Missing Childhoods

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Missing Childhoods: Immigrant Minors Have No Access to Protection

of Their Human Rights

by Zhen Chen

June, 2018

Peter Orner, author of Underground America, talks about a series of human rights abuses through the narratives of undocumented immigrants. In these stories, most narrators had to face discrimination and exploitation and were treated unfairly by people in positions of power. Readers will be shocked to find out that not only adults but also minors are enduring social injustice. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nation in 1948, proclaims fundamental rights for all human beings, human rights abuses have continued to exist for decades. The U.D.H.R. states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1). However, at this very moment, a large group of people, even minors, has to face multiple abuses of their innate and inalienable human rights in different countries such as China, Mexico, and the US. Because of political and economic reasons, such as political unrest, discriminatory policies, and poverty, many people, including minors, are forced to flee from their countries of origin and illegally enter the U.S., and these undocumented children have to face unfair and even inhumane treatment both in their home countries and in the U.S, which violates their human rights.

The second child of Mr. Lai, a narrator of a story in Underground America, was threatened to be killed by the local Chinese government because Mr. Lai didn’t obey the one-child policy, which discriminated against unborn babies’ right to live and was enforced by inhumane treatment— forced abortion. Mr. Lai, a typical parent living in a rural area in southeastern China, loved kids, hoped to have more children, and was too frightened to lose his second unborn baby; thus, he and his wife hid in their sister’s house until the baby was born. Based on the policy, their second pregnancy was deemed “illegal,” and so their house was destroyed by the local officials as a punishment, making Mr. Lai even more determined to leave China. His wife was eventually forced to have a hysterectomy; otherwise, she would have faced imprisonment. With great disappointment, Mr. Lai sad, “I just had no faith in China” (Orner 36). The enforcement of the one-child policy, which abused their most basic human right, took away uncountable unborn babies’ lives. Even though some babies survived, their parents had to pay penalties or let them live without legal status for many years. The U.D.H.R. declares that “Everyone has the right to life” (Article 3). However, without birth registration, unborn babies were not allowed to be born in China. No matter the Chinese government’s explanation of how important the policy is to economic and social development, it cannot be denied that the harsh policy violates the right to life, and forced abortions and sterilizations are inhumane. From 2015 to 2016, the policy started to be dismantled, but pregnancies still must follow certain laws. The Chinese government, which tends to be autocratic because of the single-party communist political structure, through its supreme power, has commanded its people, such as Mr. Lai, to strictly comply with the family planning laws. Mr. Lai’s case demonstrates that the implementation of one child policy in China forced him to kill his second child by forced abortion, and the discriminatory policy most certainly abused the child’s human right to life.

In another instance, Roberto, coming from Mexico, had to drop out of his elementary school and work under terrible working conditions because of poverty; attracted by better working opportunities, he became an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. and still experienced exploitation in the workforce solely due to his legal status. In Mexico, Roberto first fled to Mexico City from a small ranch because his family was poor and his father always beat him badly. At age ten, he dropped out of school and got his first job, which was still very vivid in his memory because it was so dangerous, although he felt independent. He worked “on a plank of wood, lassos around our waists…eight stories up” (Orner 58). His employer was not concerned about his safety. Eventually, Roberto escaped to the U.S. for a better life and worked very hard to support himself and his mother still living in Mexico. During the time he worked as a farmer in the fields in the U.S., he watched undocumented children that were under ten years old working in the sun for a whole day. He said, “You see it, and it makes you want to cry” (Orner 63). After leaving the farm, he found an easy job in a tortilla factory in San Jose, California, but was paid only $4.50 an hour, which was less than the minimum wage. According to the U.D.H.R, “Everyone has the right to education…at least in the elementary and fundamental stages” (Article 26). Due to economic and political reasons, some children have to give up on education, or even worse, have to endure unsafe working conditions, long working hours, and unequal pay. The U.D.H.R states that “Everyone has the right to security”( Article 3); “Everyone has the right to rest…reasonable limitation of working hours” (Article 24). Roberto, like many other immigrant minors, was forced to give up on his right to education, leave his native country, and experience exploitation because his family had no financial ability to support him based on the economic situation in Mexico. Moreover, as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., his “illegal status,” ruled by the immigration laws, made him vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination by his employers in the U.S. Roberto’s case shows that both economic and political inequality lead to abuses of his human right to education and exploitation from his boss.  

Because of the unstable political situation in Guatemala, Eduardo, Orner’s asylum-seeking client, was tortured inhumanly by a paramilitary officer for over a decade, and his traumatic experience violated his human rights to be treated humanely. Due to the fact that Eduardo was tortured from when he was five years old until he was seventeen, Orner considered this case strong enough to convince the judge. Nevertheless, the judge still ruled against Eduardo. Orner thought the judge might have seen too many similar cases in one day, and that it negatively impacted the judgment. This case reflects other children in Guatemala who also suffer violent assaults. Another book, which was written by Lauren Markham, called The Far Away Brothers, shows readers that not only boys but also girls face sexual assaults when they escape from Central America. Markham points out that “In 2010, Six out of ten migrant girls were sexually assaulted en route to the U.S- other estimates are even higher” (159). When these migrants arrived in the U.S., some still experienced sexual abuses at detention centers. “In 2014, Houston Chronicle investigated 101 reports of sexual misconduct…the alleged sexual abuse was often accompanied by threats…” (Markham 85). These boys and girls are innocent and don’t deserve to experience physical or sexual abuse. They might believe that escaping to the U.S. is the best choice for them because the U.S. is known as a country that protects human rights. The U.D.H.R. states that “No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 4). Therefore, the physical assault that Eduardo suffered, and the sexual abuses that some undocumented girls experience, both violate basic human rights and are caused by complex international politics, such as the civil war in Guatemala, and the detention system in the U.S..

