A former prostitute turned loudmouth rap groupie seems like an unlikely poster child for the immigration movement in the US. But not only has Kat Stacks become a symbol for DREAMers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and are fighting to stay—her story is so American, it should be printed on the flag.
For those who don’t read rap-gossip blogs, here’s the Kat Stacks story: Born Andrea Herrera, she came to the US from Venezuela when she was eight years old, and, like so many immigrants, ended up overstaying her temporary visa and became an undocumented immigrant. But instead of studying hard and graduating from the top of her class—like most of those who represent the public face of DREAMers— Herrera was sexually abused as a child and was forced into a life of prostitution at the tender age of 14.
She spent the next few years turning tricks and even gave birth to her pimp’s child. Eventually, she began hanging out with—and having sex with—rappers, and by the age of 20, with the help of YouTube and WorldStarHipHop.com, she was known by millions on the internet as an annoying, shit-talking rap groupie who put rappers on “blast” and more than once got beat up on camera in retaliation for her antics.
In 2010, she had a falling out with a promoter in Nashville who claims she took her money without going to the event she was hired for. In retaliation, something happened to her plane ticket, and after airport authorities did a background check on Herrera, they arrested her on an immigration charge. “How was I supposed to know she was flying dirty?” the promoter said at the time. “That just goes to show you karma is a bitch.”
The immigration judge who considered her case saw her online persona and decided that there was absolutely no way America could benefit by keeping a foul-mouthed Superhead wannabe who once bragged about having sex with Lil Wayne for $1,200. “The Court finds that the Respondent’s behavior as an online persona is a significant negative equity,” the judge said in his decision to deport her.
The AP Style Guide Finally Deported the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’
Yesterday, the Associated Press declared that the phrase illegal immigrant was no longer kosher, which is a big deal, since when the AP changes its style guide, newspapers around the country go along with it. Naturally, many people (mostly conservatives) responded to the tiny tweak with howls—and tweets—of derision.
The AP’s reasoning for this fairly mild mandate is that illegal shouldn’t be a descriptor for a person; indeed, “No person is illegal” is a common pro-immigration slogan. “Illegal should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally,” Kathleen Carroll, a senior vice president and executive editor at the AP, wrote to explain the decision. So you can say, “Chen illegally overstayed his visa and lived illegally in the United States,” but Chen himself is not an illegal immigrant. Nor is he an undocumented worker, or an illegal alien, terms which have already fallen out of AP favor.
Though there are meaty—if often abstract and geeky—debates to be had over language, from the legacy of the N word to rigidly enforced political correctness on college campuses. So far, this war of words has been filled with self-righteous, obnoxious carping about terminology, which is far less helpful than discussing whether it’s wrong for poor people to cross an imaginary line in search of better lives. But at the same time, this conscious word-choice change points at the bigger issue of why 11 million people who live and work in the US are treated as an invading army by so many of their fellows.
People tend to assume that the immigrants crossing the US–Mexico border are all Mexican. The reality is that a large percentage of them come from Central America, and their journey north is grueling. To get to the US, they first have to pass through Mexico, an ordeal that often ends up being even more difficult than getting into the United States. Most migrants cross into Mexico on rafts, via the Suchiate River. After that, they need to protect themselves from corrupt Mexican police, drug cartels like the infamous Zetas, and even fellow migrants. They often travel by foot and by pubic transit, but many of them ride on top of “the Beast,” the freight trains that travel from the south to the north of Mexico.
While the majority of the migrants are young men, a small percentage of them are women who endure hardships like the possibility of being raped by basically anyone they come across. Some of them are forced to stay in the border state of Chiapas and work as prostitutes because they are too weak to keep going, need to save some money to continue their journey, or, if they decide to stay, so they can travel back and forth between Mexico and their home countries to visit their kids.
For this episode of Fringes, we followed Yoana, a young girl from Guatemala who has been living in the small town of Huixtla, Chiapas, working as a prostitute to make money to help her two sons. We tagged along with a special unit from the state government that is in charge of protecting migrants as they travel through Chiapas. We then hopped on board the Beast with more than 400 other migrants traveling from Arriaga to Ixtepec, Oaxaca, to try to understand the hardships they go through and why they leave their homes in the first place.
Until fairly recently, 19-year-old Inocente Izucar had pretty much the shittiest childhood imaginable. An illegal immigrant, Inocente ended up homeless at a young age after her father was deported back to Mexico. She spent the majority of her childhood living on the streets and in shelters with her mother and three younger brothers. At one point, things got so bad that Inocente’s mother led her by the hand to a bridge where she planned to have them both jump off together, before being talked out of it by her daughter.
Her luck changed a few years ago when Academy Award-nominated producing couple Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine decided to make a documentary about her and her art (which you can watch the trailer for above). On Sunday, the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, and Inocente was there to collect the award. Her appearance was a refreshing change from the parade of the rich and famous men who make up the majority of the ceremony, so I got in touch with Inocente, Sean, and Andrea to talk with them about the experience.
