Sexism in Bollywood

By Faria Athar
August 7, 2015

MUMBAI, India – Bollywood, the sobriquet for India’s $3-billion dollar Hindi film industry, is filled with immense colour, vigor and light. It has vociferous dance sequences, tear-jerking dialogues and a whole lot of sexism.

Lyrics from some of its famous musicals like ”Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast” and “Fevicol se” include calling the female protagonist an “awesome thing”, a firecracker, a piece of meat and such. But the lyrics seem banal when compared to the music videos that accompany them, men dancing along to music, while the hero abuses, catcalls or physically mishandles his “girl”. And in the end the hero ends up getting the girl and they live happily ever after.

Plotlines like these have thrived in this 100-year-old business of the rich, the pretty and the privileged. While Bollywood’s massive appeal is astounding, it is also incredibly scary. With its objectification of women and portrayal of an always win-win situation for men, Bollywood is criticized for being chimerical, unrealistic and an instigator for the rapes and sexual atrocities committed in India.

So recently when Deepika Padukone, an extremely popular Bollywood actress stood up for feminism, hearts ignited. Her message was released as a video in collaboration with Vogue India. It was a viral hit. Men and women began sharing it all over social media, and in the span of a couple of days it had millions of views on YouTube. It was being lauded for its independence and power, but slowly criticism rolled in.

The video titled “My Choice: Women Empower” shows the actress talking about how it’s her choice (or rather a woman’s) to wear the clothes she likes, to be a size zero or a size fifteen or to have sex outside marriage.

This is all wonderful. Of course it’s a woman’s choice to do want she wants with her life, but was the video fair to all?

In a country where, according to UNESCO, the female literacy rate is only about 50% and an alarming gender wage gap is present across all sectors, the actress’s problems seem to be the last on an Indian woman’s mind.

Being a woman is difficult in India. If you manage to escape female foeticide (the act of aborting a foetus because it is female), its takes only a few years before you are married off as a child bride with a significant amount of your parents’ income given to your groom’s family as dowry. When you get older, your education is your parents’, your husband’s or his family’s will. In urban India, you may not face these difficulties, but constant prejudice and fear of harassment follow you around like a shadow. These issues form major impediments to women’s empowerment.

India’s version of feminism, as portrayed in the media and in this ”empowering” video, never sheds light on female empowerment. Rather the focus is on liberation from Indian forms of clothing, music and customs, which translates to Westernization. This feels shallow and superficial. It creates negative stereotypes about the modern and conservative woman that harms feminism more than benefiting it. And while body issues are important, they are not central to feminism. Empowering women has great potential in India with some serious implications for the country’s economy, politics and progress. It is great to have celebrities with such mass appeal endorse feminism, but it would be even more powerful if it focused on issues to educate women about their rights, health and professional development, eventually helping promote equality and female leadership in Indian society.

And now the hypocrisy: The video shows actresses with beautiful hair and skin and fails to include size 15 women or even those that are close to a size 10. The star herself endorses products to promote weight loss and skin lightning (in accordance with the Indian belief that dark skin is inferior to light skin and thus should be altered).

The video is also over-sexualized. Pre- and extra-marital sex are taboo in India. And while it’s a woman’s choice, there is nothing particularly empowering about either. This type of feminism is flawed and doesn’t resonate with the average Indian girl’s wants or needs. Yes, breaking the rules is necessary to empower women, but sometimes it may result in losing friends and family. Young girls and women must instead be encouraged to bring about change within their societies. Confusing feminism with nudity or excessive Westernization repels women who want progress for themselves and their daughters. It presents feminism as a monolithic facade, which further alienates women from their culture and creates a long-lasting negative stereotype that fails to empower India’s women.

Feminist movements, however, haven’t completely failed in India. After the gang-rape of a student in Delhi in 2012, various organizations started to focus on women’s issues. While some took to the streets to protest rape, others have made long-standing contributions to women’s rights

One such movement started in Bundelkhand (Northern India), a place rife with domestic violence, child labour and widespread female illiteracy. Women of the region gathered to form a gang called “Gulabi (Pink) Gang” to fight their detrimental patriarchal culture. They call themselves “Rural Women In Pink Saris, Wielding Broomsticks In Pursuit Of Justice”. These women who themselves come from poor families or the lower castes (Dalit), have successfully stopped several child marriages, overcome corruption in several levels of administration and worked to eradicate the dowry system and violence against women. Since their movement has gained momentum, they’ve also participated in local elections and won.

“For the People and By The People” has worked splendidly in India with regards to feminism. And this is the model that seems to garner the most attention and bring about change.

Immigration Rights in America

By Jeffrey Pulido
July 5, 2013

dream act inside

Dream Rally 011 by Edward Kimmel, CC-BY-2.0.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Immigration in the United States has existed since the country’s beginning. The British came to North America, and those who stayed could be called the first immigrants. As time has passed, many laws have been created to make this a great nation, but what rights do immigrants have? The answer is not many. Some states, such as Arizona, have passed strict immigration laws, driving immigrants out of the country and separating families.

