Below is a letter from Wen, a student who came to the U.S. from China for a summer cultural exchange, and instead became a captive laborer at a Hershey’s Chocolate plant in Pennsylvania, along with hundreds of other international students. She wrote us about why she decided to join the NGA.
In June 2011, a number of students and I traveled to the United States to a Hershey’s packing plant in Pennsylvania, believing that we would begin around three months of summer employment and cultural exchange.
Soon we realized how bad the conditions were and how heavy the workload was in the factory—this was not what we expected. But because this was a completely foreign place to us, we felt that we did not have the power to resist.
Then one day, a Chinese student told us that an organization called the National Guestworker Alliance was here to provide us support.
[NGA Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz] told us that the NGA was an organization that fights for the rights of international workers and human rights, and that the NGA had helped workers in the past to hold strikes.
Over the next month of so, NGA’s staff helped us understand our rights and interests. Our association [of students] grew from about 10 people to 200. … I was involved in the planning and organizing of the strike, cooperating in the investigation and fact-finding by the State Department, and leading outreach and education efforts for Chinese J-1 students.
After returning home, I did not end my involvement with NGA. Among other things, I continued to participate in the investigation of Hershey’s and [its labor recruiter] CETUSA by phone, talking to OSHA, the Department of Labor, and journalists from the People’s Daily.
The reason that I became a member of the NGA was not just because the NGA helped us during our time of isolation and helplessness. My time working with NGA made me realize how empowered I can become.
Actually, my initial desire to participate in the strike was not very strong, because in China, I had never encountered such circumstances, and I never thought that I had the power to resist. But with the help of the NGA, in a short month, we were able to win the rights of J-1 international students, return the jobs [at the Hershey’s plant] to local workers, and protect future students who, like us, dreamed of coming to this land for cultural exchange and education.
These results are “strange miracles” that I would have never thought could come true.
NGA inspired me to re-examine myself. It allowed me to know that I—an ordinary, timid person—can be so powerful that I can not only protect myself, but also empower many others to fight for their rights.