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Yesterday I Waited for Change, Today I Am the Change! A Walk Across America

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Two years after my mother passed away, muralist, teacher, activist and mentor to a lot of youth in my community of Pilsen in Chicago, Francisco G. Mendoza, passed away after fighting cancer for years. He was my mentor who taught me to paint my realities while following my dreams. He now rests in peace leaving a legacy behind with murals and mosaics that cover walls around the neighborhood. I remember our encounters at the Jumping Bean Café where he always asked "Nico, are you still painting? Are you still in school? How's your mom?" Those conversations are fresh to me just like his sense of humor, youthful and full of life.

Today we walked in the snow; it has been 18 days since this journey began in the Bay Area. Walking through different cities, mountains and open spaces that allow us to reflect on why we are in this struggle and what is to come in the coming months. Our feet carry us through these communities, allowing us to share our stories and the stories of those whom we have encountered. My mother is and always will be my motivation because she fought for years to live for her family. Working at the factory, putting a plate of food on our table and fighting for her life that she dedicated to giving her children a future she only dreamed of.

I follow my dreams because of mentors like him who never gave up on kids like me. I push myself because the inspiration they gave me is like fuel to this old soul looking to not only create change within but to create this much needed dialogue in our communities.

On my way from court in Alabama, as I was trying to get mentally prepared for this 3,000 mile walk, a spark of inspiration went off thousands of miles above the ground, so I began writing:

My name is Nico: I'm Undocumented and Unafraid, Queer and Unashamed. Two years ago in Chicago, a group of eight individuals tired of living in the shadows declared their status in front of a crowd just like this; I was one of the eight. From that point on I knew I was not going to sit back and wait for someone to decide my future. The immigrant youth movement has been growing day by day, going beyond lobbying out legislators, taking it to the streets and doing actions of civil disobedience where we put our lives in the forefront, knowing that this is an escalated call for us to demand what we deserve today; Fighting anti-immigrant legislation that hurt our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters, our children, our communities in this country: our country. This country we call home that has seen us grow. Today is The National Coming Out of the Shadows Days and all around the United States courageous youth will be stepping out of the shadows of fear and ignorance, breaking those chains of oppression. Two years ago, the strongest mujer I have ever met and the woman that gave me the strength to fight for who I deserve, passed away from lung cancer. That mujer was my mother. Mi madre.

Every day of her life she dedicated her time to her children and husband, from going to work at a plastic factory, making dinner, to fighting cancer every day to live just one more day of her life. The sacrifice she made, leaving everything behind... her family, my family. Not only for a better education, but to be able to put a plate of food on our table. That sacrifice was to come to this country. She is buried in the land of freedoms where she is considered a criminal according to those who don't remember the history of those native to this country.

Being queer has made me see the necessity to educate our communities, that in order to want acceptance, we must give acceptance; that words like "faggot" or "maricon" are just as hurtful as "Illegal alien." Today I begin a beautiful journey with mi hombre, my partner, by my side, and this courageous team of young people tired of this broken and unjust immigration system that continues interrupting our everyday lives and plaguing our people: nuestra gente!

We are here standing up not only for ourselves, but walking almost 3,000 miles fighting for the DREAM Act as a first step to legalizing all of our people, because for a very long time we have helped build this economy.

But just as we stand here sharing our stories and speaking out, there are thousands of our paisanos in detention centers, losing hopes for a better life, detained so that corporations can profit from us.

This very moment a father or mother is being deported -- and their kids? Well, they will be put in an unstable environment known as foster care. Right now there are over 5,000 kids suffering and missing their parents just in the state of Alabama, where anti-immigrant legislation continues breaking down our communities.

Yesterday I went to a rally outside of the Montgomery State House where civil rights activist and politicians came together to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the walk to Montgomery. But yesterday they did something beautiful; they came together with the immigrant community in solidarity with their fight in the state!

One day after the anniversary of that historical walk, our campaign, The Campaign for an American DREAM, will begin to make its own history. This is your campaign. Let's make this a year of collaboration; because together we have the power and that is something no one can take away from us.

Recently I had the honor of listening to a very wise mujer, Grace Lee Boggs. "These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that despite the powers and principalities bent onto modifying all our humans' relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew."

My name is Nico and I am UndocuQueer.

This post was originally published on The Campaign for the American Dream.