Why is this important? An estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the United States to make better lives for themselves and their families. Not only that, but one out of 20 of those people who come, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, are on government figures. President Barack Obama has enacted regulations in which undocumented students have rights, such as being able to receive financial aid, better work opportunities, and much more.

During the presidential debates that happened on October 16, 2012, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney discussed what they would do to help the undocumented. Romney was criticized for his use of the word “illegals” when speaking about undocumented immigrants. Soon, Obama told the audience that he would not go against students, but only those who abuse the law and hurt their communities. By doing so, he caught the attention of those who would benefit from the Dream Act, legislation yet to be passed that would help undocumented youth get help with going to college and becoming citizens.

Another good example of a politician who is helpful to immigrants is California Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval of the California Dream Act to support young immigrants in California. In signing the bill in October 2011, he gave undocumented people in the state the right to have work permits and be able to receive scholarships and grants for colleges and universities in California and in other states. In order to qualify, immigrants must have been younger than 16 when they came to the U.S. and have graduated from, or are attending, a California high school. With this new bill, around 30,000 undocumented people can benefit from this opportunity.

On October 9, 2013, I interviewed an anonymous person and asked him questions about his feelings on immigration, and he said, “I truly feel as if there are some rights that we are supposed to have, but Americans don’t want us to have. I have noticed many families that have been broken apart because of these rights and inequalities we have. The truth is that we are all human beings and nothing more and no one can change that. But as time changed, the people started to forget the equal rights we all have as people. I think Obama is really trying to help the undocumented with his policies.”

He added that with Obama’s reelection, “there might be a better future for the country and for its people and immigrants inside of it.”

Personally, I see some inequalities between an American citizen and an undocumented person. I’ve seen some families broken apart because of deportation. The thing that some anti-immigration proponents don’t realize is that the people who come to this country just want a better life for themselves and their children. They perform hard labor in farms to other jobs that many people would not like to do because of the low wages and tough physical demands. The truth is that, in many cases, they work to feed their families or just simply support the families from where they came. In the end, I honestly think if immigrants had more rights, it would help them throughout the time they are here to support their families.

Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.


Girl on Wire

By Faria Athar
July 8, 2013

MUMBAI, India – Tension, anxiety and concentration. The girl’s face is a collage of emotions.

A young girl of about 10 years old does what most people would not dream of doing: balancing on a tightrope. Some may dismiss it as childish, but her perseverance and hard work say otherwise. It is clear she has put in hours of hard work to master this craft — it is easy to imagine that her next venture would be making her way across the rope on a wheel.

It is an extraordinary moment in an everyday setting. The plastic, hoardings and formal shirts all signal globalization among this spectrum of Indian colors. The girl, too, exhibits her bit of Indian revelry. The sparkly earrings, tiny nose ring, bangles and prominent metal pots on her head bear testimony to her village heritage. Her clothes may not be extraordinary, but her profound facial expressions give her more dignity than any other assets could offer her.

She balances on a thin rope tied between two colored wooden sticks. The pole she holds onto for balance looks heavy, weighing her down in ways both tangible and immaterial. Look carefully and you will see that it is tied around her neck and the thought of an albatross comes to mind. The men in the picture don’t seem to be looking at her. They have seen it all before.

Walking on a tightrope is probably not her ‘talent,’ nor does it come ‘naturally’ to her. It is the result of several hours of “deep and deliberate practice,” and the outcome of much failure and perseverance. Here the cost of failing is dangerous and painful — and if the tightrope is situated high enough, perhaps even fatal. The studied expression on the girl’s face indicates practice and perseverance, but also a hint of fear. One can only guess. She is not telling.

Unfortunately, the rewards she gains each day after all her practice are not very impressive, but she does not let that deter her. She will be here again tomorrow, and many more brave children all over the world will do the same. They are applauded and appreciated for their effort, but does this attention make them happy?

Although it is nice to think of rosy images of a brave young girl or boy, the real issue is hidden in plain sight: This is probably the most prevalent form of child labor you will see in India. Typically — outside the frame — one will see her parents or other adults collecting money from the spectators who have come to watch.  The money they get may not be much, but it is enough to feed the family for a night. A carnival, the hustle of traffic and of people, makes business better and perhaps more profitable by the end of the day.

The sad part of such depictions of sheer bravery is that they are so common; people watching hardly consider the scene to be child exploitation. It is a sunny afternoon in the picture, so the girl has evidently skipped school to perform and earn her keep. The question that must be asked is, does she even go to school?

This child may not have all the credentials or accolades to call herself  ‘great’, but she has the courage and bravery necessary to be successful in her own right.

