Fil-Am lawyer to head San Francisco-based civil rights group

Christopher Punongbayan

Christopher Punongbayan

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – A Filipino-American lawyer has been appointed the new executive director of the first and oldest Asian- American legal and human rights advocacy group based in San Francisco.

Christopher Punongbayan will take over the Asian American Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in June after the current co-executive director, Heon-Ju-Rho, has decided to step down.

For the past year, Punongbayan and Rho have been sharing the post, but Rho has decided to move to Los Angeles, a statement in the non-profit group’s website said.

” I write to you with great humility and enthusiasm as the incoming executive director,” said Punongbayan in a statement also posted on the website. ” I have witnessed our organization thrive in my five and a half years here, and am so excited by what’s to come.”

Established in 1972, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, formerly known simply  Asian Law Caucus, is the nation’s oldest legal and civil rights advocacy group, focusing on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

It provides legal services in the areas of human rights, immigration, housing, and labor relations.

“Even though it has been 42 years since our founding, the need for an unwavering, courageous voice for civil rights is clearer than ever,” Punongbayan said.

He said the group should keep it’s mission to “respond to the direct legal needs for those who cannot afford a lawyer during these challenging economic times.”

Punongbayan joined Asian Law Caucus in 2008, and headed the non-profit group’s various community programs. When it decided to try a joint executive program last year, he was appointed with Rho.

For the past 25 years, Punongbayan has been active in the Asian-American community. In 2004, he was a recipient of the Ford Foundation New Voices Fellowship while serving as advocacy director of Filipinos for Affirmative Action.

He also served on the board for the South of Market Community Action Network and various youth, LGBT and other non-profit groups in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Punongbayan is a graduate of Brown University and UCLA Law School, critical race concentration and public interest law and policy program.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unions vote to strike Las Vegas downtown casinos

 

Union workers picket the Stratosphere Hotel D Casino in downtown Las Veagas

Union workers picket the Stratosphere Hotel D Casino in downtown Las Veagas

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS -Union members of several downtown Las Vegas casinos, including possibly Filipino-American workers, have voted to authorize a strike if bargaining does not yield a new contract.

After a strike vote on Thursday, March 27, officials of Culinary Union Local 226, announced 99 percent of the membership authorized a strike, although no date has been set yet.

 

A statement from Culinary Union Local 226 says Thursday that more than 99 percent voted for the authorization.

Unionized casino workers at the Binions, El cortez, Four Queens, Fremont, Golden Gate, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Club, Las Vegas Plaza, Main Street Station, and D participated in the balloting.

Workers at the Margaritaville bar on the Strip and linen service workers from Brady Laundries in North Las Vegas also voted.

Local 226 represents thousands of bartenders, food service workers, housekeepers, cooks, porters and others at casinos and properties downtown and on the Las Vegas Strip.

Union leaders have been negotiating with casino owners since contracts expired last summer.

Earlier, the union as reached tentative agreement with the LVH, MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, Riviera, Tropicana, Treasure Island, and the Stratosphere.

“We are not done because the thousands of workers downtown and in the laundries do not have new contracts yet,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer of the Culinary Union. “We hope we can reach a fair settlement with the remaining unsettled houses very soon.”

Fil-Am candidate earns key endorsement

Las Vegas Fil-Am candidates Cheryl Moss and Ron Quilang (Photo provided by Cheryl Moss)

Las Vegas Fil-Am candidates Cheryl Moss and Ron Quilang (Photo provided by Cheryl Moss)

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – A Fil-Am candidate has picked up a key endorsement, tremendously boosting her bid for a fourth term as District Court Judge.

Judge Cheryl Moss has won the endorsement of the politically strong Clark Country Firefighters Union Local 1908, which nearly a 1,000 members, and covers a city of nearly 12 million residents and 40 million annual visitors.

“After taking the time to carefully weigh the qualifications and responses (during the interviews), we are pleased to inform you of our endorsement,” Ryan Beaman, the firefighters’ union president wrote Moss.

