Our Parents are the Most Important Part of the Immigrant Rights Movement

By: Daniela A.

When we speak about the immigrant youth movement, sometimes we forget an important and fundamental component that has aided to its existence and success: our parents. In my case, I want to give a special shout-out to my dad.

During these last five years, I’ve been working at the New York State Youth Leadership Council at different capacities – for a while in the finance committee, at times supporting the fundraising and advocacy committees, and for some time leading the media committee, and now as a board member. Every action, email, interview was done with uttermost love and respect for my fellow undocumented compañeros, who from strangers in the same struggle became my brothers and sisters.

These years of work have been rewarding; this part of my life has been given me fulfillment and satisfaction. That is not to say that they have been easy. Having a full-time job, school and responsibilities and commitment at a grassroots organization can be exhausting. While running from work to school to the library and then sometimes to meetings and conference calls, my family has been on the back of my mind- and a reminder that I do not spend enough quality time with them.

I understand the frustration and fear our parents experience when we are exposing ourselves and revealing our identity as undocumented when it took them so much effort to conceal it. On top of having to juggle schoolwork, a job and organizing, then we also have to fight with our parents and try to explain why we do what we do.

My dad has been the encouragement that has kept me going through this work, and his support has reminded me that every single step, no matter how small, is important. Back in 2009, when coming out as undocumented in public was not widespread, my family was interviewed for a national story. My dad from the get-go told me that he was not afraid of revealing his identity. To him, it did not matter who knew because he was working honorably and was not doing anything wrong. Even though we, as family, decided not to reveal our names or faces, his words and fearlessness remained in my heart. Slowly, at each interview, I opened up more and more until I felt completely comfortable and safe to share my story with any outlet or presentation. My dad taught me not to be ashamed, scared or apologetic.

From then on, my dad has supported my work as an organizer and activist. Sometimes donating money to our programs and actions, sometimes accompanying me to marches and actions, sometimes just being silent and not making me feel bad that I don’t spend enough time with him because I am busy working or at meetings.

However, it wasn’t until I read the article that I mentioned above, that I learnt the most important sacrifice my dad made for me:

And as she neared her 14th birthday, the father began to think the unthinkable: taking the family back to the United States to put her through college.

They had been here before. After graduating at the top of his class from the polytechnic university in Quito, he had moved to New York in 1986 — legally, on a student visa — for graduate studies in engineering at City College, intending to return home to his wife.

But when the couple learned she was pregnant with their first child, he dropped out and took a factory job — violating the terms of his visa — then arranged to have his wife and baby daughter smuggled into Texas and spirited to New York, where he felt he could best provide for them.

My dad never told me that he had to give up his dream of going to grad school. Knowing this part of my parents’ lives made my work even more rewarding and fulfilling, and it increased my commitment to our communities.

I have learnt from my dad that whatever you do, you have to do it well and with passion, regardless how menial or small it may seem. Every step in the right direction will take me to that bigger goal, which my dad, my mom, my family have worked hard and sacrificed so much for.

With his encouragement, I just finished my first year of graduate school in public policy. One day I hope to be contribute to our communities through research and policy making, and the lessons learnt during this struggle of being undocumented and seeing my parents struggle and thrive in their undocumented status will always be in my heart.

No time management technique can give us more hours during the day so that we can do all the organizing, earn money, finish our school readings, hang out with friends and spend time with our parents that we want. However, let’s not forget to cherish and thank our parents for their support. Today, I thank our dads and moms who have supported our dreams and our work in their own way, and for helping us believe that a change is possible and that we can be that change.

I’m thankful to have my dad, a believer in my dreams and in what I can do. Gracias papá!