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New Orleans, Louisiana – As the final activity of their Solidarity and Fact-Finding Mission, the Justice for Filpino Grand Isle Shipyard Workers campaign organized a “freedom ride” of their own to Lafitte, LA on Sunday, February 24.
The 21-car caravan drove through New Orleans to Lafitte bearing placards with demands that included justice for Filipino GIS workers, an end to the slavery and trafficking of migrant workers and guestworkers, an end to forced migration from the Philippines, and calls for Philippine Ambassador Cuisia to resign. The “Kalayaan (Freedom) Riders” convened in front of Lafitte’s town hall at the Manila Village marker.
The crowd of about 100 was greeted by Dr. Carmelo Astilla who created the inscription commemorating one of the first settlements in the U.S. of Filipinos who escaped from forced labor on Spanish Galleon ships. Rev. Israel Alvaran, who gave a benediction, described the trip as a “pilgrimage where we remember those who have gone before us to fight for justice.”
Terry Valen, President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, expressed, “Today in 2013 we are still escaping slavery. We are still brave Filipinos, we are still proud Filipinos. It is through our organizing, our unity, and power across all communities that we will stop this from happening again.”
The day was described by other supporters of the campaign such as Daniel Castellanos of the National Guestworker Alliance as “a day of unity – the day we united to defeat all bad employers like GIS.” According to Alfred Morshew of STAND with Dignity, he came out to support his Filipino brothers “because it is one system oppressing Filipinos and African Americans.”
The caravan and program strengthened participants resolve to continue to build the campaign for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers.
“Unlike the Philippine government which has not done enough to address this issue, today is a sign of our commitment. We will not stop till justice is served for Filipino workers and all the exploited migrant workers here and around the world,“ Julia Camagong of the International Migrants Alliance-USA declared.
The program ended with “Bayan Ko” led by Pendong and Chat of Ang Grupong Pendong, and the crowd releasing 100 white balloons. Those balloons symbolized the more than 100 Filipino workers believed to still be working for Grand Isle Shipyardunder oppressive conditions who the conveners of the campaign hope to see “freed” through the strength of the campaign.
After the program, the caravan made an unplanned trip past a Grand Isle Shipyard site in Lafitte, and left placards with campaign slogans on the ground, including Filipinos Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST), the newly formed workers organization in the area.
The next stop of the national campaign will be in Washington D.C. on March 17 and will include public forum(s) for the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia community as well as a mobilization in front of the Philippine Embassy to demand Ambassador Cuisia’s resignation.