It was the second major endorsement for Moss from a safety officers group. The Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers – CWA Local 9110, AFL-CIO has also thrown its support.

The endorsement is key because it involves help on the ground during election day and on the campaign period for the candidates.

Unions provide support in terms of getting voters to the polling booths through phone banks, providing transportation and campaign materials.

“This is a tremendous help to our campaign,” said Moss, whose parents were both Filipino doctors. ” We’re getting the support from all walks of life and from various segments of the community.

In a well-attended fund-raiser at the Aloha Kitchen Thursday night, Moss received additional pledges of support, including from fellow candidates from various offices in the June primaries.

Two other Fil-Ams are seeking elective offices in a display of growing political power in Las Vegas, amid increasing evidence that the community is surging in numbers.

The two others are running for a seat in the Nevada Senate and in the Assembly, both from the same district  with heavy Fil-Am populations.

Ron Quilang, a Republican, is seeking the post in the Nevada Senate representing District 9. Joe Tinio, a Democrat, is running for a seat in the Nevada Assembly, also from District 9.

Working mostly in the casinos, hospital, nursing homes, and department stores, Filipinos and Filipino-American are the largest Asian group in Las Vegas and Nevada.

 

No death penalty for Fil-Am chef

Murder suspect Richard Magdayo Dahan (Las Vegas Metro)

Murder suspect Richard Magdayo Dahan (Las Vegas Metro)

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty in the case of a Fil-Am former chef accused of stabbing to death his 28-year-old wife in their Las Vegas apartment early this year.

Richard Scow said that a district attorney’s office panel decided not to seek capital punishment for Richard Magdayo Dahan in the slaying of nurse Daisy Casalta Dahan on January 10.

In a case that rocked the Filipino-American community here, the 40-year old Dahan killed his wife after she allegedly asked for divorce two years after getting married in the Philippines.

Dahan, who claimed that he is suffering from kidney failure following a transplant, said that divorce is unacceptable because it’s against Filipino tradition.

Friends of his wife suspect that domestic violence may have contributed to the killing, and Daisy Dahan did not have an opportunity to seek help.

The same friends and co-workers at a nursing facility raised the money to send Dahan’s body back to Bohol, where she grew up.

Magdayo Dahan had waived a preliminary hearing of evidence in the slaying before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis, who bound the case over to state court.

In his arraignment Dahan, on March 12 in Clark County District Court, Dahan pleaded not guilty to a single count of murder. He is represented by Deputy Clark County Public Defender Ed Kane.

Prosecutor Scow said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and a panel of administrators decided that Dahan will not face the death penalty.

The Dahan case is the second of two horrific murder cases that involved members of the Filipino-American community, now the largest Asian community in Las Vegas.

Late last year, 31-year-old Eleanor Indico was accused of stabbing to death her pregnant sister-in-law following a domestic quarrel.

She could face the death penalty when her trial begins in August.

Dahan, former chef at a resort and casino on the Strip, walked into a police station shortly after the slaying, and told detectives he killed his wife because he could not accept that his wife wanted a divorce.

He provided a detailed account of the bloody attack with a serrated chef knife, a meat cleaver and filet knife, police said.

Showing no remorse, Dahan told police that if he were to go back in time, he’d do all over again what he did to his wife.

 

 

 

Proposal for PH Temporary Protected Status moving forward

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – The effort to confer a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on the Philippines is not dead yet. In fact, it is gaining some momentum, according to one of the leaders of the proposal that would put a hold on Filipino deportation in the United States, among others.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission, a Washington,D.C.-based non-profit group advocating for the TPS , said Philippine desk officer David Arulanantham at the US Department of State  confirmed that the TPS for the Philippines have already been discussed.

He said State Department’s recommendation for TPS is now at the desk of Secretary John Kerry, waiting for his review and signature.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Sec. Kerry will make a favorable decision,” Valera said. “My optimism [was] shared by Ambassador (Jose) Cuisia, during my informal meeting with him two weeks ago at the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition assembly at the Philippine Embassy.”

