Son of a Farm Worker Family

By Jonathan Cortez 

My name is Jonathan Cortez. I am 24 years of age and I am from Veracruz, Mexico. I currently live in Fellsmere, Florida. I am the oldest child and I have three younger sisters. I was born on February 2nd, 1989. I attended Sebastian River High and I went to Indian River State College for two years. My current occupations include: DJ, photographer, video and film producer, web developer, computer technician and computer repair specialist.

I came here to the U.S when I was about six years old, and my life as an immigrant has been tough. We came here to this country to have a better life and a better education. My parents spent over 10 years as migrant farm workers, so I never got to finish a year in school because I had to move so much. It was sad moving from state to state, but my parents recognized that it had to be done to support our family.

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Women’s Writing in the Philippines

By Marivir R. Montebon

New York City – My women writer sisters in the Philippines have given birth to a new news website, and I share their happiness and triumph. I have been in touch with them scarcely but as what women say they will do, the website is born, on March 7, a day before International Women’s Day! Here is to profound, fun, and quality reading to all people all over the world. Thank you to my friends who think outside the box, Diana G. Mendoza, Pinky Serafica, and Diosa Labiste. Welcome to our brave and safe writing space.

Dear Diosa Labiste, this is a long time coming. I miss reading you.

Diosa Labiste writes on

This social news site emerged out of despair by some writers, feminists, activists and, (as they call themselves), witches rolled into one. Some months ago, a news site where we honed our skills as writers and which we continued to support, through falling revenues, readership and enthusiasm, had closed down. Its demise was inevitable for reasons that we rather keep to our sad selves. It’s safe to say that it reached a cul de sac and the barrier was quite high to hurdle. But as the ink has started drying, we grew restless. We wondered if we could live without writing as women and for women. How do we recreate a community of women writers and connect with new ones. Is a community of writers still relevant in the age of social media when one can easily have a platform for airing one’s views and assemble followers who could click, like, tweet, retweet one’s words? Fake news sites, for example, would buy bots to make their accounts viral.

However a community of women writers is a different space. First, it is a space for teaching and learning. We learned that long ago when we were starting out as writers. We watched how seasoned writers polished our stories, taught us the basics, and tempered our idealism with reality. Second, it is a space of resistance. For example, our editors helped us make sense of the women’s movement in the Philippines and convinced us why writing about women crucially contributes to strengthening the struggle for equality of women and men. We allowed our stories to reveal various forms of sexual and structural discrimination as a function of societal differences like gender and class. Third, it is a space for empowerment. Through our writing, we enacted our politics and registered our protests against injustices and gender oppression that we saw and experienced in our lives.

Having experienced that kindness, it became apparent to some of us, younger writers, that perhaps it is our turn to do the same.

Continue reading here: 

Marivir has a blog at



Just Shy of Full-Time, It’s Virtually Impossible for Me to Visit My Family

By Evelyn Olano
I work for FSS as a wheel chair agent. I am the person that makes sure passengers who need assistance make it to their gates on time for their flights.

I work hard. But I would like to take some time off to visit my family in the Philippines. Unfortunately I only qualify for paid vacation if I work 2,000 hours in a year. But with the 32 hours/week I am given, I can never get there because we lose our hours at the end of every year and have to start again from zero. I don’t know when I will get to see my family without losing pay or even my job because it seems like I could never earn enough time to actually qualify for a vacation.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

We’re Not Treated With Respect

By Ikran Sheikh

I have worked at [Seattle–Tacoma International Airport] cleaning airplane cabins since 2008. I work hard making sure that Alaska Airlines cabins are clean.

But at the workplace, it feel like there is no respect, and nobody seems to value what you say. If you don’t speak English, you are treated like a donkey.

After three years of working graveyard shift I was finally transferred to days. After just six months, I was transferred back to graveyard. I think it was because my managers found out I was speaking out about the bad working conditions. When I complained, they told me if I don’t like it, I can turn in my badge — that means no more work.