Desperate political and economic situations cause forced migration, but living in the U.S. without legal status, many undocumented minors are forced to be separated from their families, which violates their human rights to family. Roberto’s description of his forced migration is heart- breaking: “Sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I cry by myself. Sometimes I scream by myself. Who am I? I’m nobody” (Orner 74). Even though the U.D.H.R. states that “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state” (Article 26.3), many undocumented immigrants are not allowed by the laws to reunite with their close relatives in the U.S. because they are living without legal documents. From all these cases that I explain previously, readers can feel each narrator’s pain of separation, and it seems to be so difficult for them to connect with their family members based on the harsh immigration laws in the U.S. Moreover, a lot of undocumented minors don’t have legal ways to protect their human rights to reunite with their families if the discriminatory laws keep ignoring their human rights.

Due to socio-structural change, including social and political institutions, many children who escape from abusive situations in their homelands and flee to the U.S. have to face different abuses of their human rights, involving the right to life and security, the right to education, etc. While many might think each example of child abuse is a singular violent action, various cases show us that socio-structural change, which is composed of politics and economies, is likely to result in multiple human rights abuses to children. Others might argue these children choose to give up on education by themselves. However, they drop out of school due to the desperate economic situations. Although all human beings are born with human rights regardless of nationalities, some children are confronted with human rights violations because they lack access to resources. Social and political inequality cause them to suffer human rights abuses. Furthermore, both economies and politics contribute to forced migration, and many undocumented minors are legally excluded from human rights and treated unfairly by discriminatory immigration laws in the U.S.

Works Cited

Markham, Lauren. The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life. Crown, 2017.

Orner, Peter. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Verso, 2017.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Enslaved: The Story of Lili Samad

Enslaved: The Story of Lili Samad

by Azraa Muhammad, May 22nd, 2013

lili-samad 4

This is the story of a human being who was made into a modern day slave.  Lili Samad is a native of Indonesia who came to the United States to work as a nanny, in order to support her family back home.  Through an interview with her, she told me about the human rights abuses that she had faced from her employer, who forced her to live in fear, be subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, be restricted from moving about the country, work tirelessly throughout the days and nights, and, worst of all, become a victim of modern day slavery.  These are all articles that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.N.D.O.H.R.), which is a series of articles stating the rights that every person in the world is entitled to, claims that every person should have.  The purpose of these articles is to help ensure peace throughout the nations of the world, by protecting their citizens from human rights abuses that would make them into modern day slaves, such as being tortured, not having freedom of speech, receiving unfair pay, etc. (U.N. General Assembly).  Anyone who is not allowed these rights is considered to have suffered a human rights abuse, and, in some cases, has been subjected to modern day slavery.  Lili didn’t receive these rights from her employer, and was taken advantage of, to the point that she became his slave.  Since Lili didn’t receive these rights, not only was she made into a modern day slave, but her form of slavery compares strongly to chattel slavery of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In fact, both Lili and the chattel slave follow the slave-like narrative arc, in a very similar way.  Both were forced to suffer inhuman treatment from their employers.  Both were forced to work tirelessly throughout the day and night.  Both were not allowed to leave.  And, most importantly, both lived in constant fear, as their lives were being controlled by their bosses as if they weren’t their lives to live.  Through facing human rights abuses from her employer, Lili Samad was forced to become a modern day slave, and go on a symbolic journey, that was similar to a chattel slaves’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Before I show how Lili was enslaved, it’s important to understand eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ slavery.  A slave, during this time period, would go through quite an odyssey becoming a slave, being a slave, and escaping from slavery.  After having to endure that horrible journey across the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to America, many slaves would often be stripped of everything that they had, such as their names, sold to different owners, and were, according to Columbia Encyclopedia, separated from their families (“Slavery”).  According to the Journal of African American Studies, “during enslavement… slaves were brutalized physically. These objects include iron shackles, fetters, whips, and special chisels designed to knock out the teeth of slaves who tried to starve themselves to death so they could be force-fed” (Brooms).    Because of all of the physical abuse and degrading treatment that they would have to endure, most slaves would run away.  Most slaves would escape using the Underground Railroad, which was, according to the International Congregational Journal:

“A loosely-knit network of free blacks and sympathetic whites who assisted enslaved Africans to escape from slavery in the South to freedom in the North. It was called ‘underground’ because of its clandestine nature. Operating secretly and outside the law and slave catchers made it ‘underground’; and because it consisted of a series of ‘stations’ that sheltered the fugitives on their journey north to freedom, it was called a ‘railroad'” (Hood).

Most slaves would hide in these “stations,” the attics of people’s houses, during the day and they would travel by night by following the North Star or by hiding under blankets of these free blacks and sympathetic white’s wagons to the next station.  They would continue on this path until they reached a state where slavery was abolished such as, California or Canada where they could finally be freed.  Today, many people are still going through slavery and they are still following this slavery story arc, but in a modern way. This form of slavery is mostly practiced through people like Lili; the victims of domestic worker abuse who come from different countries and can easily be taken advantage of.  This painful story that you’re about to read, is just one of thousands that happen every day all over America.