‘Harlem Shake’-Up

By Steve Helmeci
July 5, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – So lets suppose we’re bored tonight and want to watch some YouTube videos. More than likely, one of the “Most Watched” videos will be a Harlem Shake video done by some professional sports team, television show cast, or just a group of random people. We don’t watch YouTube videos often, so we don’t know what a Harlem Shake is, but it looks interesting–let’s click the link. Immediately the video starts playing, and we see a room full of people working diligently or otherwise occupied while one person is repeating the same motion over and over in the center of the room to a techno beat. After about 15 seconds of this, a man’s voice says “DO THE HARLEM SHAKE!”

Then the bass drops, and all hell breaks loose.

Suddenly everyone comes alive, gyrating in his or her own special way to a more prominent techno beat. Let’s just say most of the motions wouldn’t be allowed at a Mt. Lebanon school dance. Despite the provocative nature, we share a laugh and our night continues on as before, leaving us rather unaffected by the video in the long run, and certainly not upset with the people in the video.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the reaction that school administrators at Brownsville High School in Pennsylvania, Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York, Milford High School in Michigan and countless other high schools throughout the United States had when they saw that students from their schools made Harlem Shake videos.

Students all across the country are being suspended for creating Harlem Shake videos, whether in school or after a school event. Although they are not the only cases of suspensions connected to Harlem Shake videos throughout the U.S. or even the world, the suspensions at three schools mentioned above have garnered national media attention for various reasons. Despite the precedent being set by administrators regarding the Harlem Shake, however, the schools could be violating the students’ constitutional rights by censoring their ability to make the videos.

As each of the three scenarios is an entirely different case study, it would be a disservice to them to lump them all together. Therefore, they will each be individually highlighted below. With the help of Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., the constitutionality of each school’s respective actions was examined. At this point, none of the schools has given any statements on the nature of the suspensions.

Brownsville Area High School, Pennsylvania

“We were given permission to [make the video]. The sub watched us do it about four times.”

Senior Whitney Ptak expected zero blowback after she and 12 other students in her Photography class made a Harlem Shake video during a free period with a substitute teacher.

“One of my friends was talking about it then they were like ‘let’s make one!’ I’m not one to just sit there and say no, so I did it,” Ptak said.

Therefore, it came as a shock to Ptak and her classmates when they were called down to the principal’s office and told they were suspended.

“[The principal] called us down and said ‘Don’t talk — listen. You have two days out.’ then left,” Ptak said. “We were not given any reason for our suspension. None at all.”

Upon hearing Ptak’s description of the events surrounding her suspension, LoMonte couldn’t help but chuckle. “You have to know what it is you’re accused of doing and have a chance to respond before serving the punishment,” he said.

LoMonte feels that, assuming the principal acted as he was described to have acted, the students’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process were clearly violated.

“If the students weren’t given basis for suspension, then they’re violating basic due process,” LoMonte said.

Another issue LoMonte had with the actions of the school was the apparent violation of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code by the Brownsville administrators.

“Under Pennsylvania regulations, you can’t be punished for the content of your speech unless it disrupts the school day,” he said.

The regulation LoMonte is referring to comes from Section 12.9b of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code on the Freedom of Expression. The Code reads: “Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.”

Based on a cursory overview of the video and the events surrounding it, LoMonte feels that unless the students were punished for jumping up on desks (which not all of the students did), the school would have trouble making a case for the suspensions. Even if the students standing on desks caused the suspension, LoMonte said that the school would “have a hard time making [a case for the punishments] stick.”

“If you’re doing something under teacher approval, it’s hard to make the case for disruption,” LoMonte said.

Ptak and her classmates, meanwhile, still had to serve out their suspensions, and despite pressure from the ACLU and NCA, the school still stands firm in their decision.

“I’m trying to get a scholarship for track, so I’m hoping this doesn’t mess up my future,” Ptak said.

Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools, New York

After working incredibly hard all season and skating to the best regular season record in team history, a compilation hockey team from Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York state was forced to forfeit their first round playoff game after the schools suspended 11 team members for their participation in a Harlem Shake video in the locker room after practice.

“My whole team and I were definitely disappointed because we had such a great season,” Senior Corey Aronson said.

According to Aronson, the video was identified by administrators as having “crude and vulgar gestures,” thereby making it punishable by suspension.

The suspensions and the forfeit were definitely lumped together, according to Aronson. “[The schools] said 11 in the video, 11 suspended. So, that’s not enough players on the roster to play by the league rules,” he said.

Like Ptak, Aronson was greatly surprised when the suspensions came down. “We created the video to follow a popular new fad,” he said. “We didn’t think anything would happen besides our school getting a good laugh.”

The suspensions were even more surprising for Aronson and his teammates due to the fact that they posted the video online anonymously, with no team name or player names attached. What makes the suspensions more problematic is that the video was shot in a locker room that is not on school grounds.

Upon hearing that kids were suspended for behavior not occurring on school grounds or physically at a school event, LoMonte was adamant that the school’s actions are not in line with what power schools truly have.

“Engaging in vulgar speech is absolutely, positively not punishable by a school unless it is on school grounds or at a school event,” LoMonte said with clear conviction.

