[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]
Immigrant Youth Justice League
On March 10th, 2011 nine undocumented youth and one ally, representing organizations from across the Chicago area, came out in support of undocumented youth and told their stories in front of a crowd of hundreds. Coming out as undocumented is not an easy thing to do, especially when you grow up keeping quiet about your status to avoid deportation and separation from your family. But no one will know our stories unless we tell them and make people listen.
In a time when undocumented immigrants are being persecuted and deported in record numbers and nowhere seems safe, some of us have decided to come out publicly in order to fight for our rights as members of the community and the country. I don’t mean to say that this strategy works for everyone, or that is it the only one. But for me, it has been the most effective one to connect to other undocumented youth and organize to begin to change the stigmatization and stereotyping around what it means to be an immigrant and what it means to be undocumented. After all, we are human too, and our identities, desires, and experiences are as complex and nuanced as anyone else’s.
On March 10th, as each person told their story, parts of my story and parts of the stories of other undocumented youth and allies were reflected in the words of the nine people standing on the stage. We are undocumented. We are unafraid to say so and take action. Our allies are unafraid to stand with us and openly support the work we do together. And we are unapologetic about staying in this country, our home, without documents. We also refuse to apologize for the fact that we and our parents want better lives for each other and for our communities. We have a voice and we intend to use it to create both legislative and ideological changes around the issue of immigration. We are creating and strengthening an undocumented youth-led movement and creating a society that respects and cares for all its members.
The following stories are speeches made by two undocumented members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League for National Coming Out of the Shadows Week on March 10, 2011. To listen to all the Coming Out stories from March 10 for this and last year, please visit http://www.iyjl.org. The website also provides resources for undocumented students, information on the national undocumented youth–led movement, information on the DREAM Act as well as state initiatives we are currently supporting.
It took me a long time to wake up. I’m undocumented, born in Kuwait, of Palestinian origins. My parents brought us here on a visa to escape poverty. When our visa expired, so did our opportunities and rights as people, as humans. But I spent years in denial, keeping my head down whenever I was told I don’t belong here, that my parents are criminals, lawbreakers, taking advantage of the system. I was ashamed.
I lived with a constant cloud of fear hung over my head. It took me a long time to wake up.
And I didn’t wake when I realized that years of hard work will be going to waste, like the times when I would stay up till past midnight as a child waiting for my dad to come home exhausted from a 12-hour shift to help me with my homework or when I was offered then denied a job because of my status for the first time, or the second time, or the third time. It didn’t hit because it’s easier to live in denial, easier to not get up in the morning, to stay under the covers hiding my tears in shame from the world, easier to pretend everything is OK, that someone else will fix it for me.
No, I had to go all the way to Phoenix where a group of undocumented youth slept outside in protest near a senator’s office, on a street corner, in the open where anyone could’ve hurt them.
I couldn’t understand it. It was mindblowing. How could they put themselves at risk for detention and deportation like that? How could they risk being separated from their families, friends, and country? And how can I expect others to sacrifice for me while I sit and do nothing? That’s when I woke up, and realized that I am a human. I had to confront myself and my fears before I knew what I had to do.
I will no longer live like this. I will not allow anyone to be ashamed. There is no shame in tears, no shame in dignity, no shame in pride. I with my head raised high can finally look at my parents in the eyes and tell them I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you.
I stand today putting my whole life on display to tell you enough waiting, hesitating and procrastinating. We all need to wake up now. We are a country of proud immigrants, and we will not bow down to bigotry and hate. We are above it. I’m not scared; I’m not sorry, not ashamed. A number will not define me because I have a name. My name is Alaa and I am undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.
My name is Lulú and I’m undocumented.
Last week I spoke to four undocumented high school students. Unlike other speaking opportunities I’ve had, this was the first time I was able talk one-on-one with youth who were exactly where I was two years ago. I was asked a question I had asked myself countless nights. “Do you ever think it’s not worth it?” As I looked back at her I saw the disappointment that came after the DREAM Act failed in the Senate. I saw years of hard work, fear and uncertainty. I saw hope. I saw my friends, my brother, I saw myself.
Eighteen years ago my parents immigrated to this country. They left their family and the lives they had built in Mexico. They took a leap of faith in hopes of raising their children in a land of opportunity.
Last year I was one of 20 undocumented students who staged a civil disobedience that resulted with arrest and a risk of deportation. The night before I had a conversation with my parents and brother and I struggled to convince my mom not to worry. But I knew there was a chance I would not be coming home. I knew there was a chance I might not be there to hug and kiss my little brother after he graduated from high school. I knew that this risk I was taking might determine the next ten years of my life in an unfamiliar country.
I am standing here today because one year ago when my friends came out of the shadows on this stage I was still waiting. I was still afraid, afraid that graduating from college would be an impossible task, afraid that coming out and risking our future in this country would not be enough, afraid that the lives my parents had left behind would be in vain.
I am standing here today because I want to tell that scared girl who did not know what would come next after high school that she is worth it. That the sacrifices she and her parents made are worth it. That the fact that she is now standing on this stage is a sign that a future without fear is possible. I am standing here right now because I want to tell those four girls that they can be up here too, that they are the reasons why I am up here.
My name is Lulú, I’m undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.