by Isaac | Solidarity webzine
To kick off a national “Coming Out of the Shadows” week, more than one thousand Chicago immigrant youth and allies, crowding behind a banner with the words UNDOCUMENTED AND UNAFRAID, chanted “Without Papers, Without Fear – Immigrants are Marching Here!”
Four years after a historic march here began the tidal wave of mobilization that defeated James Sensenbrenner’s anti-immigrant bill HR4437, today’s action – while it had significantly lower turnout – was a new step in youth leadership. The veteran activists of the original March 10 committee assisted with organizing, but the initiation, collection of endorsements, publicity, planning, and media work was led by a new generation of organizers, many from the Immigrant Youth Justice League. IYJL itself has a short history, having formed in late 2009 by activists who’d successfully campaigned to prevent the deportation of an undocumented student, Rigo Padilla.
Despite intimidations by Department of Homeland Security (who parked several trucks at the rally point) and the City of Chicago’s attempt to disrupt the permit process, delegations of students from high schools, colleges and universities turned out from around the city.
But the most daring and politically powerful moment came at a short rally in Federal Plaza – the Coming Out – consciously modeled on the practice developed in the gay liberation movement. “This is a place” – said David, in English, and Ireri, in Spanish – “that’s not safe for people like us. There are people in that building whose job is to detain and deport us. But today we are going to make it ours!”
Eight activists shared their stories of migration to the US and of growing up without documentation. In these stories, the crowd heard in moving detail the pain, anger, and determination of living with second-class status. Not being able to obtain everything from a library card, to a drivers license, to a college education. Denial of heath care. Watching a mother die of cancer from a low-paying sweatshop job. And fear, constant fear and frustration.
Each ended by declaring their name and status: “My name is Tania. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!”
“My name is Hugo. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!… My name is Ireri. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!… My name is Nico. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!… My name is Uriel. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!… My name is Reyna. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!… My name is David. I am undocumented, and I am not afraid!”
Organizing for March 21 and beyond
Unlike many rallies which are spoken to, the decision to keep the program simple and personal connected deeply with the crowd of undocumented immigrant youth, their friends, families and classmates; in the words of one speaker, “We can’t advocate for ourselves in the third person anymore. This is about us.”
Carrying on the theme of a personal, organizing-centered march, the speakers invited the crowd to gather in small groups of five or ten people and share who they were, why they had come, and what they would do next to continue the struggle. For many, the next step is a March 21 demonstration in Washington, DC to demand that immigration reform be recognized as a national priority. IYJL organizers hope to fill two buses out of the total goal of 200 buses from Illinois.
For more information or to get involved visit IYJL.org