Last week Sonia Guinansaca traveled from New York to Washington D.C. to participate in a public art project that involved flying kites in the National Mall. Guinansaca, 23, was part of a group flying kites bearing their images to make a symbolic statement: “The desire for freedom and dignity is universal, and the natural human need to migrate can’t be suppressed.”

The group of young immigrants led by CultureStrike and artist Miguel Luciano celebrated when they saw their kites on the front page of the Washington Post. A large image of Guinansaca, who identifies as undocumented, was front, center and above the fold.

washpostheadline.png Everyone was excited until they read the headline: “Young illegal immigrants fly kites and dream of freedom.”

“The article was respectful and the cover photo was inspiring, but the i-word in the title took away from the beauty and humanizing aspect of the story,” said Mónica Novoa, campaign coordinator for “Drop the I-Word.”

Guinansaca says the excitement quickly turned in to sadness when she saw the headline. She writes in her open letter that even her 10-year-old brother noticed the i-word.

It’s important to note, Tara Bahrampour, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the story never used the i-word to identify anyone in her story. Neither did the caption of Guinansaca’s photo.

Guinansaca told her letter is directed to the editor because she believes the headline was written by someone above Bahrampour.

On Thursday Guinansaca published an open letter to the to the editor of the Washington Post to let him know how the i-word affected her growing up:

An excerpt of Guinansaca’s open letter to the editor of the Washington Post is below:

On Friday morning, my brother and I traveled from New York City to Washington D.C. to partake in the Dreamer Kite Project, a public art project that uses kites as a metaphor for flying and freedom. Along with several other undocumented young people and allies, we flew our kites by the National Monument. My brother and I both felt free. For him it was fun and reminded him that I, his undocumented sister, could fly my kite next to him without any judgment, without any fear, without being treated less than equal. The next day when we both saw my photo on the front page story about the Dreamer Kite Project we were both happy. However, as we read the headline, my little brother asked me “why did they use the I-word?”

If there’s anything you take away from my letter, please let it be this: No human being is illegal. The I-word has been used to fuel racism, hate crimes and bullying. Young children are being impacted negatively by the I-word: children like my brother, children who grow up into undocumented adults and continue to fight for immigration reform like me. By using the I-word, one should take responsibility that their words serve to dehumanize entire communities. When using the I-word, one should take responsibility that words have real and ugly consequences on the fates of real human beings.

My ten-year-old brother is learning that undocumented people like his sister are not being portrayed as human beings. He knows firsthand the injustice that comes with the word “illegal.” He knows that his own humanity is being questioned when someone so close to him is categorized as “illegal.” I know firsthand the injustice, inaccuracy and pain that comes with being called “illegal”. When I was a teenager, I suffered from depression and suicide. I saw how the I-word was being used and it destroyed me.

My brother, who knows all this, held my hand tightly when he saw the article’s headline and assured me again that I am a human being. Can you please explain to my little brother why you continue to use the I-word?

“Sonia G is an artist and activist who’s been advocating against the i-word for years, this is a powerful open letter that I hope the Post will respond to. Bravo, Sonia,” Novoa said about Guinansaca’s open letter.

Visit the New York State Youth Leadership Council’s website to read Guinansaca’s full letter.

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