This is Coming Out of the Shadows Week and Drop the I-Word will bring you “I Am…” stories every day, in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Coming Out Week was born last year on March 10, when members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago stood up publicly as undocumented and, more importantly, unafraid; they called for others across the country to come out too.
The event signaled a powerful moment as hundreds responded with the same courageous and political act of disclosing their immigration status. It fueled a powerful year of creative and risky activism led by DREAMers nationwide, which culimated in the House’s historic passage of the DREAM Act and growing support for the bill in Washington. As Tania Unzueta explained it at last year’s rally:
Coming out means telling a friend, a loved one, a classmate, a teacher, something that otherwise you would have kept private. It is using our lives and stories as a political tool for change. For us, it is being undocumented and we are inspired by a legacy of other movements from past immigrant rights marches to civil rights, to gay liberation.
This year on March 10, more youth in Chicago emerged to tell their unique and powerful stories.
Drop the I-Word kicks off the week with a story from Andrea Rosales in Illinois, who explains how criminalizing language about immigrants has kept her from seeing her sick grandfather. She will graduate from college soon and has been pushing for the DREAM Act with the Immigrant Youth Justice League and La Colectiva in central Illinois. She has come out to her school’s president and helped orchestrate civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., last year that led to 21 DREAMers being arrested.
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 (NIYA) and the Immigrant Youth Justice League for connecting us with Rosales.
I Am…Ready to Come Out.
This past Saturday morning, my mother called me to ask me if I had heard the news. The first thought that selfishly crept into mind was, what now? I suppose I have become accustomed to hearing bad news. An uncle detained, an aunt cheated by an immigration lawyer, family in Mexico robbed by a local gang. I thought I had heard it all. “This past Thursday, your grandfather died as a result of an exploded kidney,” she said.
While a lump built in my throat as my heart beat faster and I grew increasingly infuriated, I had no words to say to my mother. At that moment, all I could say is, “Oh, okay.” You see, it has been 16 years since I last saw him. As I look at the only two blurry photographs that I have of him, I do not see somebody I recognize or remember. And the few stories I have heard of him probably do not do justice to him as a person, as a human being. I realized painfully that the borders that have physically divided my family for so long, have also divided us emotionally from one another.
This was a moment we had all been wary of and had been dreading for so long. Now that it has finally come, it seems as if we have become impervious to pain, to mourning, and to death itself. As a result, I feel restricted in the ways in which I, as my mother’s daughter, can help her heal and be strong. I used to think that by diving wholeheartedly into my studies, I would someday be able to repay her for all of her sacrifice and hard work. My academic success would mean she didn’t leave her family and life in Mexico in vain. Yet, at 22 years old and with a future obscurely lit by my perseverance, I’ve begun to rely significantly on the activism in which I have been involved since my sophomore year in high school. And while I am currently applying to grad schools, to pursue a doctorate in Ethnic Studies, I realize that as my college graduation approaches I grow more and more likely to decline acceptance.
This is just a glimpse at how the i-word has affected my everyday life. The i-word, and other anti- immigrant rhetoric, not only aims to make undocumented persons feel inferior it also is used to criminalize us and block progress toward humane immigration policies. It aims to break our spirits and to erect emotional, spiritual, and psychological barriers between us, in hopes of limiting us from freely articulating struggle or pain, and from subsequently demanding freedom and happiness. This is why it is important for all of us to speak up when we see and experience injustices, so as to put a stop to this cycle of hate once and for all.
Just one year ago, the Immigrant Youth Justice League kicked off the “Undocumented, Unafraid!” campaign that inspired beautiful youth nationwide to “come out” and share their stories, too. As undocumented immigrants, putting a name to the issue allowed for us to not only fight for our cause and empower others to do so, but also to use our voices to challenge ignorance and the demeaning rhetoric that is so prevalent in mainstream media and political debates. A year later, I am ready for more and more of us to take up the cause and fight. Even in spaces where we might label as “safe,” we see injustices continuing to occur. Chicago is no exception as we recently saw with the forced removal of Quelino Ojeda Jimenez. It may not be easy and, at times, we may feel discouraged, but I truly believe that together we can create change.
I am ready. Are you?