Undocumented Americans Go from Voiceless to Fearless
Being undocumented is the cool new struggle of our day. Besides not being able to drive or work legally and stuff, being undocumented is “the new black,” if you will. Others might say differently, but trust me—I’m undocumented.
Because of that, I was very vocal about this past presidential election. I couldn’t vote, but that didn’t stop me from harassing my Facebook friends to vote for Obama. I knew that my well-being was very closely tied to the results of the election.
But Obama has been slacking himself. In his first term alone, he deported 1.4 million immigrants, compared to the 1.6 million Bush deported in his two terms combined, all while posing with a DREAMer and promising reform.
So what happens when officials fail to represent us? This is nothing new to undocumentation. For me, and I assume for the 1.2 million other undocumented youth in the United States, being undocumented means wanting very badly to be American, not being allowed to be American, resenting Americans for a bit, then working really hard to prove ourselves to be the very best Americans. So when we were ignored, we did what Americans did best: We got in people’s faces about it.
The undocumented movement began with thousands of youth “coming out of the undocu-closet.” Such an act was previously tabooed because it was considered a direct pipeline to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. But as more individuals got fed up of living in the shadows, we began telling our stories and found that instead it brought us solidarity and protection in masses. We became undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.
Like any group of people who are past reservations, these narratives spurred a hip new subculture. When I found out I was undocumented in high school, I got depressed. But one night I found “Undocumented and Awkward” on YouTube, a web series that documents the uncomfortable everyday situations faced by undocumented people. It was painfully funny. Soon after, I found a support group in the Student Immigrant Movement, young people who fought deportations, protested anti-immigrant bills, made fun of Americans and used “undocu” to preface everything. I found undocuartists, undocupoets and undocuorganizers. It was undocu-awesome.
The boldness of this movement has also changed the way Americans view immigrants. The “Drop the ‘I’ Word” campaign led by social justice news magazine Colorlines.com was instrumental in curbing the use of the dehumanizing term “illegal” on people who had no criminal record. Since then, major news sources have adopted the change. Even in the recent hearings for immigration reform, Republican John Conyers began with the disclaimer that the group should be referred to as “out of status” or “new Americans,” a good indicator that old Americans were finally taking notice.
Similarly, in June of 2012 undocuqueer journalist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote TIME Magazine cover story “We Are Americans, Just Not Legally.” The article featured the faces, names and stories of undocumented Americans telling of their experiences with the American dream. Less than a year later, this once invisible group was up for TIME’s Person of the Year. Slowly, culture is catching up with this fearless movement.
But not everyone is down. Parents especially were cautious about putting their families in danger. My own parents didn’t understand why I had to tell anyone about what they considered family business. But what are we to do? Wait for Congress to get over their differences and draft comprehensive reform? We were born outside the United States, but we picked up an American mentality; we want our justice and we want it now. In the status quo, we can’t go to school, we can’t get quality jobs and we are living in fear. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Alas, progress is always slow to arrive. I lucked out. I am in college because bold undocumented Whitties before me fought for me to be here. But my mind often returns to the bright kids back home who are told to aim for community college because they will not be able to get aid for school, the ones who haven’t seen their parents for years because they were deported, the ones who work under the table with fake IDs so they can support their families. As a group that’s already used to being ignored, undocuyouths have little to lose. We have made ourselves vulnerable to the American people. Hopefully they’ll catch the hint and soon we’ll be documented. But I doubt that will take away our status as fearless Undocumericans.
Filed under: Opinion