DYING TO WORK
I want to commend Chisun Lee for her cover story "Revolt of the Nannies" [March 19]. I have been attempting to organize domestic workers since 1998. The only time you read about them in the media is when there is a story of a domestic worker brutalizing a child. You never hear the day-to-day abuses and violations that they must live with. Last year, I met some nannies on the Upper West Side who said that a friend had recently called in sick. Her boss said that if she did not come in that day, she would be out of a job. She came in, and died on the job.
More recently, I learned of a nanny on the Upper East Side who worked seven days a week and died of cancer only two weeks after being diagnosed. She had come to the U.S. eight years ago, and never had the opportunity to see a doctor. She was constantly working, and had to send money home to her children in the Philippines.
This issue cuts to the heart of injustice in New York City. We are living in a city that relies on immigrant labor, particularly immigrant women's labor. The privileged children of this city are raised by an immense workforce of women of color. The violations of the basic human rights of these workers are part of the everyday reality. It's about time that we give this workforce the rights, respect, and recognition it deserves.
Re "Revolt of the Nannies" by Chisun Lee: As a nanny with 10 years' experience, I'd like to add that there are a lot more undocumented domestic workers with no rights to unemployment benefits when they get laid off because many employers pay "off the books." Therefore, they have no recourse to collect unpaid wages, overtime, sick leave, severance packages, etc. Even if they sign a contract with an employer, it cannot be enforced because of the legal ramifications.
In addition, if a nanny has a disagreement with an employer about unfair treatment and is fired because of it, she often finds herself in a bad situation because a negative reference will impact catastrophically on her future job possibilities. Therefore, she is less likely to decline requests for additional duties or longer hours, which some employers insist upon. Thus, as Lee noted in the article, there is a very real possibility that her position will end up requiring a lot more responsibilities, hours, and other duties than she initially agreed to.
Also, there are the inevitable personal emergencies and obligations that require that nannies take time off or work less overtime. This relates to the prejudice employees with families face. I started out as a single woman in this industry and now I have a stepson. I've found that it is a lot harder to find a job now. I have been rejected for a number of positions because I'm not single.
Beyond this, nannies with families know that even when they are lucky enough to get hired, the needs of their families are going to have to come after the needs of their employer's familiesand that's just not fair.
MARRY OLD ENGLAND
I hope you don't mind me bringing it to your attention that Robert Christgau's statement that Dan Melchior "isn't even British" [Consumer Guide, March 12] is wrong. I know for a fact that Dan Melchior is British, having had to go through the INS to marry him.
TRULY QUEER CHURCH
In the Riki Wilchins eulogy about Sylvia Rivera, one important thing was missing, as it was in most of the eulogies: Sylvia's discovery of, and devotion to, Metropolitan Community Church ["A Women for Her Time," March 5]. Sylvia found the church about three years ago, and gave of herself tirelessly to a spiritual home that welcomes the trans community like no other in New York City, and probably the country. She ran the food pantry at MCC, tending to the needs of the hungry and homeless, and took great comfort in finding a true sanctuary the last years of her life. When I spoke to her a few weeks before her death, she expressed tremendous gratitude for Reverend Pat Bumgardner and the congregation at MCC for providing a place where every person is respected and can find love that is divine. But just as trans folk aren't on the radar of "mainstream" gay consciousness, neither is a truly queer church with a truly queer Jesus. Some mention of Sylvia's involvement with MCC would have let others know there is a corner of the world where they are safe and loved and welcome exactly as they are.
I believe Michael Atkinson's review of Monsoon Wedding only served to demonstrate his lack of understanding of what India is all about ["Prosaic Nations," February 26].
As an Indian American and frequent traveler to India, I am quite confident that Mira Nair was not attempting to offer a monolithic view of Indian society. Rather, she was focusing on a very specific type of upper-class family. Atkinson moans that what he sees in Indian cinema are "half-breeds, divested of poverty." However, that is what upper-class, urban Indian culture is like. Members of this subculture shuttle between countries, mix their languages with English, and have little personal contact with the poor masses. Atkinson complains that the "pervasive reach of American Everything is part of the fabric" and adds that this film does not say enough about "its society." However, perhaps in his obviously limited travels, he has not realized that the "American Everything" is indeed quite evident in most world capitals (especially India's!) and to ignore it would involve showcasing an idealized, purely autochthonous (and highly unrealistic) society.
Please send Atkinson to one of the Westernized suburbs of New Delhi so that he may realize that there is more to India than the teeming poverty he saw in City of Joy or the exotic elephants he witnessed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And until he can make the trip, only send him to review the American and European movies that he is qualified to understand.
Michael Atkinson replies: I was never under the impression that Nair's film was not semi-representative of some wedge of Indian society, just that it steered clear of those (overwhelming) aspects of Indian life and movies that might put off middle-class American filmgoers. She doesn't have to lie to be a goldbricker. I may never have been to India, but I've never seen City of Joy either.
In Shana Liebman's article about author Linda Yablonsky in the Spring Arts Guide ("Steal This Book!" March 12), it was erroneously reported that Yablonsky is an art critic for The New York Times. Yablonsky does occasional features for the Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section, and reviews art for Time Out New York and Art News.
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