Lili began her slave-like journey, when she came to America to work for her employer. Lili’s story starts off a little differently than a slave’s journey would’ve started, because instead of going straight to America, where she would be treated like a slave, she worked for a nice family in Saudi Arabia first.  Also, instead of being forced to leave, she voluntarily left Indonesia and went to Saudi, Arabia in order to support her family.  She was, first, hired by an Ambassador of The Burkina Faso in Saudi Arabia, through a domestic workers’ agency of the Indonesian Consulate, in 1994 at age fifteen.  At age twenty-two, she was hired to work for a new employer, through the Egyptian domestic worker agency, and she went to the U.S. to work for her new employer, who was an Egyptian diplomat of commercial affairs.  Lili tells her story of how she ended up in America by saying:

” [When I was fifteen] my father’s business went bankrupt… So that’s why I went overseas, [to Saudi, Arabia] to help my family because we are a big family…  I liked working in Saudi, Arabia because my employer was an Ambassador.  And, I liked taking care of his daughter…  And, also, they paid me, and every year I had my vacation.  Even when I went to visit my family, they’d pay for my ticket.  And they were really nice people.  After that I went to live with my family for about six months, but I was planning to go overseas to work.  And then the Indonesian agency told me that the Egyptian agency had a diplomat [the Egyptian one] who was looking for a domestic worker, and since he was a diplomat, I thought he would be nice too.  So the agent took me to the U.S. to work for him” (Samad).

Lili had come to the United States thinking that she was entering a job with good pay, and was working for a family who would be as nice as her previous employers.  Little did she know that she had entered a life of slavery, and had begun her journey as a modern day slave in America.

As soon as Lili came to America, her employer started acting like her slave master, by hoarding everything that identified her as being legal in America, including her passport and visa.  Lili was able to come to the United States because the agent that matched her to her new employer was able to get her a visa by having Lili lie to the United States Embassy of Cairo about her salary.   The agent told her to tell the United States Embassy of Cairo that they would pay her $2000 a month in America so that she would be eligible for a visa.  However, her employer kept her passport and visa because he was afraid that she would try to run away.  He had decided that the only way for him to ensure himself of Lili’s servitude as his modern day slave, was to violate article four in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by holding Lili captive through hoarding her documents that she needed to move about the country, forcing her to become his slave (UN General Assembly).  Lili reflected on these events by saying:

“Before they brought me here [to the United States], they [the agent] took me to [the] Embassy of The United States in Cairo, and they told me [that] when I have an interview with them [members of the embassy], [and] they ask me about the salary, to tell them [the American Embassy] $2000 a month.  They told me to lie to the embassy because… in my contract, I was supposed to earn $200 a month…they had to make my visa [and] everything ready so [that] I could come here…  When I arrived with my employer, they [the employer and his family] [had] my passport and I never saw it.  And I don’t know if I had a worker visa, [or] a tourist visa. I don’t know because they [kept] it for me [and] I never saw it” (Samad).

Just like an eighteenth or nineteenth century slave was stripped of his name, Lili was stripped of her identity.  However, while a slave was stripped of his identity as a person, Lili was stripped of her identity as a legal resident of the U.S.  Without those papers, Lili couldn’t roam around the U.S. because those papers were like a slave’s freedom papers; without them, Lili could get into trouble with the law.  Since her employer violated article four of the U.N.D.O.H.R. by hoarding her identity papers that would give her freedom, Lili was forced to work for him.

Following the journey, which resembles that of a chattel slave, Lili was separated from her family.  Before coming to America, after leaving her previous employer, Lili moved back to Indonesia to be with her family.  She stayed with them for six months, and in those six months got married.  Then the Indonesian Consulate made an arrangement with the Egyptian Domestic Worker Agency and they matched her to the Egyptian diplomat, who would not allow her to speak to her family for another three years and eight months.  Her employer was afraid that her family would try to help her, so he violated article sixteen in the U.N.D.O.H.R., and cut off all communication from her family and husband (UN General Assembly).  Her husband did not know where she was and was very worried about her, as he said in an interview done by MSNBC, “She is my everything… she didn’t give me a phone number and it was really hard because I had no communication with her.”  Her family had no knowledge of her wellbeing, and she had no knowledge of their wellbeing.  Her employer decided to violate article sixteen in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by not allowing Lili to have her rights to help her family and to know of their wellbeing, in order to ensure that Lili would remain his slave.

Lili’s employer had stripped her of her identity, separated her from her family, and now officially became her slave master when he physically and verbally abused her, and controlled everything that she did.  As soon as Lili started working for them, the family controlled all of her daily activities, and would physically and verbally abuse her if she strayed from them or did them too slowly.  She describes what it was like to suffer abuse from their abuse, and be controlled, by saying:

“I didn’t have any freedom because…they [were] always watching me and controlling me… he would let me out only when the children want to go outside or to wash the car every morning…but if anybody said ‘hi’ to me or waved, I [wasn’t] allowed to talk to them…and they would talk any way they wanted [towards] me, and they would put their hands on me.  I felt like a slave, because I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have my passport and I didn’t have anybody, and I thought that if I ran away, maybe they would kill me” (Samad).

Lili was officially being treated like a chattel slave of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, because a slave around that time would be physically punished by their master for not performing his or her duties quickly and efficiently.  And, like a slave’s, her life was controlled by her master-like employer.  In the same way as a slave master of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Lili’s employer violated article five in the U.N.D.O.H.R., by treating Lili cruelly and controlling her life as if he owned her (UN General Assembly).  Just like the chattel slave, Lili was forced to put up with her employer’s physical abuse.  But this was only a few of the abuses that her employer would practice on her.