“If that were the case,” he continued, “a student could be suspended for having sex with his girlfriend or cursing at his parents. School authority cannot go that far.”

LoMonte went on to say that the administrators at Nyack and Tappan Zee were “pushing the outermost boundaries of school jurisdiction.”

With regard to both Brownsville and Nyack/Tappan Zee, LoMonte said that the administrators were “treading on thin ice” considering the students’ First Amendment rights as well as their right to due process.

Milford High School, Michigan

Senior Alex Yono and a large group of his friends from Milford have been creating videos for a year under the name “WhiteBoysMakingNoise” before they got the idea to make a Harlem Shake video. They often use a school classroom to shoot their videos, which they make as entertainment for their classmates and the community.

Therefore, as in the two other case studies, Yono was very surprised when, a week after posting the video to YouTube, he and 35 other classmates were called down to the office and given suspensions for their roles in either the Harlem Shake video, another previous video which has since been taken down or both.

“I think the suspension [we] got was very unfair because we had permission and we didn’t harm anyone,” Yono said. “We did all our videos with no intent to hurt anyone and we are sorry if we offended people.”

Yono said that the teacher who granted the group access to the classroom “didn’t care because we had shot videos in there before.”

The issues the school had with the video, according to Yono, were the use of a live animal – a duck — in the video, the lack of shirts on some of the boys and overall conduct during the video.

Kim Root, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Milford, gave another reason to The Oakland Press. “With the increase of social media … these things can lead to copycat videos and kids trying to push the envelope,” Root said.

LoMonte does not see Root’s statement as a valid reason for suspensions. “You definitely cannot suspend people just because you anticipate people copying them in a disruptive way,” he said.

However, LoMonte does feel that Milford has the most valid case against the students of the three cases presented. “If [they shot the video] on school grounds and without teacher supervision, there is at least a question of whether [they’re] violating school rules,” he said.

Milford has a rule against animals on campus other than service animals, and the kids were technically in violation of that rule.

“If [the suspensions] were about the pet, then that’s not the content [of the video]. If it’s not about the content then it’s not a first amendment violation,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte did say that, because the students had permission from a teacher and did the video after school hours in an empty classroom, it is hard to say that they were disruptive and the content of the video is protected by the first amendment. However, if the suspensions were as a result of rule violations such as the animal rule or a dress code and not the content of the video, then the school has a solid case. In essence, it all hinges on what the school suspended the 36 kids for. As the administration has not given any statement regarding the suspensions, it is impossible to say.

While LoMonte is hardly arguing that schools cannot suggest that students take down videos that they deem inappropriate, he feels that granting suspensions is “very harsh,” especially when the videos could possibly be under the protection of the first amendment.

What we can all take from these three Harlem Shake case studies is that it is vitally important that students know their first amendment rights. Schools cannot violate your First Amendment rights unless very stringent criteria are met. Unless you threaten someone, encourage unlawful activity, disrupt the school day or violate school rules, there is very little schools can do.

While I’m hardly suggesting that everyone make Harlem Shake videos, it is important that we are informed. Without the knowledge of due process and our first amendment rights, we could either be unnecessarily pushed around or unknowingly act in ways not protected by the Constitution. Let’s make sure no more students are suspended for funny videos.


Put Down the Guns, America

By Steve Helmeci
March 14, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – I’m sure we’ve all heard about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting late last year. It’s a depressing topic, and everyone would agree that the shooting was a horrendous, saddening act. However, it called into question the gun culture in America, and I would argue that it’s time that we worked to reverse this country’s propensity towards violence.

It’s time for full-scale gun control. The production and distribution of handguns and military-style assault rifles to private citizens should be made illegal, if only to buck the trend of violence.

By all means, keep the hunting rifles and shotguns. Guns for sport are understandable, even useful for sustenance in some situations. I highly doubt, though, that handguns or semi-automatic assault rifles are necessary for hunting.

It is appalling to me that 33 people die daily in this country from gun violence, mostly precipitated by personal handguns or assault rifles. That makes 12,045 people a year on average. It’s despicable.

Despite the propensity for some people with mental illnesses to commit heinous crimes, it can be proven that access to firearms only increases the carnage. In China, on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, a man entered a school with the intent to murder. Not a single person was killed, though, because the man entered with a knife, not a gun. I think it’s safe to assume that he was not mentally stable, so, that makes the death totals guns-26, knives-0 in the same circumstance.

The arguments for having personal guns baffle me. When the Second Amendment was written, it provided for militias to protect the American citizens from foreign invasion or attacks by Native Americans. These issues simply don’t exist anymore. We have the largest and most formidable army in the world, nullifying the threat of foreign invasion as well as the need for citizen militias. I don’t think we have to worry about Native Americans as a threat anymore, either.

Benjamin Franklin himself said that the Constitution was created to be amended and changed with the times. In case it has gone unnoticed, the times have changed massively since 1790, and we need to adapt to ensure peace and tranquility at home.

