By Oday Guerrero
During my last year at the University of California Irvine, I helped undocumented students achieve equality in the U.S. as the chair of an AB 540 support group called DREAMs at UCI. Under AB 540, undocumented students are exempt from paying higher out-of-state college tuition if they attended a California high school for 3 or more years and graduated or received a GED. When California passed the DREAM Act, I truly felt like I helped pass a torch of perseverance. My involvement on campus ignited a new passion in me: grassroots organizing.
After I graduated in the summer 2011, I took on the challenge of mobilizing DREAM activists in the most agricultural region of California: the Central Valley. My friends and I created the Central Valley Dream Team (CVDT), a grassroots organization that helps undocumented students achieve their educational goals and advocates for legislation that will help the greater undocumented community. Inspired by DREAM Teams across the nation, CVDT has the potential to help the community, but being in a rural area creates a lot more isolation amongst undocumented youth.
Here are some of the obstacles we've faced on our road to change:
1. Lack of public transportation. Even though Fresno is a micropolitan city, the small towns surrounding it are disconnected because there is no funding for public transportation in rural towns. This prevents non-driving undocumented youth from organizing in nearby towns.
2. The strong anti-immigrant sentiment. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly was able to get 7,000 signatures in a day in Fresno for his anti-immigrant campaign Stop AB 131. An undocumented student at California State University of Fresno was publicly harassed for a whole year. It's stories like these that prevent Central Valley youth from becoming leaders in the undocumented community and create barriers with potential allies.
3. Location. People think the Central Valley is nothing but a desolate town where a protest would be pointless. They seem to forget that the United Farm Workers organization began in Delano, which is located in the Central Valley. Although the UFW was sometimes contradictory with its approach to undocumented workers, pioneering activists like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta helped the organization gain national attention through boycotts, walkouts, marches, and hunger strikes.
Rural organizations such as the CVDT have the capacity to do great things, but we need to be embraced by the bigger DREAM movement. It takes a few to start a movement, but many to keep up the momentum. Everyone is a future leader, regardless of where they live or their disposition. Only until we start working around our divisions, can we start to see social change.
Make 2012 matter. Sign up to pledge your commitment to the cause here.
Oday Guerrero is a recent graduate of the University of California Irvine with a Bachelor's Degree in Cognitive Psychology and minor in Sociology. She was the Chair of the AB 540 support group on her campus and she is currently forming a "Dream Team" in the Central Valley.