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Our Voices Will Not Be Drowned

by MARIELA MENDEZ

OCTOBER 11, 2018

For undocumented families like mine, ‘the american dream’ is simply that: a dream.

This dream inspired my family to leave their roots and home in Mexico for opportunities they would have never had if they stayed there. They knew about the risk, racism, second-class status and stigmatization by the media that undocumented immigrants faced in this country. But like many displaced people, they were willing to face these risks for even a remote opportunity at reaching their dreams of financial stability and peace

My families time here has been a story of shadows. With no avenue to fix our legal status, we’ve labored away at jobs that threaten us with deportation, hoping to be as invisible as possible from a government bent on blaming many of its problems on us. Despite all that, we’re living better than if we had stayed.

But these shadows have silenced me. For some odd reason, I felt that it was necessary to remain quiet and unseen from protests that involved controversy. I didn’t want to implicate or worry my family.

I still recall living in the shadows with fear, and uncertainty in my future. Despite knowing that the rhetoric and terms used to identify the undocumented community led to the unethical and inhumane treatment I experienced, I was okay with living in the shadows.

I worked outdoors under the hot sun in the agricultural fields, and I stood working long hours in packing houses to make a living.

In the fields, we didn’t have clean water. There were sparsely any restrooms, and we were often abandoned for hours on lone fields with no one to call in an emergency. In the packing houses, we were never notified in advance when we would work long shifts of over eight hours, and as a result we would be left with not enough packed food for us to eat. I accepted these conditions quietly.

The urgency to feel that it is necessary to remain quiet and to not have attention drawn to us for sake of our family is a feeling all too common amongst the undocumented community. However, this damning silence is something that I was able to break away from.

To me, the willingness to come out of the shadows came when I began college. I remember feeling the urgency to get involved in my community when I would see discrimination against undocumented students in public places.

I even reached a point when I considered myself no longer living in the shadows, but I was wrong.

On Tuesday, August 7, 2018, I attended the TRUTH Forum in Fresno, CA. These forums are legally required by a law known as the TRUTH Act in any situation where in the previous year, a law enforcement agency interacted with ICE. In this case, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors was required to hold a community forum to hold Sheriff Mims from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department accountable for working closely with ICE by allowing them access to individuals detained in the jails she runs.  If it would not have been for this event, I would not have realized that I was still living in the shadows.

At this public forum, anti-immigrant paid agitators made themselves known by yelling out racist and homophobic slurs at us, a group of local undocumented youth who helped organize the forum. To be clear: these were grown men yelling at children.

I realized then that the outspoken and brave attitude I prided myself on was gone. In the face of such hate, I felt like I was in the shadows once more. Once more, despite all the empowerment I had gained in school, I felt afraid again.

Rather than give into the fear, I realized that a few lone racists were nothing compared to the community power we brought out that day.  

Friends of mine took the stand during public comment and demanded that our county supervisors hold the sheriff, who was present, accountable. I realized that our voices cannot be drowned and that at every one of our forums, actions, rallies and marches we will always be the powerful majority.

This has since become my reason to ask all individuals who are living in the shadows to rise up in order to promote wellness and equality regardless of their legal status. We must stop living in the shadows! It is the first step we must take in order rise in our movement to produce change.

As a DACA recipient, I know that in order to start living out of shadows, I must not be afraid to stand up for what I believe in, and I must learn to be fearless. It is of vital importance for all who have immigrated to the U.S. with or without a current legal status to come out of the shadows in order to raise awareness and publicly advocate for themselves. To shift the narratives the government is trying to impose to the general public about us.

Our voices against these falsehoods are the strongest tool we have to create a movement for change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

MARIELA MENDEZ is a Cultivator of Change with CIYJA and is based in Fresno, CA. 

ABOUT OUR CONTENT:

We aim at becoming a platform for directly impacted immigrant youth across California to reclaim their narratives and speak on the issues that most affect them. If you’re interested in submitting an opinion piece or need support in turning your ideas into one, reach out to info@ciyja.org. and specify on the e-mail subject.

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