By Ramon Garibaldo-Valdez, United 4 the Dream
Last week, Charlotte hosted the Democratic National Convention which soon turned the city into a center of national debate. As law enforcement officials and filming crews arrived to Charlotte, men, women, and youth from all around the country took advantage of the limelight shed on the Queen City to dispel the shadows around them and make their stories heard. Despite the aura surrounding the DNC, these people made not a political statement but a human one. Their voices – all different and yet the same – resounded in streets, stages, and podiums around Charlotte, sending one clear and powerful message: “We are undocumented and unafraid.”
All throughout the events that surrounded the DNC and even during the DNC itself, the presence of undocumented immigrants was strongly felt. Rather than appearing as yet another political issue or demographic group, undocumented immigrants appeared as students, workers, and parents, letting their stories be known through their own words and deeds, showing that they were no longer comfortable with being considered “second-class citizens,” and demanding their human right to live free from persecution.
The activism of the immigrant community was kick-started with the arrival of the UndocuBus, a bus loaded with undocumented immigrants and allies from Arizona, that had been traveling for the past six weeks across the country to demand a greater respect for immigrants’ rights. Then there was the “March on Wall Street South,” a march across the city of Charlotte organized to demand a better use of public resources and to protest against the abuse of oppressed groups. During the march, the UndocuBus headed the “No Papers, No Fear” contingent which was characterized by its joy, color, and energy. Carrying beautifully-painted cardboard butterflies and singing bilingual chants, the “No Papers, No Fear” contingent injected a rhythm that spread around the march and made an impact on everyone who witnessed it.
History was made not only outside but also inside the DNC. Many political figures and celebrities such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez from Illinois and Cristina Saralegui made their case in favor of immigration reform and, for the first time in history, an undocumented immigrant had the opportunity to speak at a major party convention. Benita Veliz, a 27 year-old honor student and college graduate, was brought to the country when she was only 8 years-old, and, like many other in her condition, grew up seeing herself as an American.
In her speech she emphasized the importance that DREAMers make to American society and economy. While praising President Obama’s efforts to institute the Deferred Action policy, she also mentioned that young immigrants would continue fighting for a more inclusive reform. Although rather short, her speech marked a highlight in the history of immigrant activism since it let the American people know that undocumented immigrants were no longer relying on second-parties to make their case known and that they would work harder to change their communities for the better.
Most of the immigrant-based activities were aimed not only at transforming the view that the American public had of undocumented immigrants but also at creating a more inclusive conscience within the immigrants’ rights movement. Usually led by young, English-speaking activists, the civil disobedience activities during the DNC were mostly organized by middle-age, Spanish-speaking immigrants, most of whom were parents and, in a couple of cases, grandparents. The greatest example of this new conscience was the UndocuBus itself. The UndocuBus was in its majority made up of concerned parents who had joined their daughters and sons in their struggle for justice. This struggle led to the arrest of ten of them after they protested during the DNC. Among the arrested ones was the Unzueta-Carrazco family. Originally from Chicago, the Unzueta-Carrazco family followed the example of their young daughter Ireri and joined the UndocuBus in their tour around the country. Facing the risk of deportation, Ireri, her sister, and their two parents participated in civil disobedience demonstrations to show local authorities that they were no longer going to be held back by fear.
As Dreamer Alicia Torres explained on the last day of the DNC, “It is important to understand that those young people who are benefiting from deferred action are 1% of the immigrant movement. Our parents are the 99%.” Indeed, most of the activists who participated during last week’s actions made emphasis on their demand for a full, comprehensive immigration reform not only for students but also for those undocumented workers that make up the backbone of the American economy.
The new conscience of the immigration movement was celebrated on September the 6th with UndocuNation – an event organized to celebrate the efforts of activists and share the work of undocumented artists and allies. UndocuNation not only recognized the strength of all immigrants regardless of their age but also regardless of their gender and sexual orientation. The organizer of the event, Julio Salgado, himself a self-denominated “UndocuQueer” activist, as well as poet Yosimar Reyes and artist Favianna Rodriguez (right), reminded people through their work that the immigrants’ rights movement was another battle in the greater war for human equality and the construction of a completely inclusive society.
The DNC may have ended, but the fight for immigration reform is barely starting. Soon, Americans will have to choose between to seemingly-different government philosophies when they vote in November. Regardless of the result of the election, the undocumented community is prepared to fight against whatever may come, since fighting is what they know how to do best. Yes, there are great challenges that we still have to face. There are anti-immigrant laws waiting to be debated on and dozens of people still in the process of deportation. However, if last week has taught us something, it is that our perseverance can break all of the barriers that lay ahead.
Fear is no longer an option.