Originally from Ecuador (and Harlem), Sonia studies Africana Puerto Rican Latino Studies and Women Studies at CUNY’s Hunter College. She also sits on the board of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, where she handles media, art and expression. Sonia inspires leadership in everyone around her, and always speaks her truth. We are grateful to Sonia and all of our friends who continue to share with us from a very deep place:
“When I say I am undocumented, I own my liberation, I own my humanity, and the power I have … I stand with youth who are marginalized out as not fitting what the ‘American Dream’ looks like. I stand with my brothers and sisters who organize 24/7 with no pay…. I stand with my mother and father because they are not the reason that I am undocumented.”
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 allies and campaign partners.
I am undocumented. I own my humanity and power
Many times, when I am asked who I am, I respond with “I am undocumented.” I haven’t always identified as undocumented.
When I was little my parents left me in the care of my grandparents, they migrated to the United States. I was too little to understand why my parents were not there to share birthdays with me, did not understand why they were not there walking me to school. I did not understand why phone calls where the vehicle in which my parents were able to express their love for me. Calling card after calling card, I asked them when will I be with them.
No one actually prefers to risk their life crossing the border, leaving behind memories and childhoods, leaving behind their mothers and fathers and leaving behind their children. No one comes to this country because they want to be exploited, and treated less than human. No one migrates to this country and wants to identify as “illegal”. Their decision is not done out of thin air, there have been structures and policies that have pushed many to migrate (NAFTA, Bracero Program, Imperialism, privatization). My parents migrated to the United States because they wanted a better life for their children.
My mom worked in factories, and my dad worked as a cook. They paid taxes (still do), hired lawyers, paid fines, got robbed by lawyers. But most of all, they lost many nights of tucking me to bed, many nights of reading me books, and combing my hair and seeing me walk for the first time. They sacrificed those nights for a better future for me. They are not illegals, they are my parents. They are strong courageous and admirable.
I remember the time I was reunited with my parents; I was about 5 years old. I arrived in Harlem. They pushed me to be the best I can be; making sure education was a priority, motivating me to always be honor roll. And that is what I did, I excelled in school. I hoped time would soften the difference between others and me. I always knew that I was undocumented, but I trusted there was a fair system that would fix that up. My dad promised me my status would soon change, lawyers promised him that too. But no results. I knew my undocumented status put me on a different path than those friends I hung out with. There would be no Cornell University, no going away, no trips abroad, no teaching, no career, no fraternities, and no peaceful nights that did not consist of thinking of “deportation” or “illegal”.
I am undocumented. I do not speak on behalf of undocumented youth across the country. I speak of my experience, a similar experience shared across states. When I say I am undocumented, I own my liberation, I own my humanity and the power I have. I stand with the undocumented youth across the states because we are beautiful amazing leaders. I am not the “model dreamer.” I am undocumented. I stand with youth that are not high honor roll in Harvard. I stand with youth who are marginalized out as not fitting what the “American Dream” looks like. I stand with my brothers and sisters who organize 24/7 with no pay, who are about community and not politicians. I stand with my mother and father because they are not the reason that I am undocumented. They and I are not “illegals”. I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.