I can’t afford to lose my job. I support my whole family on my hourly wages. That is why I am speaking out. Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle depend on the hard work of people like me. I am only one of the hardworking people at Sea-Tac that earn poverty wages. We deserve respect and fair wages.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

On the Power of Faith

By Angelica Ingunza

There are some people you admire for something.  Sometimes it is for their courage or for their work, for their honesty or for their will to live.  That I will call “faith.”

That is the case of my friend Gabriela.  She got lupus before she was married.  She was really sick, but she always believed that God would help her.  Her boyfriend proposed marriage to her even when he saw her with no hair or nails, and all her body covered with bruises.  I give a  thumbs up to this guy.  Another one in his place would have left her as many that I have known did.  He demonstrated for her a real love.  He worked in the Air Force, and he gave her his health insurance.

She got treatment for her illness and one year later, she felt better and then the unexpected happened.  She was pregnant. The doctors had told her that because of her illness, she couldn’t get pregnant.  But she always thought that a miracle could happen.  All her doctors said that she had to abort the baby or she would die.  She took the risk.  She knew that God would help her.  Five months later, her family took her to the emergency room.  The doctors said that they couldn’t feel the baby’s heart.  They had to do surgery because maybe the baby was dead, and they would try to save Gabriela’s life.  She had only one percent chance of living.

What was the miracle?  Both lived!  The baby weighed only 700 grams, and she was put in an incubator.  Now that baby is 20 years old, and she is adorable.  Currently she is studying to be a doctor.

This isn’t the finish.  Eight months ago, Gabriela had an accident.  She broke her hips.  The doctors said that it was going to be very difficult for her, and maybe she would never walk again.  But her willpower and her faith made sure that she did walk again.

How much I admire her!

ANGELICA INGUNZA came from Peru 20 years ago after graduating from university in Peru as a graphic designer.  She lives in in Flushing, and studies English in the Consortium for Worker Education/Workers United Education Program.  Her teacher is Jackie Bain, and the program director is Sherry Kane.

On Happiness

By Marie Sainta Desravines

I am happy when I get paid.  I am happy when it is Sunday and I go to church.  When I buy a new dress, I am happy to put it on me.

I am happy when I speak English, and they know what I am talking about.  I am very happy then.

On my way to work, I am happy to buy my breakfast to eat before I start work.

I am very happy because my son is going to have a new baby.  I can’t wait to see what my baby girl is going to look like.


Marie Sainta Desravines studies English in the Consortium for Worker Education/Workers United Education Program.  The program director is Sherry Kane.

A Strong Man I Know

by Bakouan Kisito

When I arrived in New York City in November, 2014, I rented a house with two rooms in the Bronx. My roommate was an older African man of about 60. He had lived in the USA for 16 years. He is not tall. He was a Muslim. His wife lived in Manhattan in another apartment.

He works as a cleaner in a restaurant. This work is very hard and I wondered where this old man found the energy to do that.

He talks too much. I avoided him because when he start talking, it can take many hours.  He often wasted my time. Every day, he cooked his meal. He eats too much. I figured out why he can do a hard job.


Taxi Drivers Like Me Start Every Week Hundreds of Dollars in Debt

By Gurminder Kahlon, Taxi Driver, Seattle
My name is Gurminder Kahlon; I am from India. In India I was a lawyer. Here I am a taxi driver.
Because of taxi drivers like me, people traveling for business, medical reasons, and to visit family and friends get to Sea-Tac (Seattle) Airport conveniently and on time for their flights.

The Port of Seattle and the big corporate airlines like Alaska depend on ground transportation services like taxi and shuttle drivers. And yet, we struggle to make a living. Just to have the privilege of picking up customers at our airport, we pay fees to Yellow Cab and to the Port of Seattle. Before I start work on Monday morning, I am already hundreds of dollars in debt. I have to work 12 hours a day and 6 days a week just to make ends meet.

It’s not right. That’s why I’m standing together with all workers for fair pay and respect.

Reprinted with permission from It’s Our Airport.

