Being undocumented has become a collection of years of being given opportunities and having those opportunities taken away. I have felt like a hungry child who was given bread, but right before I was about to eat it, it would be taken away. Again and again and again. Due to this constant disappointment, I started to try and play it safe. I did not want to see the bread anymore.
But one day, I decided to take a risk and share my story for a class presentation on the DREAM Act. After a presentation where everyone cried, my friends started to try and help me find opportunities to transfer to a 4-year university. I went from feeling alone and scared to feeling hopeful and supported. I had found the strength that comes from a community. A community that worked together to not only to help me but also to help other students in my situation, and so we created a scholarship for undocumented students. At Harold Washington College, I found a community that helped me go from being a shy insecure person to being a strong leader.
Transferring to IIT then became a sweet and sour experience. As I started to ask questions about undocumented students on campus, I began to be “advised” to stay silent, to try and go unnoticed and was even being called an illegal. I was being told to go back to where I came from. However this time, it meant to go back to that place of silence and fear that I had already gotten out of. To go back into the shadows. I refused to stay silent and together with other students struggled against the will of the administration and others to make Undocumented Students and Allies (USA) official. Their paternalistic fears were that we would become the target of a hate crime or that ICE would raid the school. That the school might get in trouble for accepting undocumented students. All these fears based on ignorance about the law.
But what would happen if we do stay isolated and no one knows we are undocumented? If ICE comes to get us at our homes, who would know to help us? We cannot depend on a single ally to save us and our family. We need a community. We need to speak for ourselves. We need to free ourselves from the constant fear that consumes our allies and us. Undocumented students, let’s not become each other's oppressors just so we can keep the few opportunities we are given. We cannot be selfish and let everyone else fend for themselves. Remember that someone fought so you could be here. Imagine if we were to join and speak up? Imagine if the much-feared Board of Trustees was to listen to our stories of struggle? If the opportunities are not there, that doesn’t mean they will never be. We need to create them! We call ourselves leaders of innovation. Then let’s prove it.
President Anderson, your denial to meet with us won’t make us stop being undocumented. IIT Magazine changing their mind and telling us that the university is not ready to publish an issue on us won’t make us disappear. We are IIT and we are graduating without opportunities. The success of a handful does not reflect the reality of the rest. DACA is not enough when companies refuse to invest in us. Do not look the other way with a smile and tell us you want to stay neutral. You say you want the same opportunities to be given to everyone but you don’t realize that we are not like everyone else. Yes, IIT prides itself in giving opportunities to students who wouldn’t have them otherwise. But what happens when you tell these students to stay hidden? Suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorders, depression and more are a result of our status and these issues do not get resolved without the support of a community.
I have faced the FBI raiding my house; I have participated in civil disobediences to stand up for my community. I am about to graduate. I have known fear for far too long and I refuse to be a victim of it again.
My name is Maria. I am undocumented, I am a leader and I am IIT.