“No creo que tenemos las mismas oportunidades de toda la gente (I don’t believe we have the same opportunities as everyone else),” says Erick, who is from Morelos in Mexico, and works at Mama Teresa’s. He left his previous job after being discriminated against for his nationality. “No me importa la nacionalidad, no me importa el sexo ni nada. Lo que me importa es que uno viene aquí por trabajar. (I don’t care about nationality, gender, nothing. What matters is that people who come here do so to work.)”

Belén works at Manpower, placing people in jobs. Her own daughter, however, is finding it tough to get employed. “She’s kind of heavy set, and companies won’t hire her because of her size. It happened to her three times already. A company tells me that they’re hiring, and I say ‘It’s not for me, it’s for my daughter’, and then she goes in, and they say, ‘Oh no, we’re not hiring.’”

Josie married her partner three years ago in Massachusetts. She works as an electrician, and her wife is a teacher. “When we moved here, I went to the bank to cash my paycheck, and they wanted two forms of ID. I asked if I could use my marriage license. They said sure. I brought it in, and they said ‘Oh, two females – that’s not a legally binding contract’, and wouldn’t cash my check. My wife and I have had our share of strange looks. What people don’t 
understand, they fear. But I’m comfortable with who I am. Whatever.”

The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights is based on the third floor of the building behind you, above where Dress Barn used to be. From July 2008 to June 2009, they took on 356 cases of discrimination, 51 less than the previous year. “We’ve heard that people are scared of the recession, and don’t want to put their jobs at risk,” says Susan, an investigator with the Commission. The Commission can be reached at 401-222-2661.

The RI Commission for Human Rights receives thousands of complaints every year. Many are referred to other agencies. Below are the total numbers of cases that they took on for each category of discrimination during the fiscal year 2009, in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit:

Physical Disability 82
Age 65
Race 59
Sexual Harassment 34
Sex 30
Mental Disability 27
Ancestral Origin 27
Retaliation 10
Familial Status 8
Sexual Orientation 7
Religion 5
Color 1
Marital Status 1

Seung, owner of Two Brothers Beauty Supply store, likes being downtown, but hasn’t always felt welcome. She tried to rent a space on this street a few years ago, and feels that she was discriminated against because of her customers. “They didn’t want to give us the store, because my 50% of my customers are black. We were angry. They say black people can move anywhere they want, but they didn’t want to give us the store. Then the owner of this building offered us a space, so we moved here.”

John is 79 years old. He remembers downtown in the 1940s, when black people “weren’t allowed in the elevator at some of the stores, we had to use the stairs. At the movie theaters, we had to go upstairs. I asked the manager, ‘Why can’t we sit downstairs?’ ‘You don’t belong there,’ he said. We couldn’t get a permit to shine shoes downtown, though I used to do it sometimes anyway. And there were streets on the East Side where the cops wouldn’t even let you walk. Those were very difficult days because of racial prejudice. When it comes right down to it, I don’t think it’s really changed.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Dr Martin Luther King Jr

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