Just like a chattel slave, Lili was forced to work strenuous jobs all day and all night, with no pay from her employer. As mentioned earlier, Lili’s contract said that she was supposed to earn $200 a month.  However, her employer told the agents that he would only pay her $175 a month, and later ended up not paying her at all.  She worked twenty-four hours a day, was paid nothing, and was given hard jobs that she was not told, in advance, that she would be doing.  She explains that her working hours didn’t match her salary by saying:

“Before they hired me, when I was in Saudi, Arabia they told me to tell [the embassy that] they would pay me $2000 a month… [But] in my contract, I was supposed to earn $200 a month.  They (the agents) told [me] that they cannot pay me $200 a month, so they said that I would [instead] be paid $175 a month… but my employer, he never paid me.  In November of 2005, I asked him to send some money to my family, and he sent $1000, but I never saw the money.  [I worked] twenty-four hours a day.  I [was] supposed to work as a nanny, but I [did] everything.   I cleaned their car almost every day… they had two cars so [every] morning I cleaned their car; rain or shine.  And [I] cleaned the house every day.  [I did] cooking, errand running, laundry, [I] packed up the children, from upstairs to the car, and fixed lunch for the children every day.  Just everything” (Samad).

Lili was working all of these jobs, most of which she didn’t sign up for, and received almost nothing for it.  This human rights abuse that she suffered fits the exact definition of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ slavery and modern day slavery, which is to be forced to work for long hours with little to no pay.  Her employer already knew that Lili couldn’t escape, so he figured that there was no need to pay someone that was forced to work for him with or without pay.  By doing this, he had further abused Lili by stripping her of the right to equal pay for equal work, and not allowing her any vacation time, as the U.N.D.O.H.R. states that everyone has a right to both of these (UN General Assembly). Lili had now suffered all of the abuses that a slave in the eighteenth and nineteenth century suffered, as she continued on her slave-like journey.

After being forced to become a modern day slave to her employer, Lili decided to try to talk to a neighbor, Heidi Tawfik, out of hope that she could help her plan an escape from her employer, like a chattel slave plotting to escape his master.  Heidi would often see Lili whenever Lili would wash the car, but never had the chance to talk to her because her employer and his family were always watching her.  One day, when her employers weren’t home, Lili got the chance to talk to her.  It was the first time that she had spoken to another person, besides her employer, since she arrived in America.  After that, whenever she got the chance to talk to Heidi, she would.  Lili described how she would talk to Heidi by saying, “I didn’t speak English… but I spoke a little French.  I saw my neighbor almost every day [because] she always took walks, so when nobody was looking I tried to talk [to her]” (Samad).  This marks an important event in Lili’s life because, if she had never taken that leap of faith, and talked to someone, she might still be a slave today.  This resembles how a slave would have to seek out help, from abolitionists or Underground Railroad guides, in order to escape from their master’s.  Lili was coming to the end of her slave-like journey.  She would now only need the courage to escape.

After three years and eight months of facing human rights abuses from her employer, just like a slave escaping from his master, Lili ran away from her employer.  She was fed up with the way that her employer was treating her and finally decided that it was time that she regained her freedom.  One day, when her employer wasn’t home, she packed her things and ran to Heidi’s house.  Lili told me about her escape by saying, “I wanted to escape from them, [but] I didn’t have any money, my passport, or anything… So I talked to my neighbor…and I told her [everything and] I packed my things and I went to her house.  Then she brought me to the police” (Samad).  Just as a slave would’ve run away from his master, Lili finally ran away from her employer.  Although she had escaped from her employer’s house, her journey to freedom was not over.  Her employer had started searching for his modern day slave.

Lili had gone to the police for help, but trying to get her employer, a diplomat, arrested, would be like a racial slave trying to sue his master.  The police couldn’t arrest her employer because he was a diplomat and he had diplomatic immunity.  Diplomatic immunity, according to Farlex Legal Dictionary, is “a principle of International Law that provides foreign diplomats with protection from legal action in the country in which they work.  Diplomatic agents and their immediate families have the most protection and are immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits” (“Diplomatic Immunity”).  Since Lili couldn’t get help from the police, Heidi took Lili back to her house, and hid her.  Meanwhile, Lili’s employer had started looking for her, and, out of fear that Lili would  expose him to the public, he went to the Indonesian Consulate, and tried to make a deal with them.  In an interview by MSNBC, Heidi explains that she learned that Lili’s employer had said, “I will pay her what I owe her, on the condition that I see her ticket going back to Indonesia, and that she does not speak to anyone.”  Lili’s employer was trying to use his diplomatic immunity get Lili back into his control, and after he got her back, he would symbolically sell her away so that her story could never get out. Once again, her employer was violating article four in the U.N.D.H.O.R. by treating her like he owned her and had, symbolically put her up for sale, just how a slave master would put his slave up for sale as punishment for running away (UN General Assembly).  The difference is that, here, her employer wanted her taken away, out of fear that she would ruin his image.  Lili would have to be extra careful as she neared the end of her journey as a slave, because now, her employer was looking for her.

By hiding with Heidi, Lili was on her own symbolic journey on the Underground Railroad to freedom.  However, while a chattel slave took a physical journey, Lili’s journey was having to wait, patiently, for her freedom.  Lili was now hiding from her employer, in Heidi’s house, until they could figure out where she could go.  She was constantly living in fear because she was, unbeknownst to her employer, living right next door to him.  She was always afraid that he would see her so they would always have to be cautious; especially when they left the house.  An example of this, is when Heidi explains how she would take Lili out of the house:

“I was frightened that he would see her.  So what I used to do is, whenever we went from the kitchen to the garage, I would have a coat over myself and she would walk next to me and we would…slowly march to the garage.  She would get in the backseat [of the car] and I would put the coat over her and put some empty shopping bags on top.”