Home Care Workers Deserve a Living Wage

By Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, Home Health Aide

My whole working life I have been helping people. When I lived In Burundi I worked for customs and advocated for people with HIV to be strong and to fight against the disease, and helped them learn how to protect themselves and others. When my husband died in the military, I realized that widows and orphans lost everything; we had no shelter, no electricity, and no health insurance. So I organized other widows and orphans in the army to fight for our rights. I was considered a dangerous woman by the government, so my life was in danger and I had to come to U.S. in 2007.

I have been working as a home care worker in Maine for the last 7 years. I started at $8.50 an hour, and now make $10 an hour during the day, but the agency I work for reduces my pay to $7.50 an hour for 8 hours each night because I should be sleeping. My job is to help people, and they need strong, good people who are alert and ready to help them. I don’t feel comfortable sleeping.

I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills. I have MaineCare (Medicaid) for my health insurance, AVESTA for affordable housing, and have used TANF to get through hard times because the money I make through my job is not enough to cover all of our basic expenses. All four of my daughters are now in college. Sometimes I have to borrow money or get help from friends to help my daughters. Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour would mean I could earn more to support my daughters in college and make sure their education positions them to be qualified to get paid more in this country.

Reprinted with permission from Mainers For Fair Wages.

Jose Alejandro Guzmán, Retired Court Officer and Orchestra Conductor



“What we are doing in community music is recognizing the importance of culture. We get to be participants in works by geniuses in Western civilization.” The speaker is Jose Alejandro Guzman, conductor in several New York City community orchestras, talking about why he has been drawn to classical music and working with citizen musicians.

At age 70, the self-taught maestro is standing atop the podium in concert dress, ready to conduct orchestral scores from memory; he sees it a service, a calling even, to be able to offer thoughtful musical works to audiences who may not make it to top professional concerts.

“We get people who are very musically sophisticated and we get people who say they don’t know much, but they love the sound. That’s why we’re here.”

It’s a long way from growing up in the South Bronx and other poor neighborhoods in New York City, and a distinctly different way of seeing the world than from his 29 years as a court officer in New York family, criminal and civil supreme courtrooms.

“In Europe, every musical organization, every arts organization, is run or backed by the government, something that recognizes the importance of culture to people’s lives. In this country, the amount of government money for the entire NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and support of all arts groups in the country is less than the cost of a single F-18, which should tell you all you need to know about this.”

Guzmán is musical director and conductor of the Centre Symphony and is conductor laureate of the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble in Manhattan. He stepped down following 26 years as Music Director of the Regina Opera to devote more time to symphonic repertoire.  He is Music Director of the Staten Island Philharmonic and was formerly the Music Director of the Bronx Symphony Orchestra and the Rockaway-5 Towns Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he a frequent guest conductor, having appeared with the Bronx Arts Ensemble, the Bel Canto Opera, the Riverside Symphony, and the Massapequa Philharmonic Orchestra among other groups over the decades.

He likes performing with community groups, working with “anyone who really wants to be there,” noting that in immigrant-rich New York City, there are many musicians who moved from Europe where they found support to a more difficult life as musician here. “One of the best cellists I know is a housewife here in Brooklyn and works as a hair stylist” because she cannot support herself as a musician, he said. She is a graduate of the Saint Petersburg conservatory and performed with the Israeli Philharmonic, and she is not alone.

Community music for him represents democratic access to great culture, and something he found himself, taught himself, and learned to encourage.

Even just in New York City, there are numerous community non-pprofessional orchestras, dance, theater and and opera companies; he said, “I once conducted a community musical theater group where the children were now playing the roles their parents had played. There is talent out there and a thirst for Art that in unacknowledged. Yet I always hear ‘the Arts are dying.’ There is incredible ignorance among our leaders.”

His journey, he acknowledged, might be an exploration of finding balance, of finding strains of passion along with making a living and recognizing what makes for meaning in life.

His mother came from Puerto Rico to get away from his father, whom Guzmán describes as a drunkard and court clerk about whom he learned about only when his mother told him the story on his 51th birthday. “She never wanted to tell me,” he said.

His father refused to divorce his mother, who fled to New York City. His mother, Mary, who remained the most influential person in his life, was a seamstress who produced fine work, he said, but life in New York proved a difficult slog for her through welfare, night high school classes, learning English and various poor neighborhoods and housing projects, along with twin sons.

