As a regular newshound there are always a few stories that stick with you at year's end. This year its seems they are mostly about immigration.
This was the year that immigration became a political bugaboo (replacing, in some ways, same sex marriage as a wedge issue). Two of the stories that spring to mind are related to migrant labor and the harshness of life in the streets for some of the undocumented immigrants that come to the United States seeking work.
In late November The New York Times profiled a Colombian-born man from Queens, Jorge Muñoz, and his daily efforts to provide warm home-made food to the day laborers that congregate in the streets of Woodside, just a few blocks away from my own apartment, as they try to get picked up in the early mornings to do the menial and rural work that most people won't do.
It might be argued that Mr. Muñoz makes it easier for undocumented immigrants to remain in the country by providing them food but just try to sleep in the streets of New York on a winter night and sustain yourself on one meal a day and then talk to me about "easy."
You might be surprised by some of my views on immigration (I, for one, do believe that each country has the right to regulate immigration and was also against NYS Governor Eliot Spitzer's push to grant driving licences to undocumented immigrants) but - as an immigrant myself - I also understand the sacrifices that these men make to make a living in this country and loathe the way that anti-immigrant zealots try to deny their humanity.
It is for this reason that I found Adam Bellick's story for the Times ("The Chicken and Rice Man") so inspiring as well as this video documenting Mr. Muñoz's work.
Another story that caught my eye this year - not as inspiring and much more disturbing - appeared in September in the largest Spanish language newspaper in Los Angeles, La Opinion ("Prostituyen a Jornaleros"). Reporter Claudia Núñez takes a look at migrant workers who allege that they have been targeted by some gay men for sex in exchange for money or outright threats. Núñez avoids - for the most part - the lurid trappings of reporting such a story and catches a couple of American men as they pick up on a younger undocumented immigrant for sex. She admits that some of the dynamics at work involves immigrants who are more than willing to make a quick buck in exchange for sex with men but also captures the vulnerability of some of these men and the shame that forces them to keep instances of sexual abuse under wraps for fear of being deported or being tagged as gay by others. New American Media translated the story and named it as one of the two Best Hispanic Media Stories of 2007.
On Christmas Day, the Chicago Tribune also ran the first mainstream news story that I have ever seen on participation by LGBT advocates in last summer's immigration rights rallies ("Gay Immigrants Fight to Join Movement"). Unfortunately they also play up the fact that one older man hurled insults at gay marchers questioning their presence.
My experiences during immigration rights rallies in New York have been different and show that most participants more than welcome LGBT contingents and seem to recognize not only that there are transgender folk marching but also the symbolism of the rainbow flag.
I am sure there has been a homophobic presence at the various rallies but I can say without a doubt that I have never seen any homophobic sentiments expressed at the rallies I have been in.
Speaking about immigrants, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald (appropriately named El Nuevo Herald) ran an incredibly moving story in February about Carlos Mielgo, a 45 year old Cuban-born man struggling with cancer and the unwavering support from his partner of 14 years, 52 year-old Joe Vásquez. The Spanish language version of the story is still accessible ("Cuando el amor se jura con palabra de hombre"). Can't find the English-language version except for a mention in Steve Rothaus' blog here.
What makes it a personal story for the Miami Herald is that Carlos is a former employee of the newspaper.
Perhaps the most moving story I read this year has nothing to do with immigration. Instead, it has to do with a man wrongly convicted for raping and killing a high school classmate and freed earlier this year after 16 years in prison.
In the November New York Times story ("Vindicated by DNA, but a lost man on the outside"), Fernanda Santos takes a look at the life of Jeffrey Deskovic after being freed through efforts from The Innocence Project. Mr. Deskovic has a MySpace page should you care to contact him after reading the article.
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