In a rather unusual attempt to keep people informed, New Immigrant Community Empowerment — an organization based in Jackson Heights — has taken its latest political stance in the form of a graphic novel, or novela gr·fica, entitled “Ana Busca Trabajo” or “Ana Looks for Work.”
The novela aims to educate the community about employment agency fraud. According to the activist group, shady establishments making false promises to desperate job seekers have plagued many areas in the city, especially in high immigrant populated areas.
“They charge us a lot of money only to send us to exploitative jobs,” Francisca Rodriguez, a domestic worker and member of NICE, said. “I paid $140 to an agency and they sent me to a place that did not want to pay me my wages. I left that job and went to the employment agency to complain and request a refund, but the woman at the agency yelled at me and refused to return my money.”
Rodriguez’s story is one NICE and elected officials, including Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), say happens all too often.
“Ana Busca Trabajo” tells the story of an immigrant domestic worker who is defrauded by two employment agencies as she seeks to find work to support her family.
One agency charges her fees without placing her in a job, the other sends her to a job with exploitative working conditions. In the end, Ana learns about her rights as a consumer of agencies and shares with other job seekers the lessons she has learned.
“Writing this novela was a powerful experience for us, fueled by a desire to help our community, especially victims of fraud,” Jesus Morelo, co-author of the graphic novel, said. “It began over three years ago, when we surveyed agencies as mystery shoppers and learned how they commit fraud. It’s been a long process, but one that has allowed us to reflect on our own experiences to create something useful to others.”
This year, Moya sponsored the Justice for Job-Seekers Bill in order to deter predatory employment agencies. Groups including NICE and Make the Road NY have supported the legislation and participated in protests and demonstrations outside agencies they deem exploitative.
The bill has not been passed, but NICE has put representatives in Jackson Heights asking residents to sign a petition in support of the legislation.
In the meantime, 4,000 copies of “Ana Busca Trabajo” will be circulated to the public through 15 distribution sites across the five boroughs, Long Island and Westchester County.
In Queens, Catholic Migration Services, located at 47-01 Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside, and the NICE headquarters, located at 37-41 77th St. in Jackson Heights, will have copies of the book for free. A more extensive list of distribution locations and a digital copy of “Ana Busca Trabajo” are available at nynice.org.
“This novela is important because in our neighborhoods you walk down the streets flooded by agencies that make a lot of false promises, but you should not believe everything you see or everything you hear,” Catalina Antonio, NICE leader and novela co-author, said.
Maria Luisa Fretell, who also contributed to the graphic novel, echoed a similar message.
“To protect yourself, you have to educate yourself about your rights and your responsibilities as a job seeker,” she said.
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