As for the self-defense argument, you’ll be far more likely to use your gun to kill yourself or a family member than a criminal. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 19,766 suicides by firearm were committed in 2011. And, according to the Violence Policy Center, having a gun in your house makes it three times more likely that you or someone you care about will be killed by a friend or family member in your own home. Compare those numbers to the FBI’s confirmed average of just 213 self-defense shootings per year over the period of 2005-2010, and suddenly owning a gun to defend yourself doesn’t look as necessary.

After Columbine; Virginia Tech; Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ assassination attempt in Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide; the Oregon shopping mall; Sandy Hook; and the countless other horrific acts of gun violence that occur daily from homicides to robberies and assassination attempts, you’d think we would have seen enough.

68% of all murders in the United States were committed with personal firearms, and, based on a 10-year trend studied by the Center for Disease Control, gun deaths will number 33,000 by 2015—an amount that would exceed the projected number of automobile deaths in the same year. Guns are a major problem, and it needs to be remedied.

It won’t be immediate. It’ll be fought by gun lobbyists and owners alike, but if making the production and distribution of handguns and assault rifles illegal takes a few guns off the street and saves a few people each year, then we’re doing our job as civilized humans.

It’s not too late to reverse the awful gun culture in this country. Let’s make sure those 20 children did not die in vain. Let’s make sure none of the countless victims of gun violence died in vain.

Faith in Politics

By Steve Helmeci
June 6, 2012

MT. LEBANON, Pa. – In late June, the Republican Party will select its candidate to run against President Barack Obama and, most assuredly, Mitt Romney, a business-oriented, moderate Mormon will take on that role.

This raises an issue for the Christian Right, a group that backed Rick Santorum while he was still up for the nomination: Will they now support Romney, the Mormon Republican, or Obama, the Christian Democrat?

Much like the 1960 election that featured John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic and the first of that faith to run for president, many voters will be concerned with the fact that Romney is Mormon.

Although the Founding Fathers specifically created the separation of church and state as a platform for American politics, the trending issues in the recent GOP race were influenced a great deal by the candidates’ religious beliefs.

The best example of this was the Santorum campaign. The former senator from Pennsylvania was not expected to challenge Romney for the nomination at the beginning of the race, yet heavily contended for it after gaining the support of conservative Christians because of his stance on social issues with a religious slant such as abortion, same sex marriage and contraception.

Much like many of the towns whose citizens will take to the polls in November, my hometown of Mt. Lebanon, Pa. is home to people who follow a wide variety of religions, including Catholicism, a number of Protestant faiths, and Mormonism. When residents of Mt. Lebanon vote in the upcoming election, many will have to consider whether a candidate’s ideas and stances on issues outweigh his religious affiliation.

Mt. Lebanon is a part of Allegheny County in southwestern Pennsylvania, a county that supported Obama in the 2008 general election—57% of the vote went to Obama, while 42% went to Republican John McCain. However, there is a strong Republican base in Mt. Lebanon, and Allegheny County is an important section of Pennsylvania for any nominee, since the city of Pittsburgh is also within the county.

Americans in general have been paying more attention to Mormonism with Romney the Republican frontrunner. At the same time, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, has come under the spotlight of popular culture and news coverage.

From the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” and the reality show “Sister Wives” on TLC to the recent blog-inspired outcry against Mormons posthumously baptizing well-known deceased Jews, such as Simon Wiesenthal and Anne Frank, and Catholics such as Joan of Arc, Mormonism has received a lot of attention as of late.

The Church has also been active in politics. In 2008, the Church backed Proposition 8, an amendment that made same sex marriage illegal in California. The Church proved to be a significant source of funding for the proposition, as church officials both inside and outside of California set monetary and organizational goals for their congregations regarding the proposition.

A website called, which supports Prop. 8, estimated that about half of the donations they received were from Mormons (45% of out of state donations came from Utah, while 80-90% of door-to-door campaigning volunteers were Mormons).

Despite the political leanings of the Mormon faith, there are a number of common misconceptions about the religion. The main misconception is that Mormons practice polygamy, a practice that was outlawed by the church in 1896 when Utah became a state.

According to high school sophomore Caroline Bushman, a Mormon, other misconceptions often voiced by non-Mormons include that members of her faith worship Joseph Smith, while he is only a prophet much like Abraham; that Mormons do not believe in the Bible, despite the fact that they study the Bible along with the Book of Mormon, which they believe also to be the word of God; and that they believe God lives on a planet Kolob, a planet only noted by Abraham in the Mormon scriptural canon for its brightness and close proximity to heaven.

As for voters who are concerned with Romney’s religion, history teacher Gary Ford noted the problem for Romney: “I think … when they hear ‘Romney’s a Mormon,’ they immediately think of polygamy… [even though] the Mormon church got rid of polygamy.