If and when it is signed, the recommendation will then be forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security.

Valera said organizations and individual supporting the TPS proposal “should stay (the course) and remain positive that President Obama and the Dept. of Homeland Security will do the right thing.”

He said advocates should refrain from what he called rhetorical remarks and negative comments when Obama visits the Philippines next month to confer with President Aquino on  a host of issues.

Earlier this year, Aquino has vowed to bring up the TPS issue in his talks with the U.S. president.

Under U.S. laws, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security may designate a country, or portions of a country, for TPS when conditions exist such as an ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster in the country that temporarily prevents the country’s nationals from returning safely.
While not required, typically a country must first request TPS before the Secretary will make a designation.
Once a country receives a TPS designation, nationals of that country residing in the U.S. receive a temporary, humanitarian form of relief from deportation that does not include the granting of permanent residence.
The initial TPS designation lasts for a period of 6 to 18 months and can be renewed if the situation still exists.
The TPS proposal came on the heels of Supertyphoon Yolanda, which devastated a wide swath of Eastern Visayas, killing thousands and rendering millions more homeless.
Advocates say it would impose a great burden on the rebuilding effort in the Philippines to require the country to reabsorb its nationals from abroad, many of whom may have homes that were destroyed by the Typhoon.
TPS will provide a safe haven for those who are reluctant to return to potentially

dangerous situations, and to assist nations who are under extraordinary and temporary conditions and face difficulties in receiving their nationals safely.
A grant of TPS would allow Filipinos out of status but already in the U.S. to work and support their families in the Philippines, who were impacted by the typhoon.
While the TPS decision rests with the executive branch, the proposal has gained support in the U.S. Congress and state and local governments.
A bipartisan group of 20 senators wrote President Obama a letter expressing their support for a TPS designation for the Philippines.
New York and other cities have a also expressed support.
So far, the countries that have TPS designation include Syria, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador  and Somalia.
According to the Los Angeles Times, citing a source from the Filipino-American community in Southern California, about 300,000 Filipinos nationwide with no legal status could benefit from a TPS designation.
Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, told the Times, the designation will be god-send to Filipinos out of status,.
A  Los Angeles-based group, “Relief 2 Recovery – TPS for Filipinos,” a national, public campaign led by workers, legal advocates, grass-roots organizations and faith leaders, among others, is also involved in lobbying the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security to take swift action to designate temporary protected status (TPS) for the Philippines.
“It would mean so much to us,” said Joy Ocampo., who admitted to the Times she’s in the U.S. illegally. “I pray that something good will happen for those who have desperate family members to care for.”

In a bipartisan move, 20 US Senators have now joined in the call to accord TPS status to the Philippines, in the wake of the massive devastation brought to the Visayas region and effectively, the to entire nation.

“Typhoon Haiyan has wrought unparalleled destruction and tragic loss of life in the Philippines,” said the senators in their letter to the Obama administration.

“Victims of Typhoon Haiyan clearly meet the eligibility requirements for TPS, and we urge you to extend this designation as soon as possible. The United States has demonstrated its commitment to assisting the Philippines with the recovery effort through foreign aid, military assistance and relief supplies, b”

– See more at: http://asianjournal.com/editorial/temporary-protected-status-for-ph-gains-support-in-us-senate/#sthash.yraR8pd6.dpuf

 

 

 

Growing Pinoy clout in Las Vegas politics

Oquendo Road in Las Vegas: Named after one of the first Filipino settlers in the valley.

Oquendo Road in Las Vegas: Named after one of the first Filipino settlers in the valley.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – In a show of growing political muscle, three Filipino-Americans are seeking elective office this year amid increasing evidence that the community is surging in numbers.

Of the three aspirants, Cheryl Moss, who is running for her fourth term as a District Court judge, is the most well-known. The two others are running for a seat in the Nevada Senate and in the Nevada Assembly, both from the same district.

Ron Quilang, a Republican, is seeking the post in the Nevada Senate representing District 9. Joe Tinio, a Democrat, is running for a seat in the Nevada Assembly, also from District 9, where many Fil-Ams live.

