Guest contributions by Jennifer Patino & Luz Chavez.
When a person is not able to be honest about who they are out of fear, they can become invisible, suffering in silence. When one of them finds the courage to come out into the light, it is difficult to ignore their scars; when they lift their voices together, it is impossible to ignore.
This Saturday, at Daley Plaza, several young people came forth to tell their stories at the third annual Undocumented, Unafraid, & Unapologetic rally.
The crowd was young. Teachers Debra Hawes, Brenda Price and Faith Pledger brought students from Morgan Park High School to the rally. Performances included a traditional Samul Nori drumming dance, a performance poet, and a “flash mob.” Activist groups like the ICIRR,Generation L, & Occupy el Barrio were in attendance. Chicago’s usual activist players were there: feminist professors, black-clad anarchists, aging hippies, and occupiers. It was primarily a gathering of allies without many spectators.
It is unfortunate that there weren’t opponents present. It would have been hard for them to look these people in the eye and tell them they should be sent away as criminals after hearing their words. As they spoke, a young mother beside me wept silently; even we steely-eyed Gozamos reporters could not stop our tears as they spoke of the hardships of living in hiding- unable to travel or work freely, knowing that at any time they could be arrested and separated from loved ones and the life they’ve always known.
But even if you can harden your heart, their stories still illustrate a system that is extremely flawed, in which people who are well trained and ready to enter the work force (and pay taxes) are unable to contribute to the economy; law enforcement simply will not devote the resources to expelling them, yet the legal system is not working to make citizens of them. They are stuck in limbo.
Manual Cordova’s mother fled to the United States to escape an abusive husband, “she could not hide the bruises all over her face…she could not take it anymore.” He first felt the personal implications of being undocumented when he was pulled over driving his girlfriend to school, and since then does not drive out of fear. He “came out” as an undocumented immigrant after witnessing a protest at UIC: “all my life I had been told to hide my status and to be ashamed of myself. Instead these students were willing to sacrifice everything so that students like me could have a future.” He says he will never stop fighting. He wants to become a doctor.
David Martinez is a proud army veteran whose parents and wife, Fanny Lopez Martinez, are undocumented. “During the ten months that I was gone [serving in Afghanistan], my country deported three hundred thousand human beings….to think that the country I fought overseas for could also take my wife while I was gone, is ridiculous…my wife shouldn’t have to worry about being deported before I get home- if I get home.” The couple say that they are afraid to start a family, and Fanny does not want to break the law to work even though she is highly educated and independent. They have worked with the government to try to get Fanny citizenship, but they are continually put off. Fanny says that “as a loving wife, I gave a service to this country, through each phone call, text message, and letter. [Providing] my soldier with the love and support he needed. Now that he’s home, I feel like the least I deserve is to live with him without fear.”
Jocelyn recalls crossing the desert at 11: “as I hid, I saw a mother being taken away from her kid by an officer. I remember her screams, crying out to her son, holding onto that little boy’s hand so tight….” She describes struggling to learn English as a child, resenting her parents for bringing her here, but says now she understands that they wanted to give her a better life, and is a college student working on a degree in psychology.
Hugo Dominguez, like the majority of undocumented immigrants, came to the U.S. legally on a visa as a child and simply overstayed it. At school, he was given a Spanish-language book to read in the corner of the classroom while the other children participated in class. Like others, he was arrested while driving but was not deported. He works two jobs and is trying to get a college scholarship.
Jose Alberto Martinez, a graduate of Whitney Young H.S., dreams of becoming a scientific researcher. He graduated Whitney Young where he was afraid to travel with his Academic Decathalon team.
Alaa Mukahhal, a citizen of Kuwait who wears the hajib & blue jeans as she pumps up the crowd behind a bullhorn, told me she came out as undocumented in October 2010 at a candidate’s forum. When I asked her how legal citizens like me could help undocumented Americans like her, she said it’s not so much helping as working together towards a common goal.