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Fuerza Puwersa Hosts Fifth Annual May Day Potluck

Web posted on May 05, 2014

May Day or International Worker's Day is an annual event that takes place on May 1st and is dedicated to worker's rights and the struggles of working class people. It is celebrated in many different countries across the world and became an official holiday in the United States in the 1800s.

International Worker's Day In North America originates from the May 4, 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago. The event began as a peaceful rally supporting a workers' strike for an eight-hour workday, which ended in violence and the death of four demonstrators. The site of the incident has been designated as a Chicago Landmark where a sculpture was placed in 2004. There is also a Haymarket Martyrs' Monument at the workers' burial site, which has been a designated National Historic Landmark since 1997.

Fuerza Puwersa has been organizing May Day potluck dinners in Guelph since 2009. The event fosters community connections, and supports May Day rallies across North America and the labour rights of all people. They provide a great opportunity to learn about, discuss and plan future work around immigrant justice, while also celebrating the achievements and strengths of communities.

Fuerza Puwersa is a volunteer based grassroots group of community members in Guelph dedicated to social justice issues surrounding migrant workers, people without status, and racialized working-class immigrants. Fuerza Puwersa formed in the fall of 2008 and while formerly known as Student Support for Migrant Workers, their current name means strength in Spanish and Tagalog. Their activities include raising awareness, fostering critical discussion, and acting as effective allies to migrant racialized working-class people.

This year's May Day potluck was held on April 29 at the Shelldale Centre. The focus was on the heightened climate of immigration detention and the deportation of racialized individuals throughout Turtle Island (where the colonial state of Canada is now located). Speakers at the event included Jose Figueroa, Janice Lee, and Martin Sisay.

The potluck was a lovely event with lots of delicious food and excellent company. The venue was decorated with banners supporting immigrant justice and an end to immigration detention. It was a beautiful celebration of community that highlighted social justice issues that continue to affect many community members.

Jose Figueroa was the first speaker of the evening connecting via Skype from Langley, BC. Jose is a Salvadoran-Canadian and loving father and husband who moved to Canada in 1997. He is currently fighting a deportation order and is living in sanctuary. During his talk, Jose discussed his history in Canada and some facts about his case. It was moving to hear him tell his story and the challenges that he and his family have faced. There is a widespread campaign to support Jose called We Are Jose that can be found online with more information about Jose's case and how to support him.

Following Jose's moving story, we were treated by a performance from Janice Lee. Janice is a singer-songwriter, spoken word poet, storyteller and community organizer in Kitchener-Waterloo. She performs as a solo artist and with her blues, folk band Janice Lee and the Free Radicals. She is also the artistic director of the KW Poetry Slam and a member of the 2012 and 2013 KW Slam Teams. She treated potluck goers to a beautiful song and two awesome poetry pieces.

The final speaker of the evening was Martin Sisay, a former immigration detainee held in Lindsay, ON. He spoke about his experience in detention including the organization of a migrant strike. Martin went on hunger strike for 32 days. He also discussed the violation of regulations that he witnessed while in detention including a lack of medical attention. There are still many immigrants in detention in Lindsay and other locations across Ontario. About continuing to support im/migrant rights Martin said "we need to move forward, we need to push harder."

The evening was an important reminder of the challenges that many community members face. It is important to stay informed and active in the face of social injustice. By allowing people to tell their own stories, we can learn how best to support them in respectful ways. Guelph has many great organizations and opportunities to connect with social justice issues and support diverse communities.