VICE: First I just wanna say congrats on the Oscar win. Inocente Izucar: Thank you.
How did you guys meet Inocente? Andrea Nix Fine: We looked for her for months and months. She was our needle in a haystack. Basically, we really wanted to make a film about a homeless kid, because we came across the statistic that one in 45 kids in the US experiences homelessness. It’s something we felt nobody really knew about and nobody was paying attention to, so we were very interested in doing a film where we found somebody going through that experience, and we were particularly interested in finding an artist because I felt that would be a wonderful way to meet somebody and experience her dreams. So we just started calling all over the country and eventually we ended up talking to a San Diego-based group called A Reason to Survive that helps kids who face adversity get into art, and they introduced us to Inocente.
And, Inocente, what was your situation like when you met the Fines, for people who haven’t seen the film? Inocente: I was 15, and I’d been homeless for like, nine years.
Would you mind describing the events that led up to your becoming homeless? Inocente: Well, my dad basically kidnapped me and my three brothers and brought us up to the US from Mexico. He told my mom he would come get her later, but he never did, so my mom crossed the border by herself to come find us. When she got here, he was really abusive. And one day it was really bad, so we called the cops. Here in the US domestic violence isn’t tolerated, so when the cops came, he was deported. The place we were living was his sister’s house, and because it was his side of the family, we ended up in the shelter.
Immigrants Are Being Stabbed to Death on the Streets of Athens
“I urge you to stop racism. At last, you have to realize that we are human beings and we are immigrant workers. We want justice,” shoutsJaved Aslam, the Pakistani president of the Union ofImmigrant Workers in Greece. He is addressing the crowd of about 5,000 people, who have marched all the way to Syntagma Square, in front of the parliament building, to protest against fascismand the growing wave of racistattacks against immigrants, some of which have been fatal.
The demo is occuring a couple of days after the murder of ShehzadLuqman, a 27-year-oldPakistani worker who was stabbedto death by a 29-year-oldfireman and his unemployed, 24-year-old accomplice, both Greek and suspected Golden Dawn members. During the early morning of January 17th, Shehzatwas cycling to his employer’s house in Petralona toload their truck before heading to the open-air market. The two offenders, who claim they had a fight with Shehzat because he’d been blocking their way, stopped their motorbike and stabbed him in the chest, causing his death a short time later.
Unlike many crimes against immigrants that go unreported, this one was witnessedby neighbors and a taxi driver who recorded the motorbike’s plate and called the police. When arrested a short time later, one of the assailants still had the bloody knife in his pocket.
Last November, the Swedish newspaper Expressen published a leaked video that showed neo-fascist members of Swedish parliament running amok through the streets of Stockholm, wielding pieces of scaffolding pipe and shouting slurs like “Paki” and “little whore” at innocent bystanders. They are members of the Sweden Democrats, a political party that was a marginal outlier ten years ago with no hope of ever getting elected to parliament. But in a 2012 opinion poll, the Sweden Dems came out with 11 percent of the vote—which would make them the third most popular party in the country.
At first glance, the upswing of fascism and racism in Sweden appears surprising. The nation has no long-lasting history of colonialism, and far-right movements played a relatively insignificant role in 20th-century Sweden. So how did this ragtag group of anti-immigrant nationalists rise to such a prominent place in Swedish politics? And what made the Swedish people vote these hooligans into parliament?
Fascism seems totally out of place in Sweden, an affluent country with a well-functioning welfare system. But in the past couple of decades, xenophobia has festered under the surface of prosperity. Starting in the early 1980s, a handful of racist groups emerged, the most notable among them Bevara Sverige Svenskt(Keep Sweden Swedish). Distributing flyers that instructed Swedish girls to “avoid unprotected sexual intercourse with Negroes with deadly AIDS” and demanding “repatriation” of non-Nordic immigrants, the BSS functioned as a breeding ground for far-right activists. In the mid-80s, fascist rallies were held in central Stockholm to commemorate the death of the 18th century’s King Karl XII, a figure they positioned as their founding father. These rallies, which included hundreds of drunk skinheads communing with sweater-wearing fascist grandfathers, often ended in street fights and wanton violence. Swastikas and Hitler salutes were common sights.
The Sweden Democrats rose from the ashes of this milieu. Formed in 1988, the party was a coalition between ex-members of the BSS and leading figures of Nazi organizations like Nordiska Rikspartiet (Nordic Nations Party). The party spent the early and mid-1990s mobilizing the far right against the Swedish political establishment.