“But you hear in the news, and there is a TV show, and [the subject of the show] has multiple wives. People, and wrongly so, equate that with Mormonism,” Ford said.

Ford notes that although it seems that religion is playing a larger role in this election than in the past, it has been an important factor in presidential elections for quite some time.

He said, “If you look back to the election of 1800, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, one of the slogans that Adams had in that election was, ‘A vote for Jefferson is a vote against God.’ Jefferson’s secular views and endorsement of the separation of church and state are well known.

“I see candidates trying to use religion to play a role within their particular campaigns,” Ford said.

Senior Mike D’Orazio feels that religious beliefs are important when choosing a candidate. “I’m a Catholic, so I want to pick someone who can represent my beliefs,” he said.

D’Orazio believes that with issues such as abortion and marriage, he would favor a candidate who followed his religious beliefs. D’Orazio supports Mitt Romney for president.

“I think [Romney] has a good record [with regard to the religious issues]. I don’t think his being Mormon affects anything,” he said. “The Catholic and Mormon churches do have similar viewpoints on these and other issues.”

Karl Bushman, Caroline’s father and a bishop in the Mormon Church, supports Mitt Romney for president, as might be expected. “Religion does have something to do with it because I know him from church,” Karl said. “I saw his leadership abilities” in the church.

However, he added, “The church does not endorse any specific candidate. The church encourages members to vote for individuals whom they think will govern by good principals.”

But much like in 1960 when Kennedy received 80% of the Catholic vote, one can expect Mormons to come out in support of Romney in a similar manner.

Free Hugs Draw Large Crowds in Ho Chi Minh City

By Long Nguyen
September 03, 2009
freehugslong2HO CHIMINHCTY, Vietnam – Standing outside Ho Chi Minh City’s Opera House on July 31, Doan Quang, 19, a student at the city’s International University, was happy to announce that in 30 minutes he had hugged around nine people. But he also admitted that he was turned down by 15. At first, he was ashamed. “But then I got used to it. I believe the next person will be glad to hug me,” he added. This was the spirit of the Free Hugs campaign, which brought together more than 200 students, residents and visitors on a Sunday morning.

The “Free Hugs” campaign was started by an Australian, Juan Mann. After going through a personal upheaval in England, he returned to his hometown and felt extremely lonely. He carried a sign saying “Free hugs” and wandered around public places, offering hugs to passers-by. A clip of him hugging people was captured by his friends and attracted 7 million views on YouTube in the first two months. This campaign was then adopted in large parts of the US, Sweden, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.


The July event in Ho Chi Minh City kicked off in front of the City Opera House, the commercial center of the city that also attracts many tourists. The “huggers” then walked along nearby streets, holding high their self-designed “Free Hugs” signs,which were written in English and Vietnamese.

This campaign was organized by three students, who got plenty of responses from youth through their blogs. One of the organizers, Nhan Thanh, 20, said that there were two purposes for the campaign. First, it aimed to help Vietnamese people get closer and become more open with each other. Secondly, he wished to deliver a friendly image of the Vietnamese people to foreign tourists.

As the students walked around, hugs were shared with many people, especially street vendors and newspaper sellers. Le Chi, a street vendor, said that she was moved when she was hugged by not only one but many huggers. On being asked when she was last hugged, she could not remember because “it was so long ago.”

freehugslong4One elderly woman showed great interest in the signs, but said that she was illiterate. A hugger then approached her and explained what they were doing. And another warm, loving hug was soon delivered.

The crowd and the signs attracted the attention of manyforeigners. Many of them stopped to take photographs and joined in the hugging. Michael Mann, 28, an American photographer, wrapped up his feelings in one word: “Happiness.” Other foreigners thought that it was “very nice” to be hugged by so many Vietnamese youth on the street and added that it was “a terrific idea.”

While hugging an elderly man, one of the participants, Dang Hung, was asked: “Are you Japanese?” According to Hung, this question came up because it rare for Vietnamese people to hug each other. So the man thought he wasn’t from Vietnam.

There were, however, some reluctant participants too. One woman even “threatened” that “you’ll get into trfreehugslong5ouble if you dare to hug me.” Vinh Ba, 72, said that the Vietnamese still think like some decades ago and do not usually show their affection. According to him, hugs are for lovers only.

Minh Tuan, 19, said that he had hugged many people during the campaign. But he added that he did not show this at kind of affection toward his family members very often. “Hopefully, there will be a big change after today,” he said.

Child Labor in Ghana: Laws Don’t Protect 1 Million

By Matthew Ewusi Nyarkoh
August 09, 2009

childlaborGhana_1ACCRA, Ghana – Several thousand children live and work on the streets here, and their numbers are growing. Increasing urbanization in the capital city and increasing poverty in the surrounding countryside are making more children vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, including a higher risk of exposure to HIV.

