Nancy Meza was one of the first and most fierce supporters of the Drop the I-Word campaign. Her energy and dedication is always evident—she is, after all, a Southern California communications and media powerhouse! She’s not afraid to challenge anyone because she’s so grounded in a human rights perspective. She says:
“Having been called the i-word since I was a child in elementary school, and facing the realities of the hate that word enables as an adult, has made me stronger and passionate to fight for the rights of immigrants in this country. A basic right everyone holds, is to be recognized as a human being. I am a human being and will continue to fight for my right to exist.”
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 a Human Being and I Will Fight for My Right to Exist
My name is Nancy Meza and I am undocumented and unafraid. I came to the United States at the age of 2 and have lived in East Los Angeles ever since. I am one of six siblings, I have two older brothers and three younger brothers and I am the only sibling in my family that is undocumented. My mother came to the United States when she was young in search of work she found at a sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles.
After a raid in her workplace, my mother felt unsafe and returned to Jalisco, Mexico, where I was born. I spent the first two years of my life in Mexico, then one night I remember being woken by my mother, headed into a stranger’s car. At that moment I knew that I was leaving my home. Before I knew it, I was crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. My mother decided to come to the United States once again because she wanted us to have access to an education. In Mexico she had to pay for both of my older brothers’ schooling, which was extremely hard for her to do. She knew that if we came to the United States we would have access to education. I am now 24 years old, a recent graduate of UCLA and still remain undocumented.
When I was 7 years old, Proposition 187 was passed. I remember this proposition vividly since the climate leading to its passage prompted a lot of concern in my elementary school. I remember hearing my teachers talk about “asking their students for papers.” Often this statement provoked heated discussions, I finally figured out what this meant when one of the volunteer parents at the elementary school was talking about how she felt it was terrible to ask children for their green cards. Frustrated with not knowing what was going on and hearing “green card,” “social security number” and ” I don’t want to ask my students if they have papers” comments for weeks, I asked the volunteer parent why people were asking children for green cards—and what the hell were these green cards?
The volunteer parent looked at me and said, “They are trying to kick students who are not from here out of school because they don’t have papers.”
This statement—“they don’t have papers”—stuck with me, since I knew that I was one of those elementary school students without papers. That day I learned that being undocumented meant people thinking that you did not deserve any rights and that I was somehow to blame for what was going wrong. The reality and the weight of being undocumented was instilled in me as an elementary school child by the society that was attacking my very existence.
Now, as a young adult, my very being continues to be attacked by hate speech. As I consciously share my story and the complexities around migration into the United States and the difficult lives of immigrants, a segment of the population does not even attempt to understand what we go through. A simple and illogical “illegal is illegal” statement skirts a multilayered issue and the realities lived by millions of human beings. The i-word is the easy way out of a meaningful debate and an easy way to avoid the power of our personal testimonies.
Having been called the i-word since I was a child in elementary school, and facing the realities of the hate that word enables as an adult has made me stronger and passionate to fight for the rights of immigrants in this country. A basic right everyone holds is to be recognized as a human being. I am a human being and will continue to fight for my right to exist.