This resembles how a conductor (helper) of the Underground Railroad would hide a slave in the back of their wagon and put blankets on top so that nobody would see them as they traveled towards freedom.  With Heidi’s help, Lili was on her own symbolic Underground Railroad and was towards the end of her story arc as a slave.

After hiding with Heidi for two months, Lili finally completed her slave-like journey by finding a way to be free to roam the U.S..  Heidi took Lili to an Asian Woman Shelter (AWS), where they helped her to get the papers that she needed to roam freely in the U.S. and start a new life for herself.  Lili described this joyous occasion by saying:

“My neighbor found [an] Asian Woman Shelter.  AWS is for women [who were] trafficking victims…I stayed there for six months. I stayed there so that I wouldn’t have trauma and so that I can forget about what they [her employer and his family] did.  [Also] the AWS has connections with legal papers and since I had to escape [from my employer] I had to leave my passport [there] so I had nothing.  So I waited so that I could get my papers.  After I got my papers, I lived in Chinatown in housing for women who have low income… [and] I [got] a part time job as a nanny… for an Indonesian family and they were really nice.”

With the help of Heidi and the AWS, Lili was finally able to get her legal papers and start a new life for herself.  This resembles how a slave would sometimes receive freedom papers in order to escape slavery.  Lili no longer had to hide and like the freed racial slave; she had finished her journey and was able to start over.

       Through Lili’s story, we can see the tragedy of the hidden slavery that goes on in this country today.  Although  Lili escaped from her employer, there are thousands more just like her, and most of them will be enslaved by their employers their whole lives.  What’s truly astonishing is that there is almost no difference between Lili’s journey as a slave and a slave of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, journey as a slave.  It’s as if America never learned its lesson about how to treat people from the first time slavery came around.  America even set up the U.N.D.O.H.R. so that people would never again have to succumb to slavery, yet slavery is still practiced through people like Lili’s employer, who don’t follow these articles.  America certainly needs to change.  No human being deserves to be treated the way that Lili was treated, and how thousands of others are treated every day.  Nobody deserves to be enslaved.

Works Cited

Brooms, Derrick.  “Lest We Forget: Exhibiting (And Remembering) Slavery in African American Museums”.  Journal of African American Studies 15.4 (2011): 508-523. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

“Diplomatic Immunity: Legal Definition of Diplomatic Immunity. Diplomatic Immunity   synonyms by the Free Online Law Dictionary.” Legal Dictionary. Farlex,inc., n.d. Web.    14 May 2013.

Hood, Lottie Jones. “The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and The U.S. Underground Railroad.”  International Congregational Journal 9.1 (2010): 47-57. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 May 2013.

Samad, Lili. Personal Interview.  14 Apr. 2013.

“Slavery.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2013): 1. MasterFILE Premier.           Web. 1 May 2013.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Welcome to the United Nations: It’s Your World.    UN Publications, n.d. Web. 5 May 2013.

Trafficked: Slavery in America. Host. Natalie Morales. Perf. Bruce Carr, Lili Samad, Heidi Tawfik, Cindi Liou. MSNBC. 2011. T.V. Film.

U.N. General Assembly, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948.    Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Adopted and Proclaimed by General Assembly  Resolution. UIO: Faculty of Law, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.


This interview was held in the backroom of our mosque after our service on Sunday April 14, 2013.  This is the first 30 minutes of the interview.

Azraa Muhammad: Alright it’s on… okay.  May you please state your name, and your birthday.

Lili Samad: My name is Lili Samad, and, umm I’m born in, uh, West Java, Indonesia.  And, umm, on August 17th, 1978.

AM: Okay…umm, where did you grow up?

LS: Uh, I grew up in Indonesia, but, umm, since I was 15, uh, 15 years old, I went, already, oversees to help my family.

AM: Umm… who did you live with, in your house?

LS: I lived with my, uh, siblings, my father, my mother, and we have… my mother had 9 children.

AM: Umm… what do you remember about living there?

LS: Umm, because we are farmers, so it’s umm, I missed umm… I remember when, umm, the time, like when the season come, like harvest, things like that I remember.  Also, I remember with my sisters, brothers their, because we are a big family.  Umm… you know, it’s really, uh, it’s, it’s (short pause).  I miss them cause we always joked, and played together.  And that’s what I remember.

AM: Umm… how was the neighborhood that you grew up in?

LS: The neighborhood is really nice, it’s really good there, because, I mean it’s not like here.  So everybody, you know like, helping each other, you know like…(stutter).  What they call it?  We help each other there.  So it’s really, uh, opposite the way I live here.

AM: Umm… did you have any friends, that you remember, growing up there?

LS: Yes. I have my best friend, but now since, I’m here for 12 years, so I don’t know about her.  And, also, because I don’t see my family for 12 years so… I don’t know.  But only, you know, I can talk to, uh, to them.  Or I can, uh, Skype with them.

AM: How often do you do that?

LS: Uh, it depends.  Sometimes once a week.  I mean, once a week.  Once a month, uh, it depends when my family’s available.

AM: Umm, where did you go to school?

LS: I went to school.  Do you mean here, or Indonesia?

AM: In Indonesia.

