I wrote this in 2011, and shared internally, but never published. As I’m really pushing myself to seek honesty & vulnerability through my words, it’s weird & interesting to see where my thinking has evolved & where I’ve been complacent. Hopefully soon, I’ll be working through how I now feel about each of the things below. Anyhoo, just so it exists somewhere:
*Our fundamental belief is that we are Undocumented, Unafraid,
Unashamed and Unapologetic.
In order to answer this, we must first examine the identities we
consciously choose not to identify with. Why not “illegal” or “illegal
alien?” The term illegal alien creates an “us vs. them” narrative that
is used to associate us with positive-negative binaries: we are good
and they are bad, we are human and they are alien, we are white and
they are of color, or we are normal and they are foreign. To be an
alien is to not be human, and to deprive us of our humanity is to rob
us of our fundamental existence and deny us our agency.
The term “illegal alien” is one of the most powerful tools of
anti-immigrants, and we refuse to continue to be perpetuators of our
own oppression by identifying as such. Thus the first step in
repairing this damage is to insist on dropping the I-word, as many of
our youth have done. As we dissolve our ties to the term “illegal,”
our voices emerge and allow us to reconstruct a new narrative of “us”
– a collective, undocumented-owned and –led identity.
Why not “dreamer?” While we do not reject nor disrespect the term
dreamer, we feel that we, as undocumented youth, are more than
legislation. While our identity is one closely tied to hopes of
passage of the DREAM Act, we hesitate to so strongly tie our struggle
for one piece of paper to our work for passage of another piece of
paper. In an effort to remain as inclusive as possible, we recognize
that not all undocumented youth meet the eligibility requirements of
the DREAM Act, and to build an collective identity solely around that term
would be a great disservice.
The words “I Am Undocumented” are a powerful declaration of identity,
representing the ability to self-identify rather than continuing to
accept identities created for us by others who do not live our daily
To be undocumented and unafraid does not mean you are never afraid. To
be unafraid is to have the courage to work through our fears and our
weaknesses and thus emerge stronger, not to simply “rise above” our
fear and pledge to deal with it another day.
Confronting our fears – ICE, deportation, detention, financial
insufficiency, lack of access to education – is not an easy task, but
until these fears are identified and faced, they will continue to hold
ourselves and our community hostage, making us partake in our own
oppression. Our greatest threat as undocumented people is not ICE or
Secure Communities or being detained; it is our fear that grips us
hostage, fear that we will not survive against any challenges that are
thrown at us.
We are too familiar with “living life in the shadows,” shrouded in
secrecy. We are taught from a young age that our lack of status is
something to hide behind, something that makes us not worthy. It is
time to shed the shame and the blame, for we are not undocumented by
choice or lack of willpower. This is not to be confused with having
pride in being undocumented, but rather creating the opportunity to
rectify that huge portion of our identity that our status holds.
We seek to remove the stigma around being undocumented, especially
that which has been internalized within our own communities, because
we are more than our immigration status. It is about being unashamed
of and having pride in our identity – as humans, immigrants, mothers,
fathers, sisters, brothers, LGBTQ, organizers and friends, not our
In our quest to shift our advocacy and rhetoric towards one
encompassing of being undocumented, unafraid and unashamed, we have
been challenged, mocked and criticized repeatedly.
We remain unapologetic in our demand that those affected be at the
forefront of our work, that their voices be heard, their opinions
respected, and decisions about their future entrusted to their hands,
and their hands only. We push everyone involved, whether undocumented
or an ally, to frequently check the privilege they have within their
experiences and relative to others in the community.
Having privilege is not necessarily bad, as we are all privileged in
some relative sense. Refusing to truly acknowledge your privilege and
its effects on your actions, words, and perspective within this
movement only serves to disempower others, whether you realize it or
Why come out?
Coming out as undocumented is an ongoing process, a spectrum that can
range from telling only your best friend to sharing your story and
status in front of a crowd of 3,000 people or on a news broadcast that
reaches tens of thousands. Every single coming out act, no matter how
big or small, dramatic or simple, is equally important.
Choosing to come out publicly is not about politicians or about
boosting the egos of the specific people who choose to do so. The
message of coming out is not to urge all undocumented youth to reveal
their status to every person and police officer they come in contact
with, nor is it to imply that any youth must go as far as to risk
arrest to seek validation from this movement. Choosing to come out as
undocumented is not for the sake of public consumption or acceptance.
By coming out as undocumented, whether privately or publicly, you
shape, build and create your own narrative and your experiences being
undocumented. You put a face, a voice and a story to the word
undocumented. Doing so is an act of defiance, a crack in the façade of
those who choose to label you an “illegal alien,” for whoever has now
heard your story will think of you and know there is no such thing.
Perhaps you give another youth whose story resembles yours hope – not
hope to become an organizer overnight or to risk arrest immediately –
but simply hope to exist without self-hatred, hope to face the next
day knowing that they are not struggling alone.
We feel that escalation and methods of non-violent direct action are
one of the effective ways that undocumented youth can amplify their
diverse voices and experiences, while forcing the general public to
acknowledge that which the administration and ICE officials try to
keep hidden. Lobbying, while useful and necessary in advocating for
passage of legislation, can only go so far in serving the empowerment
of youth. Undocumented immigrants have become the proverbial Tiny Tim,
tiptoeing up to Congress holding an empty bowl marked “Freedom” and
asking, “Please, Senator, could I have some more?”
Our message to undocumented youth is that they are worthy, worthy of
freedom, dignity, and justice – things no one should ever have to beg
and grovel for. We are unapologetic in our refusal to be used as
political pawns or tokens of diversity, only to be discarded when the
next hearing or election cycle ends.
In terms of patterns that have emerged in our actions, those patterns
are exactly the point we are trying to make! In every action that has
resulted in arrests, undocumented youth are taken to jail and end up
being released soon after because ICE refuses to get involved. They
refuse to get involved once we shine a bright light on their
activities, and they choose to do their damage when people are
defenseless and alone. Why do you think ICE raids happen in the dark
of the night or the crack of dawn?
What are the critical takeaways of these escalations?
1. Being out about being undocumented (publicly or privately within
the movement), though we have been programmed to think otherwise, is
useful and beneficial for your protection. It gives you a support
network in the event that something ever happens to you.
2. They highlight the hypocrisy of ICE/DHS operations, who
specifically target those who live in fear and lack a community to
fall back on for support. The administration would have us believe
that they are not targeting youth for deportation, yet if this were
true, END cases (for youth) would become obsolete.
Coming out and acts of civil disobedience serve to empower
undocumented youth for their own protection and to highlight the
blatant injustices committed by ICE on a daily basis.
It is imperative that we dig deeper than politics, legislation or
economics. Our fight is about our lives, about survival in the
simplest sense of the word. About reversing the psychological and
internal damage that has been done to the undocumented community.
About eradicating the self-hate in immigrant children, documented or
undocumented, and reminding them they are worthy of a home, of their
humanity. About repairing the rift between undocumented youth who are
taught to blame their parents and the parents who would sacrifice
themselves for the betterment of their children again and again.
Again, there is a difference between building a movement and running
consecutive campaigns. While we do not underestimate the need for the
latter, we focus our efforts on the former, for our freedom must start
from within. We do not seek validation or agreement, but respect. We
cannot and do not purport to speak for all undocumented youth and
their experiences, but we wish to create spaces that are open and
supportive for those who choose a multi-faceted, collective approach
to our struggles.
If any of the above makes us radical, then so it shall be, for we will
no longer be apologetic of nor defend the ways in which we seek our