“It’s a sign of our growing political maturity as a community,” said Rozita Lee, a member of the White House Commission on Asians and Pacific Islanders and a long-time Filipino American leader. “It’s great to see folks seek public office and represent our interests.”

Moss, the grandniece of the legendary Rudy Oquendo, one of the first Filipinos to settle in Las Vegas and after whom a city street was named, is seeking her fourth term  as District  Court judge, Family Division, Department 1.

In 2000, she ran for the first time, and won with heavy support from the Filipino-American community. She ran and won again in 2002 and 2008.
“The Filipino voters now feel they have a purpose for going to the polls,” said the 47-year-old Moss.  “They feel they now have a say in government politics. They feel more confident as a growing powerful voting block to support candidates that would best represent their interests.” 
She said that Filipino-Americans have a better appreciation of the importance of voting, of participating and getting involved in politics, and are more confident in their decisions to enter political races.
In the last few years, immigrants from Asia, including from the Philippines, have outpaced Latinos, the traditional largest group of new arrivals.
And the biggest group of immigrants coming to Nevada from outside the United States — both legally and illegally — are not Latino, according to Census Bureau data released last month.
Immigrants from Asian almost double the immigrants from Mexico and Central America, according to the Census Bureau’s County-to-County Migration Flows data based on its annual American Community Survey.
Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said there are a few major job magnets for Southern Nevada that pull employees from Asia
.
One is health care. The Las Vegas area  is missing about a third of the health care workers it needs to support the population it has, so it draws heavily from overseas, especially from the Philippines, where it gets a lot of nurses, said Lang .
“The Philippines puts nurses through a serious science program,” he said.
Some hospitals here, including the Rose Dominican group of hospitals, have recruited heavily in the Philippines a few years ago, and nearly half of its 1,500 employees are Filipinos.
Another employment draw is gaming. Singapore and Macau are undergoing major gaming expansion, and there are corporations connected to those areas and Las Vegas, so there is natural exchange of workers and managers, Lang said.
There’s also the gaming manufacturing business. The No. 1 user of green cards to get foreign workers is UNLV, but No. 2 is Konami Gaming based in Las Vegas, said Lang  “They get engineers, people with high-technology skills and other highly skilled workers from Asia.”
Official 2010 Census say there are about 30,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in Las Vegas, but unofficial estimates put the number at as many as 100,000.
Their presence is obvious in hospitals, schools, casinos, churches, shopping malls and groceries. They seem to be everywhere. On weekends, you’d think Seafood City, a popular grocery on Maryland Parkway, is a shopping center in Makati.
The influx of Filipinos have even forced the Clark County Department of Election to included Tagalog among the languages used for ballot and related election materials.
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates that if a minority group reaches 10,000 citizens who are not proficient in English – or those limited-English speakers become five percent of the citizen voting-age population – voting materials must be available in their language.
The determinations are made every ten years following the census. Data released last October revealed that Filipinos in the U.S. reached that threshold in four new jurisdictions, including Clark County, of which Las Vegas is located.
According to the 2010 Census, there are 98,351 Filipinos in Nevada, the largest  Asian population. Asian and Pacific Islanders total 195,436 or 7.2 percent of the state’s 2.7 million population.
But because most Filipino-Americans are fluent in English, however, there was not much use of the Tagalog ballots in the last general elections, according to Clark County election officials.
The Tagalog ballots are not expected to give Moss, Quilang and Tinio any edge against their opponents.
Quilang, who owns his own business, is in a crowded four- man Republican field in the June primary. The winner will face Democrat Justin Jones, the incumbent, in the general election in November.
“As a longtime resident of Las Vegas, I understand the unique circumstances that residents face everyday.  Although I am not a career politician, I am a husband, father and small business owner.,” said Quilang in a statement.
“Through personal and professional experiences these roles have heightened my awareness, understanding, compassion and self initiative,” said.
Tinio, a seniors advocate who heads the Adult Care Providers of Nevada, is also in a crowded race for a Nevada Assembly seat, with two other Democrats.
Up for grabs is a two-year term, with the winner in the Democratic primary facing unopposed Republican David Michael Gardner. The winner will serve the remaining two years of Andrew Martin’s term.
Although winning is not a certainty, the participation of Moss, Quilang and Tinio reflect a more visible role for Filipino-American in Nevada politics.
Judge Cedric Kerns, whose mother is Filipino, was the first Fil-Am to be elected in Nevada’s history when he won a seat as a municipal judge in 1997.
Moss said she’s proud that one of her relatives was one of the first Filipinos settlers in the valley,
A grandaunt was one of the first Filipino teachers in Las Vegas, and both of her parents were doctors. Rudy Oquendo, the granduncle was a deputy sheriff, who died in 1964.
 
