Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Immigrants: The People Who Do Our Work - Part 1 of 6

Ever eat at the Iron Horse Grill, the consummately polished restaurant just around the corner from the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY? Phil McGrath, owner and chef, has been dishing out Timbale of Peaky Toe crab and seared diver scallops with creamed leeks and oyster mushrooms for the past eight years to an appreciative audience and great acclaim. But of course he can’t—and doesn’t—do it alone. Even in this intimate sixty-seat establishment, he has help, lots of it. Four servers, a bartender, a bus person, two food runners, plus four people in the kitchen. Many of these men and women hail from Ecuador and Guatemala and Mexico, and some, perhaps, came to this country illegally.

McGrath requires documentation from everyone he hires, but some of his employees may be among the 60,000 illegal immigrants in our county who serve your dinner at restaurants, cut your grass and plant your shrubs, scrub your floors and polish your silverware, wash your cars and starch your shirts, watch your kids and empty your great aunt’s bedpan in the hospital.

They are the men and women who make America work. And now they and the people who employ them are nervous. Really nervous. They’re nervous because they’re caught in the floodlights of the national furor over illegal immigration. A landscaper who refuses to be named for this story says, “They are terrified.” She quotes rumors that police rounded up 150 men for deportation in Mount Kisco and were setting up roadblocks on Central Avenue in White Plains in May. “They are going after employers also and fining them $10,000,” she adds. None of these tales are true, but they reflect the current state of mind. Congressmen and radio talk-show hosts and letters-to-the-editor writers are ranting about shipping eleven million of them back home and building the Great Wall of Mexico to keep them there.

As unrealistic as some of the proposals may be, our borders are going to be tighter and everyone’s way of life will be affected. Because when it comes right down to it, our local economy, if not our entire way of living, would grind to a halt without illegal immigration.

Take Phil McGrath’s restaurant, for example. “You’ve got to find that help somewhere just to make sure your business survives,” he says. “In Westchester, you’re not going to get many Americans who want to wash dishes and sweep floors.” Once upon a time, teenagers might have filled those jobs, but no longer. “Because of the wealth in this county, it’s hard to get a teenager to work,” McGrath says. “Their parents pay somebody to mow the lawn; the kids don’t want to work for a landscaper. The kids belong to the golf club; they don’t want to work on the golf course.”

“On a broader scale, who’s going to pick the apples and the asparagus and the tomatoes and the cotton?” McGrath adds. “Americans tend to not want to do that labor. Our fruits and vegetables would cost three times as much as they do now if it weren’t for the immigrant labor.”

Part 1 of 6 (originally published in a slightly different version inWestchester Magazine)

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Congo In Crisis" At Suffern Library

The crisis in the Congo is the focus of the talk I'll be giving at the Suffern Free Library Monday, March 16. I'll also read from Heart of Diamonds and show photos from my travels to Africa.

A diamond smuggling scheme drives the plot in my novel, and it represents in many ways the fight for control of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s gold, timber, uranium, copper, coltan, and other natural resources. That struggle has caused nearly six million deaths since 1998, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.

The talk is at 7 p.m. The library is at 210 Lafayette Ave.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Speak Up For Libraries

When times are tough--as these certainly are--more and more people turn to our libraries for assistance and relief. National estimates of increased traffic in public libraries are echoed in Westchester (NY) county, where I am a trustee of WLS, the cooperative system that serves the 38 public libraries in the county.

Choose a metric:

circulation through our inter-library loan program is reaching an all-time high

people are standing in line waiting to access the Internet through our libraries' computers

enrollment in our career planning program, WEBS, is bursting at the seams (as you might expect)
In short, free public libraries have never been more valuable to the citizens of Westchester county than they are right now. With the economic downturn expected to last many, many more months, this trend is bound to accelerate.

That's why it's more important than ever than our libraries receive as much support as possible from our public funders at all levels. Michael Borges, Executive Director of the NY Library Association, makes the case in this video of his appearance on Senator Liz Krueger’s (D-Manhattan) cable show and NYLA's testimony before the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing.

Both the NY State Assembly and the Senate are preparing to release their budget proposals next week. Despite receiving approximately $24.6 billion in federal stimulus funds, including $2.4 billion for school aid over the next two years, NY state threatens to cut Library Aid funding.

Now is the time to tell your state representatives and senators about the urgent need to restore the proposed 18% cut in Library Aid that will impact all types of libraries, public, school and college. The quickest and easiest way to make your voice heard is to use NYLA's easy online advocacy center.

I hope you'll speak up today.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Time To Break The Silence For Congo

Two strong voices for the Congo were heard recently on NewsChannel 8, an affiliate of WJLA-TV 7 (ABC) in Washington, DC. They are Nita Evele, Co-Chair of Congo Global Action, and Kambale Musavuli, an activist with Friends of the Congo. Their appearance was part of the growing chorus of voices asking the world to step in and stop the violence against women and other depredations against the civilian population stemming from the struggle to control the DRC's mineral wealth. You can watch Nita and Kambale make an articulate, impassioned case for what we can do to break the silence.

I'll be doing my part in the weeks ahead as I continue my speaking tour with appearances at the Suffern (NY) Library on Monday, March 16 at 7 PM and the Shrub Oak (NY) Library on Sunday, March 22, at 2 PM. I'll discuss the current situation in Congo and read passages from Heart of Diamonds that illustrate the dire plight of the people of that war-torn nation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the