In the fourth or fifth grade in the Lower East Side, Guzmán, who dryly revels in self-deprecating humor, found music, and never let go. He played the trombone, then later, the trumpet, “but I was never any good at it. Still, those music teachers are the only ones I remember from that time. I was lucky that we still had music in school.”

He worked as a packer for Abraham & Strauss department stores (“I still can wrap anything so that it won’t break”), and wondered about a future. He described himself as a lackluster student who had trouble getting through high school. Almost by accident, he opened an envelope that invited him to attend New York Community College, a technical school that wanted liberal arts students, which took more than the allotted time, and finally at Hunter, where he started to formally explore a bit about music. Every part of it was difficult for him, he said, and he repeatedly found himself among peers who were better prepared. His take: Work harder to understand.

Throughout, he listened to classical music on the radio, though in school, “I was the fifth trumpet in a four-trumpet orchestra,” and was pleased to find a couple of courses in conducting where he found he had an aptitude. Being a good shortstop helped a lot.

His mother found a job working as a translator for the courts, and let him know about a vacancy for court officer, a union-covered civil service job, which he won despite being an undersized, skinny kid who was shy of the formal weight requirement, which a kind official overlooked. He spent several years at a family court in lower Manhattan, before moving to criminal trial courts for a year, and then civil courtrooms.

“It affected my political thinking, for sure,” he recalled, “I was a JFK liberal, and then I saw the effects of real life before me every day. The only difference between what I was seeing in family court and the criminal court was age of the defendants. Then, it was civil service, I was switched over to (trial) criminal courts. For a year.

“That’s where I saw hardened criminals, the bias against minorities, how people would treat each other, Were there dangerous moments, yes, but you’ve got to go where the noise is,” he said. “Thankfully, after a year, they needed bodies in the civil supreme court, so I moved there. The only criminals I saw there all had law degrees.” (Nevertheless, it was through court contact that he met his wife, Linda, a lawyer).

Actually, providing security for court officials and defendants meant sitting through thousands of actual court cases. “I can pick up a liar very quickly,” he said of his experience. Over time he became a captain at a . court facility on Thomas Street in Manhattan.

Over the years, it all made him “three steps to the right of Limbaugh” on issues involving crime and welfare, “which I knew, which I lived,” and much more liberal on issues involving religion, refugees, choice, free speech, arts support. He picks and chooses, though could not bring himself to vote in the 2008 election, the first time in his life.

Throughout, he listened to music, and started working as an assistant conductor in the Bronx. “I was an autodidact, teaching myself. When I was 59, I finally took a conducting class” and altered some of the things he had been doing in leading choral, opera and symphonic groups.

“Civilization, when you come down to it is about its arts.” Every civilization is what it’s Arts say it is.

Over the years, some groups, like Regina, have become stepping stones for talented, for younger singers to move up, and the orchestras have allowed many non-professionals to work together to pursue those lofty presentations. “It’s a team thing, we have to do it together,” the maestro explained. Indeed, with the groups, Guzmán is seen as a singularly humane and pleasant colleague who knows what he wants but often uses humor and grace to draw it from his players. The personalities of orchestra conductors often can set expectations for the music, but also can call for extra effort for individual musicians to find ways to blend, to work together, to achieve the final result.

Concert preparation for him takes months, he said, starting with listening to many versions of the piece, then working with the score, even fooling on the piano with certain passages to see relationships in the music.

“My musicians expect me to be prepared. To face an orchestra and not be totally prepared is an insult to them and your Art. By the time we have a first rehearsal, I know what I want to achieve in this performance.”

Even if only one person in the audience appreciates it or finds it fresh, “We have to be like Joe DiMaggio. People asked him why he would always try so hard. He said it was because if only one person was there, he didn’t want to make a bad impression.

We should not play for those who are in the know; but for the one guy out there who has never been to a concert before, who applauds in the wrong place and has never heard the music before but he likes it.”

 –Terry H. Schwadron