  “The legend was that Uncle Rudy won a significant sum of monies in Keno and he donated a portion of it or half of it to a children’s home or orphanage,” said the 47-year-old Moss. ” Thus, Oquendo Road was named after him.”

Growing Pinoy clout in Las Vegas

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS  – On the southern end of Eastern Avenue, is a small street called Oquendo Road. It used to be longer and bigger that what it is now, but over the years, through constructions and other city improvements, it seems like it has shrank in value to this ever-growing city.

Although there is an east and west Oquendo Road, the original road is now only part of a parking lot at 5915 S. Eastern Ave.

The road is named after Rudy “Roque” Legaspi Oquendo, and according to the book “The Peoples of Las Vegas: One City, Many Faces” was one of the first Filipinos to settle in the valley.

He worked as deputy sheriff during the day and as a bartender at night. Legend has it that he won big in the game of Keno, and part of the winnings he donated to an orphanage.

Rudy Oquendo died at age 56 in 1964, the day after he became the full owner of the Copper Penny, a bar on East Fremont Street a few blocks from his home, according to the Review Journal, a Las Vegas newspaper.

He was traveling east on Fremont Street when he had an apparent heart attack and veered into a row of parked cars.

But if he did not live long enough and the road named after him did not fare well either, the Filipino community here had better luck and has mushroomed through the years, and is now considered a force economically and politically.

In fact, one of Oquendo’s close relatives, a grandniece, is one of two Filipino-Americans seeking elected office this year in a show of political muscle.

Cheryl Moss, whose grandmother was a sister of Oquendo’s, is running for  re-election to the Eighth Judicial District Court. She will face Travis Shetler in the general election on November 4, 2014.

“I’ve heard from my family that grand-uncle Rudy donated money to an orphanage,” says Moss. “I guess charity and public service is a tradition in our family.”

Another Filipino-American running for public office is Ron Quilang, who is seeking a Nevada State Senate seat representing District 9. He is running as a Republican.

Moss and Quilang are running on the strength of their personal accomplishments, but also on the support of a burgeoning Filipino community, which is the largest Asian group in Las Vegas.

The biggest group of immigrants coming to Nevada from outside the United States — both legally and illegally — are not Latino, according to Census Bureau data released last month.

Immigrants from Asian almost double the immigrants from Mexico and Central America, according to the Census Bureau’s County-to-County Migration Flows data based on its annual American Community Survey.

Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says there are a few major job magnets for Southern Nevada that pull employees from Asia.

One is health care. The Las Vegas area  is missing about a third of the health care workers it needs to support the population it has, so it draws heavily from overseas, especially from the Philippines, where it gets a lot of nurses, says Lang .

“The Philippines puts nurses through a serious science program,” he says.

Another is gaming. Singapore and Macau are undergoing major gaming expansion, and there are corporations connected to those areas and Las Vegas, so there is natural exchange of workers and managers, he says.

There’s also the gaming manufacturing business. The No. 1 user of green cards to get foreign workers is UNLV, but No. 2 is Konami Gaming based in Las Vegas, says Lang  They get engineers, people with high-technology skills and other highly skilled workers from Asia.

Official 2010 Census say there are about 30,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in Las Vegas, but unofficial estimates put the number at as many as 100,000.