LS: In Indonesia I went to a Muslim school and English school.  So in the morning, I went to a English school, and afternoon I went to a Arabic school.  And, the school is uh, they were very close and like, uh, I can like walk 5 minutes… to the school.

AM: Umm, did you like going to those schools?

LS: Yes I loved that school, because, umm, it’s… it’s umm. We have uniforms and umm… I just love, I just like that school there. (laughs)

AM: What was it like, like were they umm… like were they nice, like the teachers?

LS: yes, the teacher there is very nice, and also the student, also is not. It’s compared here is really, umm, there it’s very disciplined and it’s uh, it’s disciplined, and they have very respect to each other.  With the students, with the teachers also, so it’s, it’s just umm, it’s different to umm, different to there and here (chuckles).

AM: Umm… Did you ever have a job while you were in Indonesia?

LS: No, I never worked because my father, he has his own business, like he has, uh- like ten employees- ten/fifteen employees.  And umm, but that uh, that time I was at school and… I’m still at school.  And my father business uh, bankrupt.  So that’s why after school, before age fifteen, I went to over, uh, I went to overseas to help my family because we are, we have big family… so.

AM: Um, what was this business that your father did?

LS: It’s umm, marketing.  It’s umm, because there is so many farmers, we have sell like fruits, vegetables.  So were uh, collecting uh, like fruit from any farmers and they give it to- they sell it to my fatherland my father delivers fruit or vegetables to every store.

AM: Umm… did you ever umm, like visit your father, like on the job? Or like see exactly what he did?

LS: Overseas?

AM: mm-hmm

LS: Yes when I was in Saudi, Arabia.  Since I went there from, uh, 1994 to 2001, but, every year, I’d visit my family.  Like once a year I visit my family for, 1 month, 1 ½ months.  So it’s like I work for, like 10, 10 months or 11 months in a year.  And I have my vacation one month.

AM: Mmm. Umm were your fathers working conditions good?

LS: Yes.  His working conditions good.

AM: Okay… what year did you, umm, come to the United States?

LS:  I came to the United State, uh, it was on the September 13th, 2002.  And…that is the first time I came to the United States.

AM:   And you said you were 15?

LS:  No, that is umm, that is… before I was in Saudi, Arabia from age of 15.  Then I, go back to Indonesia on 2001 and I stay there for 6 uh… less than a year.  Then I… came to United States because the umm… uh by agency.  So if anybody want to hire, umm, domestic worker.  So they have to call a agency because we have a agency for, for that.  So the, the employer, hire me and brought me here.

AM: You said that you lived in Saudi, Arabia before, you umm, came out here?

LS: Yes, before I came here.  .  So that’s why after school, before age fifteen, I went to over, uh, I went to overseas to help my family because we are, we have big family… so.

AM: Was it the same?  Like, umm, what was it like there compared to Indonesia?

LS: I liked working in Saudi, Arabia because they were, uh, the person that, uh, I was working with- my employer- was an ambassador.  And, I just like, uh, taking care of, uh, his daughter.  So, uh, I considered a nanny.  And, also, they pay me, and I had my vacation every month… I mean every year I have my vacation.  Even though I went to visit my family, they’d give me a ticket.  And also my salary- the money for the months that I’m there.  And they were really nice people.

AM: Do you remember, umm, what it was taking care of the daughter?

LS:  Yes.  It, she was very nice girl.  And yeah, I just really like children (laughs).

AM: Umm, why did you leave Saudi, Arabia?

LS: Because, I try to find a new experience, (laugh).

AM: (Laugh) Umm, where did you go after?

LS: After that, uh, I was in the… I was planning to go overseas to work.  And then, umm, my, the umm, the agency… there’s umm.  My employer, he’s uh, he’s a, he’s a diplomat also. He looking for somebody to take care of his children.  So, umm, the agent came to got me, to take me to that person and then that was, it was the middle east then the diplomat was going to have assignment for me in United States.  So, umm, when they hired me then they brought me to the United States as a nanny.

AM: Umm you.  How did your family feel about you going overseas?

LS: Uh, my family.  It was up to me so as long as I was safe.  So…

AM: Umm, how did you feel about coming overseas?

LS: I felt because I already had experience before, so I thought that the dip… especially the diplomat.  So I thought, umm, they are really nice.  You know also, like, the one that I already have experience.  So I feel, I feel, I wasn’t worried about it.

AM: Umm, how did you travel to the U.S.? Was it by plane or by boat?

LS: By plane.  Because the diplomat, the one, my employer brought me here.  As, uh, a domestic worker.

AM: What are your memories of the, uh, plane ride here?  Or of the journey here?

LS: The memory?

AM: Like do you remember what the flight was like?

LS: Uh the flight was… cause umm.  Uh it’s, it’s uh.  I don’t have any uh, freedom because the person that hired me, they’re really; they’re not nice.  So every time I have to uh… they always umm.  They always watching me, whatever umm.  It’s like they just controlling me or watching me.  I can’t, I can’t do nothing. So I don’t feel like, umm, like other people who, when they travel.  You know. I have no- how do you say it- you know, uh excitement or something.

AS: Uh, what did you think America was going to be like before you saw it?

LS: Oh, America was going to be like, because I heard that in Indonesia, in my country, that it’s the King of the world. So, you know, it’s going to be like a great place, with opportunities. Like 0 and just, just the king. Yeah.

AM: Was it anything like you expected it to be? When you got out here?

LS:  No.

AM: Was there anything that like…  What was the first thing that you found out about… like, like America not being everything that you thought it was going to be?