The minimum age when children can work legally in Ghana is 16. However, more than 26 percent of children between 5 and 14 work illegally, according to the Ghana Statistical Service. The service’s report indicates that children in rural areas work in fishing, herding and farming, and asdomestic servants, porters, hawkers, mine and quarry laborers, and bus conductors. In urban centers like Accra, street children work mainly as truck pushers, head porters, and sales workers.

Amina is 11, an orphan who works as a porter in the suburb of Nima. Porters like Amina, known in Accra as kayayei, carry heavy loads in a basin balanced on their heads. She said in an interview that she came to Accra two years ago, when she was 9, after her parents were killed. They were returning home from their farm field on a bicycle when theywere hit by a car and killed, she said.


Although she has aunts and uncles, they not only declined to take in the orphan but alsoaccused her of causing her parents’ deaths, she claimed. Since she had no other family to run to, her only option was to head to Accra to find work and take care of herself. So now she carries loads for shoppers in the Nima market.

She charges 70 pesewes ($ .50 U.S.) for a small load and 1 cedi ($ .68 U.S.) for a bigger load. After the day’s work, she waits for a shop to close so she can sleep in front of that shop, she said, adding that she has been robbed a few times of the money she made that day.

She added that the government should come to the aid of child laborers like her to provide them with shelter and support. She asked that her full name not be published because she feared for her safety if her relatives should learn of her whereabouts.

Jalal Mohammed, a program officer at Moslem Family Counseling Services in Accra, said in an interview that child laborers are not only denied access to education but also some are held in indentured servitude, forced to work off their families’ debts. According to his agency, over 1 million underage children work in Ghana. Of those, more than 242,000 are engaged in the most dangerous and exploitive work and over 800,000 are not in school.

Mohammed said many child traffickers in Ghana have been publicly exposed but authorities have failed to prosecute them. The government would not act and traffickers would not be deterred unless aid workers, human rights activists, and journalists continued to apply pressure, he said.

Jalilu Umar, an aide to Mohammed, said illegal child labor is a major threat to the country’s development and therefore should be discouraged by all. But Saani Ibrahim, the secretary of the Nima Youth Association, a private agency in Accra, said parents often abandon or neglect their children, leaving them vulnerable to homelessness and exploitation.

childlaborGhana_4“Children are the heritage of God, source of joy and happiness, and they represent the beginning of the future in any society,” Ibrahim said.

The Ghanaian government haslaws in place to protect children and alleviate family poverty, noted Hilda Abena, 12, a student at St. Kizito Junior High School in Accra. Enforcing those lawscould help reduce the incidence of child labor, including prostitution, and provide more children with education, health care, and skills for legal employment later in life, she said.

Children are too often treated like nothing mote than but economic assets, said Joseph Asouandze, 18, who recently graduated from the O’Reilly Secondary School in Accra. Asouandze said he has seen children as young as 4 living and working on the streets. It is not uncommon to find these children out of school, traumatized, neglected, underfed, lacking even basic healthcare and living in misery. And the girls, he added, are sometimes considered “legitimate” avenues for sexual gratification.

Asouandze compared the slavery of centuries ago to the enslavement of children now, observing that family members then and now sometimes sold children they could not take of.

For that reason, he concluded that the two are the same, and the government should more vigorously combat poverty and strengthen its prosecutions of parents and others who entrap children in servitude.

Children Work on the Streets of Brazil’s Capital City

By Bruna Santos
July 08, 2009

BRASILIA, Brazil – Child labor in Brasília is becoming more common day by day. The laboring children work mostly on the streets selling candies, flowers, stickers and other small items. Some perform services, such as watching over cars or washing them in public parking lots. Others shine shoes.

Brasília has 2 million inhabitants and is the city with highest per capita income in the country, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But research done by the Federal Policy Department shows that about 7,512 children are now working on the streets.

Most of these children come from low-income families, and their parents do not have a steady job or do not make enough money to take care of their children. So, the children work on the streets to help buy food and pay for bills.

“These children do not have good life prospects because the work denies them a normal life, and they don’t even have dreams,” said Geraldo Marcelino dos Santos, 34, the president of the Public Tutelary Council in Novo Gama, a neighboring city.

The Brazilian National Congress approved the Statute of Children and Adolescents in July 1990 to guarantee children the right to health care, proper nutrition, education, leisure activities, a home, and other essentials. Almost 20 years later, the situation has improved but is far from ideal.

For too many children here, these rights simply do not exist. Instead, they carry heavy obligations for their young ages. “I sell stickers because my mom is pregnant, and my father doesn’t have enough money to keep our family,” said Marcos, a 13-year-old boy who did not want his last name published out of fear that his parents would beat him.

Wesley Pereira, 12, and his brothers, Walisson Pereira, 14, and Wellington Pereira, 16, sell candy at a busy downtown intersection for 9 hours a day. They have been working at that intersection for more than a year, said Wesley. They earn about 150 reais ($68 U.S.) a day, but must spend 60 reais ($28 U.S.) of that to buy candy for the next day, they said. That means the three brothers take home a combined 90 reais — $41 U.S., or less than $14 each per day. That may not seem like much but it’s more than the minimum wage their mother would earn if she worked as a housemaid. The boys said their mother is unemployed and the father died a year ago.