Their presence is obvious in hospitals, schools, casinos, churches, shopping malls and groceries. They seem to be everywhere. On weekends, you’d think Seafood City, a popular grocery on Maryland Avenue, is a shopping center in Makati.

When Rhigel Tan, a professor at the University of Las Vegas, arrived here nearly 20 years ago, he says he could count on his fingers the places he could go to find something Filipino.

“There was just one Filipino store – at Sahara Boulevard,” says the 42-year-old nurse  “Nothing much else, particularly in terms of cultural or artistic pursuits.”

Now, there are clubs that cater to Filipinos, and at least two dance groups, including Tan’s Kalahi Folkloric Ensemble, perform regularly in both Filipino and mainstream American events.

Las Vegas attracts Filipinos for basically two reasons – its casinos and hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Casinos are always in demand of waiters and waitresses, bartenders, dealers, security guards, and hotel workers – and many Filipinos find jobs there.

Filipinos nurses staff many hospitals here. Of more than 1,000 employees of the St. Rose Dominican hospital, nearly 50 percent are Filipinos, many of them recruited from the Philippines several years ago.

Other health workers are found in dialysis centers, nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. Some are doctors and dentists.

Janet Aquino left Philadelphia with her three daughters more than 10 years ago to live with her parents here and start life anew.

“We love it here and my job is great,” says Aquino, who now has has her own place, and works at the DaVita Dialysis Center on Buffalo Avenue.

Rosendo Doctor, a former seaman, also works at the same dialysis unit and finds Las Vegas the ideal place to raise his young family.

Considered one of the top 10 retirement destinations of the United States, Las Vegas has become a draw for Filipino-American seniors.

Erlinda Coligan left San Diego, California, and decided to retire here after her husband died. She says she like the variety of activities the city offers and the relatively cheap rent, food, and recreational activities.

“I plan to spend six months here and six months in the Philippines,” says Coligan, who looks spritely at 64.

The influx of Filipinos have even forced the Clark County Department of Election to included Tagalog among the languages used for ballot and related election materials.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates that if a minority group reaches 10,000 citizens who are not proficient in English – or those limited-English speakers become five percent of the citizen voting-age population – voting materials must be available in their language.

The determinations are made every ten years following the census. Data released last October revealed that Filipinos in the U.S. reached that threshold in four new jurisdictions, including Clark County.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 98,351 Filipinos in Nevada, the largest  Asian population. Asian and Pacific Islanders total 195,436 or 7.2 percent of the state’s 2.7 million population.

Because most Filipino-Americans are proficient in English, however, there was not much use of the Tagalog ballots in the last general elections, says Clark County election officials.

The apathy for Tagalog ballots seems to reflect the Filipino-American disdain for political participation, and community leaders are trying – desperately – to change.

Judge Cedric Kerns, whose mother is Filipino, was the first Fil-Am to be elected in Nevada’s history when he won a seat as a municipal judge in 1997.

In 2000, Moss ran for the District Court for the first, and won with heavy support from the Filipino-American community. She ran and won again in 2002 and 2008.

She is running for a fourth term this year.

” The Filipino voters now feel they have a purpose for going to the polls,” says Moss.  “They feel they now have a say in government politics. They feel more confident as a growing powerful voting block to support candidates that would best represent their interests.” 

She says that Filipino-Americans have a better appreciation of the importance of voting, of participating and getting involved in politics, and are more confident in their decisions to enter political races.

Filipino-Americans have used the surge in numbers as a leverage to mainstream politicians to extract concessions for the community and have preached the value of increased voter registration.

Several groups have been active in registering voters, such the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association of Filipino-American Federations (NaFFAA) and POWER, the Filipino-American Political Organization With Equal Representation.!

“The Filipino population has changed a lot in 10 years,” says Amie Belmonte, the president of the group who has lived in Nevada since 1997.

“There has been tremendous growth. Before, Filipinos were concentrated in hospitality and hospital, health care industries, but now they are represented in every industry in Nevada, ” she says.