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Rosario Quiroz

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Undocumented and Unafraid at Columbia University

Posted: 04/10/2012 8:05 am

As I write this, sixteen young people prepare to undertake a 150 mile trek from New York City to Albany to raise awareness about the New York DREAM Act. Why? Each of them have their personal reasons I'm sure, as I have mine for deciding to take on the risk of arrest a couple weeks ago. But in essence, it's about recognizing the humanity and value of young undocumented students who have grown up in New York and consider this place home.

The escalation of these activities to garner support for the NY DREAM Act may seem radical to some. Angela Davis has defined radical as "grasping things at the root", a definition I choose to fully accept for my action, because for me, this is exactly about the root, the root of a long-standing problem with the immigration system and the root of who I am working to become.

If you've not grown up hearing your community being attacked all your life, if you've not felt what it means to be marginalized, you may not understand my sentiments. But I hope you will listen. Because I've been listening to the directions I've been given, trying to understand how this country works and follow this American recipe of success all my life, and it just hasn't worked out, largely because I cannot knowingly accept the egoistic nature of the individualism constantly promoted, especially when I have seen how that individualism has resulted in creating an exclusivity that harms and oppresses my community.

I chose to get arrested for my community. Because they cannot continue to believe the myth that if you work hard enough, you will make it. Not when systemically, my community is locked out of advancement in this country, despite our many contributions to society. Of course the cases for success exist, but they are not the norm, they are exceptions and entirely too disproportionate to the real presence and contribution of undocumented immigrants in this country. They are cases of appeasement in the sense that their simple existence means we as a community continue to quietly gamble, keeping our heads down and our voices lowered for fear of being noticed and deported. What do we truly value as a country?

The most brilliant minds I've come across were not those of colleagues sitting comfortably in the Ivory Tower, discussing and abstracting about politics, theory, and statistics. They were those of comrades dealing with reality in the trenches, meeting people, hearing stories, and motivating, helping individuals find their own voice and value, despite having their own talents and skills constantly rejected and their education denied because of the lack of a magic nine-digit number.

On a more personal note, I could not continue to ignore my roots. I come from roots grounded in tremendous courage, roots that believe at a fundamental level that a better life is possible. These roots left a home country, a language, a culture, a family, the network of everything familiar to venture into the unknown in search of a more responsive government and economy. These are roots I have oftentimes failed to water properly because for such a long time, I struggled to find that courage within. But more than the courage and optimism of my parents and all immigrants the world over who risk everything because they have the strength to believe, I am inspired by the love that drove that courage, a selfless love that understood struggle would be inevitable yet chose the tradeoff of leaving the comfort of the known for the possibility of easing hardships for future generations. I am constantly showered and replenished by this type of love when I see my friends rally together and pour their lives into stopping the impending deportation of a fellow migrant, when I think of the countless individuals who have believed in me and helped me along my path without any apparent reason, and when I think back and realize I have been happiest when the thought of "I" was of no consequence to my actions.

Perhaps hoping for selflessness in a statewide budget is a notion far too idealistic to see the light of day, but holding politicians accountable for not recognizing the real contributions of the undocumented population and then creating an alternative for them to fix this problem -- the New York DREAM Act -- should not be. In fact, it is embarrassing that this proposal failed to be included in the NY Budget, especially in a state as progressive as this one claims to be. Come on New York. WE can and need to do better than that. Love and courage should be celebrated, not held as huge and abstract ideas because that has the danger of keeping them from manifesting, and we can only benefit from more courage and love in our lives.

I have long been hesitant to accept labels because of their tendency to help unwarranted stereotypes stick. But I fully assume undocumented because it is my present reality, one I cannot change given the current system; unafraid because this world cannot continue to operate in a state of fear where we do not trust in each other and instead choose isolation as defense; and unapologetic because my heart deserves better than for me to put on a stoic face and pretend that inside I am not weeping when I see the people I love most under such fierce attack. I owe it to my community to believe in us and our future at least as much as they have always shown to believe in me. My achievements are worthless if I do not have the community from which I have always drawn my strength standing beside me. My heart goes out to the undocumented youth and allies who are walking to Albany. Thank you for the courage and love you are putting out into the world with every step you take on the journey you have chosen to undertake. With the intention behind your actions and your conscious acceptance that we must take action if we expect things to change, you truly "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." -- Thich Nhat Hanh