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South Asians in the undocumented youth movement in the USA.
Date: 19/07/2011 - 08:37
Six undocumented immigrant youth — Dulce (18), Jessica (17), Felipe (24), Richie (16), Nataly (16) and Leeidy (16) — sat down in the middle of an intersection in Georgia this past week, in a protest against the latest wave of anti-immigrant terror unleashed by the Southern state.
It is not the first act of civil disobedience led by undocumented youth and it is certainly not the last as more of us come out of the shadows and demand our right to live in the United States.
And yet, where are the undocumented South Asian youth in this movement? As part of the sixth largest population of undocumented immigrants in the United States, it often pains me to be one of the only vocal ones.
“Rehne do. Chodho. Jaane do.”
These are infamous South Asian attitudes passed on to us by our wonderful mothers and fathers — to suffer in silence and not say anything, to not protest or create a fuss when things are not right, to not step into the public arena to fight for justice. It’s a conditioned survival skill that may even come handy at times. But it is troubling when that survival skill propagates and perpetuates a fear that makes it hard to live our lives fully.
That’s how a lot of the South Asian 1.5 generation grows up in America. Afraid about what people would say. Afraid to shatter expectations. Afraid to live. Afraid to breathe. Afraid, afraid and more afraid till the die we finally die. Yeh bhi koi jeena hai kya?
I lived like that for many years. It wasn’t living; it was surviving. Then I decided that I’m not interested in surviving. I’m interested in thriving.
Lets be clear and honest. I’m talking about thriving in a place that denies our existence, deprives us of basic human rights, and refuses to recognize the fact that we are an integral part of the American fabric even while using our labor and taxes to fund wars for imperialism abroad that compel more of our brothers and sisters to flee and hunt for refuge here after their own homes are destroyed.
There are many discourses that one can articulate in response. Why bother to live here? Why not return to improve our countries of origin? There are many answers. Our parents brought us here. We grew up here. We see this as our home. We want to work to change it and make it a better place.
I’m queer and undocumented. Along with undocumented youth from across the country, I’ve worked to rip the DREAM Act from the clutches of the non-profit industrial complex, to queer the immigrant rights movement and to create a culture of radical dissent and accountability.
It’s taken a whole decade to build a movement that is not hinged on the non-profit industrial complex framing our stories in ways that are damaging and containing our migrant bodies in neat boxes with pretty labels. There was a time when national immigration reform groups would refuse to help with deportation campaigns. Now they receive foundation money to run such campaigns. It is the movement bringing the DREAM Act full-circle to meet with the non-profit industrial complex again and becoming a mainstream idea that is co-opted by our “leaders” such as Barack Obama even while he continues to deport members of our community.
I hope no one is waiting for the DREAM Act and other pro-immigrant legislation to pass. It’s erroneous to think that incremental reforms like passing a single piece of legislation would change our lives dramatically. Our movement is not about passing a piece of legislation. It is about creating and fueling spaces for dialogue and resistance, building structures and networks that work for those who have been historically disenfranchised and castigated, and becoming our whole selves again. It’s not about waiting for change or for the right time to demand solutions but demanding change and creating our own solutions. It’s about being undocumented, unafraid, unashamed and unapologetic — and that includes not blaming our parents for alleged transgressions, not feeding into the military industrial complex and not serving as part of the grand narrative that seeks to criminalize other immigrants.
Currently, we are working to ensure that ICE does not drug and deport Andy Mathe to South Africa. For every one saved, there are countless other deportations. Hard-working and law-abiding immigrants who serve the narrative of American exceptionalism are most likely to get some sort of discretionary relief like a temporary stay, private bill or deferred action. There’s a vast network apparatus — from grassroots activists to Senators and even people who work in the Department of Homeland Security — to ensure that any such immigrants who show up on the radar, don’t get deported.
It is the non-Pulitzer prize-winning immigrants, the ones who don’t have college degrees, who are unluckily ensnared by unjust and unfair laws, who don’t get the chance to live up to the “American dream” or who could care less about serving as part of the hegemonic discourse that need our utmost help and support. After all, everyone deserves a second chance.
It’s time to come out of the shadows and fight.
The following is a guest post by Prerna Lal sharing her personal insights about South Asians and the undocumented immigrant youth movement. Prerna is a founder of DreamActivist and helped to build a vibrant and historic activist immigrant youth community online. She is currently a law student at George Washington University Law School. You can also check out her current online installation highlighting stories of undocumented South Asians
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