LS: uh, because I was with the employer who the, they don’t treat me nice.  So that’s,  I don’t know when I was outside because I always.  They always watching me so that I don’t know but they seem on the outside.  Like people, they can go out or go shopping or that because they’re always watching us all.  Oh I mean they’re always controlling me.  They’re always watching me. So I can’t, I can’t do anything.

AM: What city did you work in?  Like where did these people live?

LS: Uh, they lived, uh in… they lived in San Mateo.

AM: San Mateo.

LS: Mm Hmm

AM: And umm.  You said that he would, he would never let you out.

LS: He would let me out, but it’s only when, when umm, to.  When the children want to go to umm, because there is umm.  I mean to clean the car, or to clean umm, a driveway.  Only then I can go out.  But if anybody says hi to me or wave hands, I’m not allowed to umm say, say hi back to them.  Even, even when they wave hands.  So I shouldn’t, I just keep quiet.

AM: Umm, how were you umm, like what was your status when you came out here?  Like did they let you in with a Visa, or a umm, working Visa, or a travel Visa?

LS: Umm that I don’t know because I got, I got to there.  Uh when I arrived to my employer they asked my passport and after that I never see it again.  And I don’t know if it’s about the worker Visa, tourist visa; I don’t know because they got it for me.  But in umm, before I came here, before they brought me here, they, uh when, they took me to, uh, embassy of United States in Cairo, and they told me when the, when the umm, the people, the staff there, when I have an interview with them, when they asked me about the salary, I have to tell them, uh, $2000 a month.  I already, I already, umm, told them.  They told me to lie to the embassy.

AM: Did, What was your real salary?

LS: Before they hired me, when I was in Saudi, Arabia they told me they would pay me $2000 a month, but when, on route, when I’m on my way to uh, to fly, to uh, an airport, they told the agents that they cannot pay me $2000 a month.  So they said that they would pay me for $175 a month.

AM: And how umm, how many hours would you have to work?  Like I know you were a nanny, but like umm, like was their a certain time when they would give you a break or you could…

LS: It’s uh, I can say 24 hours a day.

AM: Oh!

LS: Yeah.

AM: And also umm, when you first got there, were they umm, would they let you out when you first got there or as soon as you got there they would…

LS: No, they never let me out, they never let me out.  Even when I was in their house, before I came here, because uh, they… I arrived in umm, Egypt.  And then they have to make my Visa, everything ready to get here and, umm if they have only one uh, one floor to exit and enter.  Only one floor because we live in third floor so I thought it was like a hotel; their house.  And when they go out they would lock the key, and they would bring the key.  So you cannot go out.  Even when they’re inside the house they would lock the key, I mean they would lock the door, and they would hide the key; even when they’re inside the house.

AM:  What exactly were all the jobs that you did for them when you were there?

LS: Umm, I supposed to uh, work as a nanny, but I work everything.  I say everything, everything umm, even when I’m here in the United States.  When they brought me here, I do umm, I clean there car almost every… they both have 2 cars so morning.  Rain or Shine, every morning do uh, the children bed and the parent bed, bedroom.  And clean the house every day.  Cooking, errand running, laundry, caring uh, pack up the children from upstairs to the car, and fix lunch for the children.  Just everything, everything- do gardening- everything.

AM:  When umm, you were assigned to this job would they, did they tell you that you would have to do all these things?

LS: No.

AM: You were only expected to take care of the children?

LS: Yes.

AM:  This house that you worked in, was it big?

LS:  Yeah we have umm, we have uh, like 2 or 3 floors and we have, they have, 4 bedrooms, and 2 living rooms, and it’s a really big house.  Big living room, 2 big living rooms and one big kitchen and one big uh, dining room.  So it’s really big and the backyard is really big.

AM: Were you the only one working for them, or did they have somebody else?

LS: I’m the only person working there.  They have a driver but the driver is only driving.  So every morning I had to clean the car before he dropped the children to the school and yeah.  They have 2 workers, but the driver is only driving.  So even the car I had to clean.

AM: Did some… how many children were there?

LS: 2. They’re twins.

AM: What were they like?

LS: They’re like, uh 6 or 7 but now I don’t know.

AM: Were they nice to you, or…

LS: No, they’re not nice.

AM:  They’re mom, was she living in the house?

LS: Yes. She’s always at home.  She doesn’t have, she doesn’t work.

AM: Was she umm, was she anything like the children?  Like was she like, ummm, mean to you?

LS: Yes, all of them.

AM: How would they umm… how were they mean?  Like what would they…

LS: They can talk anyway, like they talk bad, they, you know, they talk bad.  And they can, you know, umm, put their hands to me.  And the wife screamed, yell.  So it’s, it’s umm, way of.  It’s what I understand if a person working for them or the, those people it’s like, they own me.  So they can do whatever they want.

AM: That was their, that’s what they thought?

LS: Yes.

AM: So umm, where did… did you stay in the house, like even when you slept?

LS: Yes, I because there is extra rooms so umm, I slept in uh, a one bedroom but the bunk bed.  In the bedroom I have only folding bed, and so many stuff is their stuff.  So I don’t have, I don’t have stuff.  I mean all my stuff like clothes, things inside the, inside the bathroom under the sink.  So I can only have a folding bed in the uh, in my bedroom; but it’s not my bedroom.

AM:  Umm, did you ever umm, I know you weren’t allowed to talk to people , but like did you ever like umm, was there ever anybody in the house that you felt comfortable with?

LS: No.