“It’s very common to have parents who are unemployed for a long time to put their kids to work,” said dos Santos. “One of the reasons is because they get more money than if the parents worked full-time on unskilled jobs.”

Wesley said his mother worries about them working on streets because it is dangerous. When the traffic light is red and the cars stop, the brothers run between them offering candies. But when the traffic light changes and the cars start moving again, the boys must get out of the way quickly. “My mother is afraid we will get run over,” he said.

Child labor in Brasilia is not new. Celso Maurício da Silva, 50, said he worked as a child. “I was 6 years old when I started working,” said da Silva. “We had a big family: my mother and four children. My mother used to make homemade bread and I would sell it in the morning before going to school and in the afternoon, after school.”

He said he gave the money he earned to his mother. “She would pay the bills and buy food for us,” he recalled. “I used to work weekends as well. When I had time, I played soccer or something like that, but it was just a few times.”

He finished high school when he was 20, and became a taxi driver. “Nowadays, I have three daughters and I don’t want them to work,” he said. “It is not right for children to work because they lack time to play. I know it because it happened to me.”

Lacing Up a Global Trend: Sneaker Soles Reflect

By Maria Cury, Kenza Moller
November 24, 2008

FLORIDA, U.S. and SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – It doesn’t take a mile-long walk in Angela Thompson’s shoes to learn who she is; simply looking at them will do. “It shows the story about my life,” said Thompson, a high school sophomore from Orlando, Fla. “Basically who I like, stuff like that.”

Thompson’s sneakers, a faded pair of black Converse low-tops, have more than the typical signs of wear and tear. Scribbled in black ink are the names of her boyfriend and favorite bands. As personalized as Thompson’s shoes may be, they also represent a fashion trend among teenagers: expressing the soul on the soles of one’s shoes.

This trend isn’t native to one country or continent; it is predominant in North America, Europe, and Latin America as well. In classrooms in the Dominican Republic, for example, many students sport scruffy stained sneakers, often covered with the graffiti of self-expression.

Although some teenagers make the footwear fashion statement on Airwalks, Vans, or DCs, and their choice of brand seems to transcend gender, race, or nationality, canvas All-Stars tend to be the most popular.

“I don’t write on any of my other shoes but my Converse,” said Gaby Salmon, a senior from Olympia High School in Fla. “It’s freedom of expression, man. I see them as my personal art pad. Sometimes I write quotes, I write names of fictional characters – it depends on my mood.”

While some use Sharpies to pen their favorite song lyrics, others buy expressive laces and tie them in unusual ways. “It’s a way of expressing my personality,” said Orian Portiansky, a high school senior from the Dominican Republic. Portiansky weaves together pink and black checkered laces on her DCs.

One of her classmates at the Community for Learning in Santo Domingo, Paloma Ortiz, colors her Converse’s laces in a rainbow of colors and scribbles on her sneakers during class. She invites her friends to use them as a drawing board too.

“It feels a lot more personal,” Ortiz said. She walks about in song lyrics, loving messages, and signatures – shoes that are more like art than sneakers.

Converse Inc., the manufacturer of the Chuck Taylor-endorsed basketball shoe since 1917, may have picked up on the trend. Converse now gives buyers a chance to customize their sneakers by selecting style and color combinations. Many, however, still feel inclined to do the personalizing themselves.

Artists like Drew Brophy, whose shoe artwork is featured on the YouTube video website, customize sneakers with pen and paint. But the Converse canvas also seems to showcase the art of dirt, dust, and daily use—even just a few hours out of the shoebox.

“You rarely see clean Converses,” Salmon said. “That’s my theory: they’re attracted to dirt. Whenever you see them they’re dirty or written on.”

Sometimes the shoe unwillingly ages through natural causes. “They were white, now they’re beige,” says Bisola Alugbin, a Fla. senior who plays the saxophone in her school marching band. “I actually wanted to keep them clean, but one day I didn’t have any shoes to wear, so I used them for marching. It kind of went downhill from there.”

In many cases teens prefer to break in their sneakers naturally. Others, however, hasten the “roughed up” image, as evident in Nylon Magazine TV’s short silent film “Converse: Brand New…Sigh!” The two-minute feature follows a girl’s struggle to dirty up her black low-tops — fast. Thompson, too, feels the need to purposefully make rubber meet cement — and other surfaces. “I go through water, puddles, through dirt and stuff,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Some parents, meanwhile, may view these stained shoes not just as dirty laundry, but also as a mode of expression.”I think it’s a healthy outlet for kids,” said Carla Meyrink, the mother of two Dominican teenagers. “Better that than tattoos.”

Despite the different methods used to obtain that personalized, broken-in look, many teens agree that, if their shoes look scruffy, they don’t chuck their Chucks.