enroll in the program.”

Jennifer Rodriguez, staff attorney at the Youth Law Center said, “AB 12 provides opportunities for youth to live in college dorms, with family members, or transitional housing- making for the first time college a real possibility.”

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San Francisco fights to protect sanctuary laws

By Tenzin Shakya , staff writer

October 15, 2010 10:38 PM

San Francisco’s sanctuary status since 1989 is battling with the federal government’s immigration enforcement program which city officials fear will lead to racial profiling.

Secure Communities is an agreement between the California Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that was enacted in June. The program requires local police officials to share arrest data with ICE and check an individual’s legal status by running their fingerprints through a national database. If they are found to be in the U.S. illegally, they face deportation under custody.

Photo Credit (Flickr, Steve Rhodes)

“There is a serious problem with lack of transparency and secrecy regarding the so-called Secure Communities program,” said Angela Chan, police commissioner and staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. She said even if the arrested individual is found innocent of charges against them, they still face deportation.

Virginia Kice, western regional communications director at ICE, said S-Comm does not require San Francisco to enforce immigration laws. Instead, data is shared with the FBI and immigration officers as it has been for years.

“ICE independently enforces the immigration law as appropriate if a person in criminal custody is subject to removal,” she said.

According to a letter addressed to the Justice Department by Secure Communities Executive Director David Venturella, S-Comm is meant “to improve community safety by identifying, detaining, and removing all aliens convicted of serious crimes who are held in state or local correctional facilities.”

ICE’s website describes plans to have S-comm in every jail in the country by 2013.

Although S-Comm is aimed at high-level offenders, data shows that many arrested have been deported for low-level crimes and misdemeanors related to traffic citations. California has deported nearly 15,000 people through the program, the highest number among states where S-comm is active. Data from ICE shows 3,875 individuals were deported after being arrested for non-criminal charges between Oct. 27, 2008 and June 30, 2010.

“This is a setback in a society,” said Raul Barrera Esteva, 20, an organizer with People Organizing to demand Environmental and Economic Rights. “It is really sad that society and the government is wasting all the undocumented students which are the future doctors, teachers, lawyers and many other important professions that are needed in this country.”

Esteva is an undocumented student but is able to attend college in California without worrying about ICE gaining information from the school about his legal status.

According to Ariana Gil, Outreach Coordinator for the Mujeres Unidad y Activas, five protesters were arrested on Oct. 5 after refusing to leave the immigration rights rally outside California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office in the city.

“Five percent of the deported individuals happen to be U.S. citizens,” Gil said. “So this program actually impacts everyone, not just immigrants.”

Immigration activists expressed disappointment that Brown refused San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey‘s request to opt out of the program in May. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed to the Washington Post that ICE does not “consider Secure Communities an opt-in, opt-out program.”

City officials and activists claim S-Comm makes individuals fearful of cooperating with the police in reporting and solving crimes.

“This law affects our community as a whole because if an undocumented person sees somebody getting robbed or killed, they are more likely to not call the police for help out of fear even more that they will be deported in the process,” Esteva said.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution in May to boycott Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 immigration law. They compared it to S-Comm saying, “Secure Communities police/ICE collaboration program, like Arizona SB 1070, compromises the safety of local communities by eroding the hard- earned trust built over the past decades between community members and local law enforcement.”

Concerns about S-Comm involve the creation of distrust between immigrant residents, local law enforcement agencies and impact on family members, especially children.

“I know many people who has been deported for not having papers and it is extremely sad to hear the stories of people who have been affected by it,” he said.

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Californians face marijuana legalization decision in November

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Photo Credit Samuel E Heller

On Nov. 2 California voters will decide if marijuana should be legalized for individuals over 21 years of age to possess and cultivate despite the federal government’s disapproval.

If the measure passes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) plans to make the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control responsible for regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana by taxing commercial use. Anyone over age 21 would have the legal right to consume less than an ounce of marijuana freely in non-public places without being penalized and would be allowed to cultivate marijuana in personal spaces limited to 25 square feet.

Ammiano’s introduction of Assembly Bill 2254 which is currently pending, would tax $50-per-ounce and directly fund the state’s drug related education programs.

“It’s a 21 and over law and varies from county to county and if LA does not want legal weed, they don’t need to have it. If San Francisco wants it, it can,” said Joshua Nermon, president of the SF State Student’s for a Sensible Drug Policy. “You have to start somewhere and everything in the past decade has built up to this moment, legalizing marijuana and starting to look at our whole drug policy in a totally different light.”

Nermon said Proposition 19 would reduce the penalty for possession, send fewer people to jail and address the public’s use of marijuana. He said medical marijuana is designed for patients, but people have abused it by using it for recreational purposes.

According to the World Drug Report 2010, provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world.

