Labor activist Ai-jen Poo to keynote Themester symposium on 50th anniversary of Immigration Act

  • Oct. 8, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Labor activist and 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Ai-jen Poo will deliver the keynote address this month at the Indiana University Bloomington Themester symposium "Politics, Promises, Possibilities: The 1965 Immigration Act at 50."

The multidisciplinary symposium on Friday, Oct. 16, is part of the 2015 Themester, "@Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet,” a semesterlong initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences. It will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act and create a discussion around the continued impact of immigration on American life through labor and civil liberties.

“Americans like to tell a myth about themselves that the United States is this huge melting pot open to the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” said Ellen Wu, associate professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Program. “But I hope this symposium will show people that the history and current situation are a lot more complicated than that.

“Lawmakers did not intend or expect the 1965 reform to lead to such massive flows of people coming from Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. The challenges that these newcomers have faced highlight Americans’ ambivalent views and treatment of immigrants. It is precisely these contradictions that are obscured by the melting pot mythology.”

The U.S. Census Bureau has projected the U.S. to shift to a “majority-minority” country by 2042. Poo’s keynote address, “Caregiving and the Future of Our Democracy,” will offer insight to the past struggle of immigrants with regard to labor and civil liberties as well as outline a vision for the future of immigration and labor policy within the shifting American demographic.

“Immigration always has and probably always will be a hot topic,” said Jennifer Lee, associate professor of sociology and acting director of Asian American studies. “The current rhetoric around immigration is not new. Rather, it echoes language and laws of the past. This symposium will help to unpack what the 1965 immigration act has meant for our understanding of race, ethnicity and labor.”

All symposium events are free, open to the public and will be held in Whittenberger Auditorium at the Indiana Memorial Union.

A full schedule for the symposium, including information about speakers and panelists, is available online. Events include:

  • Welcome remarks by Jennifer Lee and by Sylvia Martinez, associate professor of educational leadership and policy students and Latino studies; and a poetry performance by Urayoán Noel from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.
  • Panel 1: “Labor in Post-Industrial America,” presented by Jennifer Lee, Pawan Dhingra, Myrna Garcia and Shelley Lee from 10 to 11:20 a.m.
  • Keynote Address by Ai-jen Poo from 1 to 2:15 p.m.
  • Panel 2: “Civil Liberties and Migrant Communities after 9/11,” presented by Ishan Ashutosh, Leisy Abrego, Ami Gandhi and Nadine Suleiman Naber from 2:30 to 3:50 p.m.
  • Poetry performance by Urayoán Noel and closing remarks from 4 to 5:15 p.m.
  • A closing reception in the University Club.

Poo is an American activist who began organizing domestic workers in 1996 with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. She went on to found Domestic Workers United, an organization advocating for fair labor standards for Caribbean, Latina and African nannies and housekeepers. Poo’s organization was the force behind New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the first law in the U.S. to guarantee domestic workers labor protections such as overtime and legal protection from discrimination.

Today Poo directs the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-directs Caring Across Generations, an organization working to overhaul elder care in the U.S. She was named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow, often called the “Genius Grant” award.

In addition to Themester, the symposium is sponsored by 15 organizations across the College including the Asian Culture Center; Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society; College Arts and Humanities Institute; Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies; Department of English; Department of Gender Studies; Department of History; Department of Political Science; Department of Sociology; Dhar India Studies Program; and the Office of the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.

It is co-organized by the Asian American Studies Program, Asian Culture Center, La Casa Latino Cultural Center and Latino Studies Program.

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Steve Hinnefeld