CSUF’s College of Communications Alumni Chapter and the Hispanic/Latino Alumni Chapter hosted the OC-NYC Alumni Event at the Golleher Alumni House to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, featuring Tony Ortega, editor in chief of Village Voice, a weekly newspaper based in New York.
Ortega was welcomed to CSUF from both alumni chapters and alumni guests not affiliated with the chapters; however, he was not welcome by protest organizer Phil Cenedella, activists from various anti-human trafficking organizations and students from Chapman University and CSUF.
The protesters say Ortega is affiliated with BackPage.com, which they say is being used for human trafficking, prostitution and child prostitution. BackPage.com is a free classified advertisement website owned by Village Voice Media, which also owns Village Voice and other media publications. BackPage ads can also be found on the front page of VillageVoice.com.
In September 2010, Village Voice Media was sued by a 15-year-old sex trafficking victim for allegedly abetting forced prostitution by failing to investigate prostitution ads on Backpage.com, according to a New York Daily News article in September 2010.
Cenedella, who is the executive director of Stop Slavery 2011, said, as a leader, Ortega should speak up.
“As a leader in the industry of the media it’s your role to report on what’s happening to child victims of human trafficking and to use your leadership roles to help us stop that,” said Cenedella, adding that he hopes the protest will push Ortega to do something.
He and his entourage of about 15 advocates started protesting across the street from the Goheller Alumni House an hour before the event started.
They shouted slogans like, “Stop human trafficking” and “No sex trafficking.”
“We are sick of it, we’re mad as hell and in a nice way, peacefully saying, it’s got to stop. We are just expressing our First Amendment rights on a California college campus,” Cenedella said. “This is the most important human rights issue in America today–the buying and selling of human beings against their will.”
Rocio Prado, a CSUF English major and vice president of the anti-human trafficking club on campus called Project P.A.T.H.E., said she is trying to raise awareness on both sex slavery and labor slavery.
Aimee Galicia Torres, 26, an advocate of Stop Slavery 2011 and member of a nonprofit organization called the Majestic Dreams Foundation, said Ortega is refusing to see how much damage the adult section of BackPage.com is doing.
“It (the adult section of BackPage.com) is a breeding ground for human trafficking because you have your adult sections where you’re promoting sex. You’re promoting human trafficking because everything is disguised,” said Galicia Torres.
On the other hand, Ortega defended the adult section of BackPage.com as free speech. Protesters said they didn’t agree.
“There’s nothing free about slavery, I mean, most of these people who are being sold in these websites–they’re underage, and they have no choice,” Galicia Torres said. “Providing an outlet where you can sell children to perverts is disgusting. That isn’t freedom of speech.”
The advocates of anti-slavery held signs that read, “Hey Ortega! Real men don’t buy girls” and “I am the key to free,” while protesting Ortega and the conglomerate which owns BackPage.com.
Lizeth Sebastian, 21, pioneer of the anti-human trafficking club at Chapman University called Set Captives Free, said many people are unaware that sex trafficking is happening in local areas.
Juana Zapata, from Faces of Slavery, said for the past three years her organization has been rescuing and protecting girls who have been victims of human trafficking and who were advertised on BackPage.com, averaging one girl every six weeks.
“We are a permanent residential place for them (the victims),” said Zapata, who was invited to the protest by Cenedella. “For us it’s very important that the public knows that this is actually happening right here; it’s not international. Students have to be fully aware what’s happening with their generation and they are the voice.”
The protest did not seem to influence the event taking place inside the Golleher Alumni House as the jazz and big band music blasted throughout the courtyard.
However, during his brief presentation Ortega did acknowledge the protesters as he heard Cenedella’s voice chanting “Stop human trafficking.”
“I love protests and I’m actually feeling kind of honored that they are protesting me even if they don’t really understand what is going on,” said Ortega. “But I am glad that you were able to get past the barricades and come to this wonderful party.”
Before the guests entered into the venue, they had a chance to take a ride in the “cash cab,” inspired by the TV game show called Cash Cab in New York. Parked right in front of the venue for each game, the energetic taxi driver asked each group of guests CSUF trivia questions. The easy questions were worth $1, increasing in difficulty and value with each question up to $10. Once the players collected the money earned, they were able to cash their winnings for CSUF gear.
To keep with the event’s New York theme, the courtyard was transformed into a “bar area” with black, clothed tables, dimly lit candles, Village Voice coasters and bar nuts for the guests to mingle and network with one another.
A projector also displayed Village Voice articles and cover pages against the wall for attendees to observe.
The indoor area was set up as an ultra chic lounge lined with low sofas, low, colored lights, a New York cityscape backdrop, a statue of liberty Tuffy and an open bar. The bar featured drinks such as a Manhattan Skyscraper, a cosmopolitan and an appletini for guests to enjoy. New York-style pizza, chicken tenders and salad were offered as the main course with pie and cheesecake for dessert.
During the event Ortega spoke about how he spent his week in California visiting CSUF and explained how the university helped set him on the right path for his future.
“I’ve been going to classes. I’ve been reunited with some of my old faculty, old professors. It’s just been a dream come true. This place really set me on the right path in my life. My professors were fantastic,” Ortega said. “CSUF did so much for me.”
Ortega was thanked and honored with a parting gift as a gesture of the chapters’ appreciation for his presence at the event.
Ashley Gonzalez, the president of the College of Communications Alumni Chapter, said her chapter is constantly trying to get alumni involved with CSUF.
“We are always changing and looking for new things to do and ways to get people back on campus,” said Gonzalez.
Dorissa Martinez, the president of the Hispanic/Latino Alumni Chapter and member of the Board of Directors for the Alumni Association, agrees with Gonzalez.
“We are just trying to get people back and connected to the university, especially the alumni who haven’t been connected for years,” said Martinez. “We’re just trying to give them a reason to come out.”
By the end of the event, Cenedella and other anti-human trafficking groups were absent from the surrounding areas of the Alumni House.