On June 16, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it intended to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA for short. This action would not only be the beginning of a long battle to discover what is at the core of American values, but also a return to the fear that characterized an era where there were no protections for immigrants.
“It’s very scary to be up here and share my story with you,” began Yaselin Munoz at Tuesday night’s Keker First Year Common Read Program film screening in Byran 111. “I’m a citizen, so I don’t have to worry about my family being deported anymore, but this can be very hard for people to share.”
Munoz was born in the United States, but her parents are from Mexico and were without documentation throughout her upbringing. “Life as an immigrant in the U.S. is very hard to put into words. Even I don’t know what it’s like because I’m a citizen. I don’t have to be afraid of getting a ticket and [ending] up getting deported, or applying for a job and getting deported.”
Nodia Mena, Spanish Lecturer and Ph.D. student at UNCG, brought a different perspective. “When I first came to the United States I didn’t immediately complete my Ph.D. I was 35 before I even completed my bachelor’s. There were a lot of obstacles that I had to face.” Mena came to the United States on a visa, but due to her Afro-Latina background and thick accent, she faced a lot of discrimination. Mena held many different jobs, including cleaning houses, to fund her education and achieve her goals.
Both the stories of Mena and Munoz counter the common misconception that immigrants aren’t contributors to the American society. Munoz’s parents came here specifically to make a better life for their child who is now a college graduate and a consultant for tech start-up companies.
In America’s current political climate, not only is there an effort to persecute undocumented immigrants like Munoz’s parents used to be, but there is also an effort to make it harder for immigrants who are trying to come to the United States legally, like Munoz.
Their stories of struggle are particularly poignant in light of the detainment of immigrant children that have recently been occurring throughout the United States, especially when taking into consideration the fact that their parents’ purpose for bringing them is to provide them with better lives.
After the speaking part of the event, a screening of the 2013 documentary “Documented” by New York Times writer, Jose Antonio Vargas was shown. Vargas is an immigrant from the Philippines who didn’t find out he was undocumented until he was in high school.
Vargas actually begins his story like a “coming out process” of sorts because he sees people fighting for the installation of DACA. This brought the night full circle and acquainted many of us who were too young to understand the issue in the mid-2000’s with the reality that immigrants faced before federal protections were mandated.
During one scene within the documentary, Vargas was at a bar talking about immigration with one of his friends, when an intoxicated man interrupted them and said, “Get them [expletive] out of here. If you don’t have papers you should leave.” Upon hearing of Vargas’s stature within the New York Times, he amended his statements by saying, “Well you’ve become a constructive member of society,” implying that many immigrants who come here do not.
At the end of the night, Dr. Ali, Dean of the Lloyd International Honors College, decided to ask one more question to the speakers Munoz and Mena. “My mother is from Peru and my father is from India. I know that what has been helpful for me is to hear stories like yours so I can be more supportive of those who are fearful. How do we support those who are undocumented?’ Mena replied, “Think about putting yourself in the other person’s situation. Think about what they may be going through.”
In the end, it’s all about recognizing the common humanity shared by all of us.