“But in a way, it’s a good thing because it has opened people’s eyes to how harmless it is,” said Nermon. “Marijuana does not create a dependency as other drugs like heroin.”

Max Mier, a medical marijuana patient and the creator of the iPhone application “Herb Converter,” gathered signatures for Proposition 19 by the Dolores Park Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. He said, “Marijuana is a much safer alternative to relieve stress versus the currently available alcohol which does, in some cases, destroy families.”

At SF State, “the typical consequence for possession (of marijuana) is completion of an educational module,” said Ellen Griffin, spokesperson for SF State. However, a “student with an intent to sell is automatically evicted from University Housing.”

SF State’s policy on marijuana is in compliance with the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act which recognizes marijuana as an illegal drug and does not acknowledge the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana.

“Local or state laws do not apply on campus, so Proposition 19, if passed, will not affect the University,” she said.

Proposition 19 is estimated to generate $1.4 billion in tax revenue and help fund state programs. Despite revenue generated, opponents are in disagreement.

“This free-for-all measure is deeply flawed and poorly written and it’s doubtful that we’ll see the revenue listed by proponents,” said Roger Salazar, spokesperson forNo on Proposition 19.

He said unlike alcohol which is regulated statewide, this measure would leave it up to 536 different counties and cities to enforce and regulate laws in local jurisdictions. It would be “costing law enforcement more time and money to control marijuana and regulate authorized dispensaries.” Salazar called Proposition 19 a “jumbled legal nightmare” and said he doubts it will pass.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, District Attorney Kamala Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom have announced their opposition to Proposition 19 and are calling on their supporters to vote against it.

“California will not see a single positive result if Proposition 19 passes,” Senator Feinstein said in July when she announced that she would co-chair the No on Proposition 19 campaign. “It is a poorly constructed initiative that will cause harm to Californians on our roadways, and in our schools, workplaces and communities,” she said.

Opponents predict legalized marijuana would lead to a decrease in its price, and the revenue generated from taxes will not be worth the efforts. It would also mean cheaper marijuana for patients who use it for medical marijuana purposes.

According to a study released by the RAND Corp, a non-profit research institute, the retail price of marijuana could drop to as low as $38 per ounce compared to the current estimated $375 per ounce.

In an email to [X]press, San Francisco based pro-marijuana activist and blogger Dragonfly De La Luz said that cities would have the right to levy unlimited taxes on cannabis and “possessing cannabis of any amount will be illegal if it was bought anywhere other than a licensed dispensary, restricting our coming freedom to possess whatever cannabis we choose.”

Frances Hsieh, chair of endorsements at the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, supports Proposition 19 and said it would help bring money into general funds.

“The amount of money spent on law enforcement could be better spent on social programs involving the youth, family and children,” she said.

The cost of education has been increasing with the state’s budget cuts. Before Proposition 13 of 1978, People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, California schools were funded by local property taxes. After it passed, CA school systems became dependent on state general funds. Proposition 13 limited property taxes in California to no more than one percent of a home’s assessed value, shifting the focus of control from local school funding, to the state.

“We’ll be much better off if we wait until 2012 and vote for the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative (also known as the Jack Herer Initiative),” said De La Luz. “It’ll give us an opportunity to vote in on a legalization initiative that is actually worthy of the name, and that will make fewer people criminals, not more.”

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Student suing SF State after fee increase

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

A suit against SF State for breach of contract was denied Monday, August 30, by San Francisco City commissioner Paul Slavit after a two and a half month battle in a small claims court over the school’s 30 percent fee increase.

The plaintiff is SF State student Angela Yuen Uyeda, a communications major graduating next semester. According to court documents, Uyeda requested a reimbursement of a $336 fee increase.

“The increase was a retroactive fee increase for one semester after a fixed amount had been agreed to and paid,” she said in an e-mail sent to [X]Press. “I understand that the fees can be raised, but a deal is a deal.”

Uyeda adds that the “Cal State University system has made a series of rapid-fire tuition and fee increases that have caught students by surprise and created financial turmoil for students and families.”

Due to the latest rounds of California’s budget cuts, the California State University board of trustees voted to raise student fees on June 22.

An email was sent out by the SF State registrar’s office notifying them of the fee increase and another notifying them of of their inability “to register during their Early Priority Registration date and time unless all appropriate fees have been paid.” The fee deadline for students to make final tuition payments was July 8.

Had Yuen not paid the additional $336 she would have lost her priority registration date, requiring her to compete for her classes just weeks before school started.

“The issue with raising student fees is due to the state budget cuts,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, Spokesperson for the CSU system. “We had to find other resources to provide access to the students and it was an unfortunate option but one we had to investigate and implement. ”

The commissioner ruled in favor of the University, citing that no money was owed to Uyeda, meaning the she will not be reimbursed the $336.