Although sectarian Nazi parties formed in Sweden as early as the 1920s, their “national movement” never gained much traction. The country’s postwar economic boom was made possible by large-scale immigration. In the decades after WWII, the number of Swedes who immigrated from foreign countries increased from about 100,000 to almost 600,000. The Social Democrats’ ideological vision of folkhemmet (the people’s home)—an exclusively Swedish community that spanned all social classes—involved eugenics programs and oppression of the Romani and Sámi people; however, the bulwark of Swedish socialism largely kept the nationalists at bay until recent times.
In 1992, after the serial killer and bank robber John “the Laser Man” Ausonius shot 11 immigrants in Stockholm, the Sweden Democrats arranged a march during which participants screamed that he should have shot more foreigners. A year after, police arrested the leader of the party’s youth wing at a Communist May Day demonstration for possessing a hand grenade.
In the late 90s, however, the leaders of the Sweden Democrats began to methodically sever their far-right connections. Skinheads were excluded, explicit anti-Semitism was dropped, and references to race were discouraged. By cutting its umbilical cord to Nazism, this violent party whitewashed itself into a softer, more respectable opponent of multiculturalism. In 2001, the party split in two, with the anti-Semitic and more militant factions founding the ultranationalist Nationaldemokraterna (National Democrats). The Sweden Democrats strategically presented themselves as invandringskritisk (immigration critical) and socially conservative rather than explicitly fascist. Led by Jimmie Åkesson, a respectable and smartly dressed young man with a self-proclaimed interest in “history,” the party received 160,000 votes in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
Aware of the increasingly anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe, the Sweden Democrats shifted their demonization to Muslim immigrants and scapegoated them for what the party alleged to be social decay in Sweden. They went so far as to appoint Jewish members to top positions and began to aggressively push a pro-Israel foreign policy. As Åkesson put it, Islam was the “biggest foreign threat [to Sweden] since the Second World War.”
With their carefully calibrated underdog image, the Sweden Democrats gained significant support over the next few years. Some former Social Democrats, discouraged by their party’s involvement in dismantling the welfare state, found the Sweden Democrats to be a source of stability, community, and tradition. The party appropriated the Social Democratic vision of folkhemmet and turned it against its designers, accusing the Social Democrats of having betrayed the Swedish people by submitting to multiculturalism, feminism, and “mass immigration.”
Last Stop, Tel Aviv is the story of the 60,000 asylum seekers living in Israel’s capital. Escaping dictatorships and indefinite military conscription, Africans flee their homelands in the hope of a better life, but arrive to find that they are criminalized, vilified, and unrecognized in the Israeli state. We got to know this marginalized population, who have no place in society and no option to return home.
Daniel Stier is a German photographer who’s been living in London for the last 15 years and still hasn’t stopped finding the portly African women in their taffetas fascinating. Inspired by them, he roamed around the city’s ex-pat communities, looking for people to take photos of in their country’s traditional dress.The end result, In My Country, is a set of striking images of Aztec gods in front of Hackney tower blocks and jewel-adorned, elf-like Balinese women dancing outside of drab coffee shops.
Talking to Daniel was kind of disconcerting, making me aware of the fact that I too belong to that cliched breed of foreigner who won’t stop yapping on about “back home.” So if you’re like us (or if you just appreciate really, really good photography) you’ll enjoy his photos. Here’s what he said when I called him up.
VICE: Hey Daniel, how’s your day going? Daniel Stier: Good, I’ve been doing some research for this still life project I’m working on. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m basically building these little nature landscapes in my studio out of fake stuff I find, like plastic plants and pots and stuff.
Oh, cool. Looking at the rest of your work, I guess it’s fair to say you are more of an art photographer. Is that because you prefer coming up with a proper concept for a photo? Yeah, I tend to think before I take my photos. I’m not the kind of guy who runs around with a camera all day because I prefer it when someone’s really got something to say, rather than, “Oh, I’ll point my camera here and there and then maybe I’ll come up with something to explain it.” When it comes to art, I want to see the artist taking a clear stance.
A 24-year-old Algerian, evidently the last romantic on Earth, proposes marriage to our writer for visa purposes.
I grew up in Athens, and it’s been heartbreaking to witness the city’s transformation from the booming cultural metropolis of my childhood to ground zero of Greece’s financial apocalypse. The atmosphere is hostile and strange. It’s not an exaggeration to say that many seem to have lost their minds; they walk around chanting nonsense, or randomly burst out screaming. It’s bleak.
Despite the looming backdrop of potential bankruptcy and widespread corruption, one of the most striking aspects of contemporary Greece is the number of illegal immigrants walking through its streets. Many of them have escaped war, famine, or disease-ridden countries in search of a better future. Unfortunately, they have picked a bad time to visit, and things may not be much better here than where they came from. Curious about how Greece’s excruciating austerity measures are affecting the country’s least privileged—and vice versa—photojournalist Henry Langston and I rented a car and headed for Orestiada, a border town that’s becoming infamous as an entry point to the rest of Europe.