Drop the I-Word is featuring “I Am…” stories every day this week in honor of Coming Out of the Shadows Week and in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. We are ending the week where we began, with a story from Chicago. David came to the United States when he was just one year old. As an organizer and co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, he came out as undocumented last year on March 10. David will graduate from college in May. While he and many other undocumented students across the country confront uncertainty this spring, they continue to build a movement and to inspire our nation by taking large risks, unapologeticaly and with dignity.
David sums up the spirit of this week: “I am no longer afraid to defend my dignity. This year I continue to do so without apologies. By coming out we’re taking a hammer to the wall of ignorance that is confining us to the shadows.”
For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and the Immigrant Youth Justice League for connecting us with David.
I Am Defending My Dignity
A younger version of myself waits for the bus after school. My friend starts to tell me some of the jokes about “illegals” he knows. I look visibly uncomfortable and he acknowledges it: “You shouldn’t take it personally” he says with a smirk, “I mean, unless you’re ‘illegal.’ ” I freeze and then fumble to change the subject. His reasoning is perfectly sound. Why would I be offended unless I was “illegal”? I take the bus home thinking what a close call that was, and I start to plan how I’ll make it so that this never happens again.
I become super-conscious of the potential trajectory of conversations. I try to avoid anything that can lead to someone asking me about my status, and in my mind everything leads there. “Illegal is illegal” is straightforward logic to a kid, and at 12 it had paralyzed me. It held me back and kept me isolated from others. Yes, I’ve done all the work and I want to go on our school trip, but “illegal is illegal.” Yes, I’m a high achieving student and I want to go to a good school, but “illegal is illegal.” My parents have sacrificed everything for me and I love them and I want to love them, but “illegal is illegal.” That word was the afterthought of everything that I did, and it degraded anything positive in my life.
The i-word created a wall between my human dignity and myself. The criminalizing language didn’t respect me and didn’t allow me to respect myself. Last year on March 10, those of us forced to sit in the shadow of that wall of disrespect stood up and confronted the slur. Along with immigrant youth across the nation, led by the Immigrant Youth Justice League, I declared that I am undocumented, and I am no longer afraid to defend my dignity. This year I continue to do so without apologies. By coming out, we’re taking a hammer to the wall of ignorance that is confining us to the shadows. We’re changing the popular narrative surrounding undocumented immigrants, and today as “illegal is illegal” fuels SB 1070 copy cat laws in more than a dozen states, it is more important for us to be out.
You can help by making where you live a safer place for us to live with dignity. Help us make America a safer place for immigrant youth to share our stories. Help us Drop the I-Word. Sign the pledge today.