“We appreciate the court’s quick and thorough decision, said SF State Spokesperson Ellen Griffin. “Fee increases are truly unfortunate, but as this decision demonstrates, the University acted appropriately.”

Uyeda believes the court ruled in SF State’s favor because she may have failed to make clear to the judge that the retroactive fee increase was not set in stone at the time she paid for the July 2009 tuition.

“I believe the University successfully misrepresented that this policy had always been in force,” she said. “Well, I’ll be better prepared next time. Anyway, the real issue is much larger than my personal law suit.

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Mission block party benefits women, immigrants

By Tenzin Shakya & Molly Rosenthal, staff writers

The bi-annual “Party on 18” block party was held Saturday to support the Women’s Building and other non-profit organizations that benefit low-income immigrants in San Francisco.The Women’s Building, is an organization “promoting social change to improve the status of women and girls through education, capacity building and collaboration.” The event was held between Dolores and Guerrero Street and was focused towards celebrating the Mission District All money allocated from the event was put towards employment and housing–the biggest issues facing illegal immigrant women in the city, according to Executive Director Teresa Mejia. The funds directly support the Building’s free grocery, tax advice, financial and technology education programs.

According to San Francisco Women Against Rape’s website, “In 2004-2005, over 13,000 people accessed SFWAR’s wide-ranging programs and services for survivors of sexual assault.”

Dr. Janelle White, Executive Director of SFWAR and Professor of the Women and Gender Studies Department said, “The numbers are not going down.” According to White, the numbers continue to rise and more women are in need of support and resources.

During the event, Bautista Rocio stood by her table and sold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces from her boutique on Mission Street. Rocio, an Ecuadorian immigrant felt as though she didn’t have many options when she migrated to San Francisco. Three years ago, she discovered the Women’s Building, which has since helped her open and successfully conduct her jewelry shop.

“The center has a lot of diversity and support of people,” said Rocio.

Rocio said the Center helped her obtain a work permit to clean houses and nanny. The benevolence of the Building’s services and staff inspired her to volunteer for Mujeres Unidas y Activias–a project organized by and for new immigrant women to educate them on their rights and available community services.

Deportation of illegal immigrants due to the lack of proper paperwork is an issue Graciela Orozco, SF State Counseling Coordinator has been following quite extensively.

According to Orozco, the effect of deportation on children of immigrant families are being neglected.

“Children are being affected with many different types of psychological problems,” said Orozco. “Nobody’s paying attention to them.”

According to Rocio, free services to develop self-esteem and self-sufficiency for women and children are available through the Women’s building. GirlVentures, an in-house organizations arranges hiking, camping, and kayaking adventures to help young women develop and express their strengths.

The proceeds were also distributed to Buen Dia Family School, an organization that facilitates self-confidence building in immigrant children.

Michelle Galli, stood at the Women’s Building booth, where she also works as an intern, passing out flyers and greeting guests. She said,”The best thing about the services at the building is that they’re free.” This usually leaves attendees surprised with wonders about paying.

Galli, who is also an S.F. State Alumna studied World Development and Spanish. She was drawn to the vibrant mural on the exterior of the Women’s Building, which intrigued her to work there.

“First I was just drawn to the mural, but I also wanted to work with immigrants.” The Mural, spanning from the group to the top of the building and wrapping around the east side, is a vibrant depiction of the contributions of women throughout time and history. It was painted nearly fifteen years ago and designed by community organizations in the Mission

SF State student Orquidia Gomer, Biology major is currently the receptionist for the Women’s building. She is the first person women talk to when they walk into the building. According to Gomez, the most common problem facing women in the Mission District is tied to domestic violence, and the Women’s Building helps in battered women cases and provide workshops to build [women’s] self-esteem.

The event also united popular neighborhood businesses such as Regalito, Tartine, Delfina, Bi-Rite, and Kasa to serve partygoers. Attendees purchased food and drink tickets in exchange for gourmet pastries, barbeque from a pig roasting, and specialty salads and ice creams all donated by the volunteering restaurants and grocers.

“It’s our community and people need it,” said Sam Mogannam, Bi-Rite owner since 1974 and cuisine manager for the event. “People get stuck behind their iPhones and computers too often. Being out here is real way to give back to the community.”

The only paid attraction was the live music–a quartet performing songs for children followed by a three-piece girl band that the young ones equally enjoyed.

Photo Credit Kevin Henderson

The event closed with a country style pie-eating contest where locals could sign up to judge. A DJ spun old soul records after a family African jazz band finished their impromptu set from their open garage.

“It’s not about making money,” said Rachael Hurbert owner of Dolores Park Café. “The Women’s Building is the meeting center for our community. It’s the people in our neighborhood that make us who we are.”

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