Out of the shadows and into the streets

March 16, 2010

On the fourth anniversary of the first mega-march of the immigrant rights movement, when tens of thousands took the streets of Chicago, immigrants again stepped out of the shadows to speak out against the everyday injustices they face.

About 700 people--most of them young and undocumented--turned out to demand legalization for all in a march organized by the Immigrant Youth Justice League under the banner "Undocumented and Unafraid." Protesters marched from Union Park to Federal Plaza, where they took part in a "Coming Out of the Shadows" rally. There, eight young undocumented workers took the stage to tell told their stories.

Among them, Tania linked their action to LGBT leader Harvey Milk's call to come out of the closet. Quoting Milk, she said: "Brothers and sisters you must come out. Come out to your relatives...come out to your friends...if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors...to your fellow workers...But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions."

She made a call to keep fighting and march on Washington, D.C., on March 21. The immigrant rights advocacy coalition Reform Immigration for America hopes to mobilize between 100,000 and 200,000 people to Washington as part of a campaign to force immigration reform onto Congress's agenda this year.

Here, Orlando Sepúlveda collects some of the speeches on March 10 in Chicago.

I GRADUATED from one of the top college prep high schools in Illinois. I applied for scholarships and received $20,000...I had my school bag packed with supplies and books ready by the front door.

One week before starting school, I received a call from an administrator asking for my Social Security number...I didn't have one, and I had to pass on the scholarship and on going to a four-year university...I am here to come out and say, I am Uriel and I am undocumented.

MY NAME is David, and I am undocumented...When I was young, I was always told not to tell anyone about my status because I could be taken away. I remember being scared, but I didn't really understand what it meant to be undocumented until I got to high school. I began to feel ashamed and really frustrated, frustrated that I couldn't do the same things my friends could...

Every time I was asked why I didn't get my license or why don't I register to vote, I would lie and come up with an excuse...I managed to graduate from one of the best high schools in the country and obtained my associate's degree in one year, but unfortunately, I can't continue my education because it's become too expensive.

Coming Out of the Shadows march for undocumented youth in Chicago
Coming Out of the Shadows march for undocumented youth in Chicago (Sara Jayne | SW)

MY NAME is Nico, and I'm undocumented. I'm coming out of the shadows because I am no longer afraid. I came to this country in 1992, following my mother, who I have recently lost to cancer, undoubtedly from the chemical factory she worked at most of her life.

She was unable to demand better health and safety conditions due to her "status," but she kept on working for me and the rest of my family. She worked every day in fear of not knowing if "la migra" would come and take her away from us. La migra didn't take her, but our broken immigration system did.

She is now buried in the land where she's considered a criminal. I made a choice to not let her die in vain. I am standing up today for her, myself and the millions of families like ours.

I'M HUGO and I'm undocumented...When my mother, a single parent, brought me to this country, she told me that this was a land where I could work hard and make my dreams come true. One thing that my mother did not tell me, and did not know, is that living in this country would require for us to always live in fear...

Those feeling of fear I began to experience when I was only 9 years old, and our Latino and Vietnamese neighborhood was targeted by the Department of Immigration. During the weeks the raids were going on, my sisters and I had to stay inside our apartment by ourselves, with the windows and doors locked and the light off, waiting and praying for my mother not to get caught by immigration and taken away from us.

This is the excruciating feeling that I felt every time I saw a police officer in my rear view mirror, as I was driving to work to be able to help my family with the rent and food.

Today, I'm putting my whole life on the line, as I come out of the shadows together with all of you and my friends here, because I'm tired of being afraid, and I'm tired of putting my life and the well-being of my family on hold.

All of you here would agree with me that there is something wrong with our country when a person is criminalized for seeking a way out of poverty through hard, honest work. Do you agree with me?

All of you here would agree with me that there is something wrong with our immigration system when families live in fear of being separated every day. Do you agree with me?

All of you here would agree with me that there is something wrong with our government when its inaction results in exclusion of thousands of young people like me from contributing fully to our society. Do you agree with me?

For these reasons, today I break out of the silence in which I've been forced to live for the past 20 years...I'm Hugo, I'm undocumented. And I am NO LONGER afraid! Legalization NOW!"

I'M DAVID. My parents and I immigrated to Chicago in 1991 when I was 1 year old. I've been undocumented for 19 years. When I was 6, I couldn't get a library card because I didn't have a Social Security number. A library card! What kid doesn't have a library card?

When I was 13, I couldn't apply for an off-campus program. At 15, I couldn't take drivers'ed. I couldn't get my driver's license. When I was 17, I couldn't apply for scholarships. I couldn't go to school. And every time I couldn't do something...I took it. I sat in my room and took it.

I couldn't drive so I didn't. I couldn't go to the school I wanted to so I didn't. I couldn't apply for the job I wanted, so I didn't! And I didn't do anything because I was waiting, waiting for the Dream Act to pass, waiting for immigration reform, waiting for my parent's application to be pushed through, waiting for something to change so that I could get on with my life.

Last year, I went to a rally like this, where six undocumented young people spoke. It was the first time I had heard anyone speak openly about being undocumented. They shared their stories and called us to action. They gave me a choice: continue to hide and wait, or fight back! I chose to fight. And I'm standing in front of you to ask you to join me. Fight with me!

And to fight, we have to come out! We can't expect change to happen by advocating in the third person. If you're undocumented, don't be afraid to demand legalization! If you're an ally, don't be afraid to be an advocate. We all need to come out!

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