AM: What about umm, did any neighbors ever notice?

LS: Yes.  After two years my neighbor umm, because I speak a little French so, I saw my, my neighbor was she always saw that I’d take a walk around and I saw them many times; like almost every day.  So when I, when nobody’s at home I was only by myself so I just tried to, uh, talk to them.

AM: You said that you were able to speak French?  Where did you learn?

LS: I learned from uh, Saudi Arabia because the family there, my employer, the people that I worked there only speak French, because they’re from West Africa.

AM:  Did they teach you or did you just pick it up?

LS: No, I just picked because umm, it’s all every day I heard, you know, French, so it’s like umm, automatically comes to myself.

AM: Umm did you know how to speak English when umm you started working for them?

LS: Just a little but I speak Arabic with them.

AM: Where did you learn?

LS: I learned Arabic because I went to a Arabic school and English school so I learned from there.

AM: So you were, you learned it, you learned when you were little?

LS: Yes.

AM: Umm, how long did you work for the people in the United States”

LS: Say it again?

AM: In the, in the U.S. like umm, how long did you work for them?

LS:  Umm 3 years and 8 months I worked for them.

AM:  And the whole time they never let you, like go.  Like they didn’t let you leave?

LS: Yeah umm, they never let me go.  I can go out, but I have to be with them and they’d make sure that I’m not, umm, run away or escape from them.  So that’s, they always watch me.  Even the children.

AM:  How did you end up, umm, leaving this job?

LS:  Umm, I was so tired with this.  Umm, with the job.  So, I talked to my neighbor, the one that speaks French, and umm, I just told her.  And I packed my, everything that I need.  And I went to her house.  Then she helped me, bring to the police, police department and legal things and (long Pause)… that neighbor, she helped me.

AM:  Did you umm, how long did it take you to plan this?  Like, to leave?

LS:  Since I moved, since I came here because I really cant because the thing is I have no.  I cannot do anything.  I  have to find.  I don’t know, I.  if I want to escape from them I don’t have money, I don’t have passport, I don’t have anybody.  So it’s, it’s like, no hope for me.  Yeah.

AM:  Do you still, umm, talk with the neighbor who helped you to leave?

LS: Yes, we, now, we are.  We are close friends.  It’s, she’s the one; my angel.(laughs)

AM: Did you ever know what happened to those people who you worked for?

LS: I don’t know.  I have no, I never hear anything.  But for sure, I mean, they already gone.  I mean, back to there country.

AM:  Did they ever get punished for what they, or did you ever turn them in to the police for…

LS:  Umm, the first day when my neighbor took me to the police department, and the police said that if its diplomat than they can’t do anything.  And at that time I speak very limited English so she was my translator.

AM: You said that these people that you worked for were diplomats, um, what country were they from?

LS: Um, from Egypt, so they were Egyptian Diplomats.

AM: Where did you go after, um ,you left this job?

LS: after I left this job and my neighbor finds Asian Woman Shelter, before that she find a catholic shelter but they preferred that I go to Asian Women’s Shelter.  AWS is for women trafficking victims and I stayed there for six months.  From March 3rd 2006 to October 16th 2006.

AM:  What was it like at this shelter?

LS: Its really good, it help, its because it’s helpful to me because that shelter is um, because I was a victim there, so it makes me forget about my past, my condition before, and they give us food, and they give us shelter, and it was really nice.  It’s a place for human trafficking victims, but it’s only for women, and I was in trauma so they had workers work with me to help me forget about my condition, to try to help me…  I also learn to speak English while I’m there, they put me through city college to learn English.  Umm it was just helpful they just really help me with everything.

AM: You said that you went to city college?

LS: Yes I went to city college to learn English.

AM: You stayed there for six moths.

LS: I stayed there so that I wouldn’t have trauma and so that I can forget about what they did and the AWS has connections with legal papers and since I had to escape I had to leave my passport so I have nothing.  AWS has connection to APIL or to get my papers so that I can stay here legally.

AM: Where did you go after you left the shelter?

LS: After I got my papers, I live in Richmond district for about six months, I’m sorry I live in Chinatown first because that housing is only for woman who have low income. From October 16th 2006 to October 1st 2008.

AM: Did you ever start working again.

LS: Yes, after that I have part time job. As a nanny.  They were Indonesian so they were really nice, but they moved to Singapore so I don’t work for them anymore, but they were really nice, the children were really nice.  They were 5 and 2. I worked for them for about two years. After that work on call taking care of elderly person until now.  Now I work in senior living, since July 2011.  I like this job very much because I like dealing with elderly people, especially older people that forget, they have Alzheimer’s disease they don’t now anything and I like working with them.  I get paid fairly with this job and the working conditions are good but I only work 3 hours a day and six days a week. I Currently live in Hays Valley

AM:  How did you join the nation?

LS:  I heard a tape of Minister Farrakhan that my friend had given me and I was shocked that a man can talk like this and my friend said that…

AM: Are you able to get benefits here?

LS: AT my job, yes

AM: Do you qualify for a lot of things like health insurance.

LS:  For health yes and also I live in low income housing.

LS:  What I see is that so many friends that came here they get lost because they try to follow the world here but me I still stay in my teachings from minister Farrakhan

AM: what would you tell everyone about America now?

LS: people will always want to come to America because there is opportunities that we can have, there is like so many treasures, that’s what people think that

LS:  This is my home, America is my home because my family is here, and my teaching is here, that’s the most important part.

AM:  Thank you so much for doing this.

LS: Oh, it’s no problem (Laughs).