Young Undocumented Activists Stand Up for Their Parents’ Dreams

When it comes to the DREAM Act, it's been far too easy for some politicians to play the parent blame game. But activists refuse to throw their parents under the bus. We talked to both young people and their parents about their visions of justice.

By Mu00f3nica Novoa Apr 05, 2012

Recently, young people across the country took part in Coming Out of the Shadows events across the country, publicly sharing their undocumented status, many for the first time. I was so impressed and moved by the love and praise people expressed for their parents at the New York State Youth Leadership Council’s (NYSYLC) Coming Out event. The idea that people are defending their parents is important because many politicians and high-profile DREAM Act supporters have played the parent blame game.

Ireri and her sister Tania are co-founders of Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) whose members hosted the first ever Coming Out of the Shadows event three years ago. I talked to their mother Rosi, and to Ireri to learn more about this blame language and their own experiences.

Have you seen a difference recently in how young people that advocate for the DREAM Act talk about their parents? Is it correct to say there’s been a shift from blaming parents to praising them?

Rosi: The majority of parents I’ve talked to fully support the struggle their kids have taken on. This is a contextual frame that the Democratic Party used, particularly to pass the Dream Act. I always heard young people say, "it’s not our parents’ fault, we love our parents." I think the democrats use it to create an argument, but I never heard any of the young people outside of the official discourse say, "we blame our parents." We brought them so that they would have a better future. That better future has to do with the education they are fighting for. 

There isn’t a single parent that I talked to that was not in favor of the DREAM act. We continue to believe in making our dream a reality; as parents our dream is for our kids to have a better future. I say that not just personally, but because I talked to many parents whose kids have participated in actions and in this fight. This didn’t divide us as a family or community, we love each other and support one another.

Ireri: I agree with my mom. Since we’ve made our status known publicly, I don’t think I ever heard any of my friends in the struggle blame their parents. This is language that the Democratic Party has used. What I do think happened is that we did not talk much about our parents. I remember having a conversation about keeping talk of our parents out of the spotlight because we wanted to protect them. 

When we felt that politicians were attacking our parents, then we started making a conscious effort to say we don’t blame our parents. We’re never going to do that, and we’ve never done it because we love them very much and we understand the reasons why we had to come to the United States. We know they had to make difficult decisions for us to come here. What you’re probably hearing more of is that more young people are saying, it’s not our parents’ fault, and in the past we didn’t say it, but I also don’t recall anyone saying that it was their parent’s fault they were here. There’s a distinction to be made. We are making that distinction to defend the love we have for our parents.

How have your parents inspired you?

Ireri: Since I was a little girl I remember my parents caring about justice and being involved. They took us with them to meetings and marches. And, my mother always said what she was thinking; I always had a role model.

There’s something else I’ve learned from my parents. They treat all people with respect and try to help not only by sharing their resources, but importantly, they have shown people how to be resourceful on their own. In her work, my mom shows people how to defend themselves, and my dad does the same as related to workers’ rights. I see that everyday and it inspires me to keep working. And knowing they are here and support me with whatever I decide to do with my life, is something I value and something for which I also love them very much.

What has your experience been like supporting your kids?

Rosi: We worry about the safety of our kids. It’s difficult to be in this country without papers, and not having the opportunity to do so many things at a time when young people have so many dreams, wishes and aspirations. And to see that they can’t do many things because of their immigration status is difficult. We see all of that and we see that they are fighting for something. When they decided that there needs to be bolder expression, that they will say their names publicly and that they are undocumented while taking part in actions of civil disobedience, the first thing we think of is their safety, physically, and their overall wellbeing as human beings.

When my daughter told me she decided to participate in an action where she’d be detained by immigration authorities, I said, "why you? Why don’t you let the citizens do it, they are not risking deportation." She told me something I’ll never forget, she said, "Look mom, anywhere I go, I run the risk. If I’m traveling, if I’m working, anywhere I go, I run the risk that immigration will come and detain me and try to deport me. I prefer to fight. If I am going to risk being deported anyway, I’d rather take that risk fighting." 

Our role as parents is to fully support the movement of our children. And it’s been hard to see our kids suffer at times, no parent wants to see that, but I feel satisfaction and pride that they are fighting in this movement and that they have used all types of media to show this country how unjust it can be, and that things have to change.

In this country we have the benefit of the ongoing example of the Civil Rights movement led by African Americans. Many of us coming from different parts of the world have also been part of or informed by other movements that have shaped us. Do you have any of those experiences to share?

We believe fundamentally in justice. We were always supportive of rights for indigenous people, women and workers. We observed the Mexican government under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, el PRI, (The Institutional Revolutionary Party), with great sadness. In Mexico, the PRI ruled for 71 years in Mexico. Where we come from, there were communities where people didn’t have anything to eat at times. We saw that indigenous populations, poor people and workers were living under very difficult conditions. In the struggle against injustices there, we never imagined that we’d come to this country also to struggle against injustices, here.

We’ve now learned from our daughters about gay rights too. We’re not only in support of the movement for legalization, but also for workers’ rights, gay rights and the rights in all of the sectors that are unprotected. People have the right to live with dignity wherever they may be. There has to be justice and legalization like we talked about, but even then we will have to continue fighting for workers’ rights and against racism. While society continues to be guided by the market and monied interests, inequities will exist and the struggle will continue.