By Erik Garcia
When undocumented youth declared to be “undocumented and unafraid” at Chicago’s Federal Plaza in 2010, they started “Coming Out of the Shadows,” a moment in the national immigrant rights movement. Through different presidential administrations, the state of our immigration system hasn’t changed much since then (Obama was the Deporter-in-Chief, remember?). Undocumented youth continue to be criminalized and used as a bargaining chip when convenient for politicians. Our lives and experiences are only worth considering when they can be exploited by them and media alike who peddle divisive narratives one way or another.
In the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s cruel xenophobia, Orange County Immigrant Youth United, Resilience Orange County, Korean Resource Center, and Chispa partnered for a local “Coming out of the Shadows” effort on Friday. We convened at Sasscer Park (aka Black Panther Park) and were joined by community members that stand with immigrant rights and all its intersections. From there, we marched up Calle Cuatro chanting and calling more community members to join us. We stopped on Fourth and French Street, the heart of gentrified SanTana.
At SanTana Plaza, the program consisted of undocumented folks talking about different issues that directly impacted them: local, statewide immigration enforcement, policing, detention and incarceration, and the importance of building intersectional movements. “Coming out of the Shadows” is important locally because it gives our groups an opportunity to build together, and to take control of our stories, especially in wake of OC’s incessant need to collaborate with la migra, and specifically SanTana’s reluctance last year to end its jail contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This weekend, our community paid tribute to our movement by coming out of the shadows. When undocumented youth grab the mic and speak out against the injustices happening in our communities, movements shift dramatically. They become more vibrant and filled with humanity. Our stories have the potential to change the trajectory of our path ahead. We have a unique opportunity to be inclusive of other undocumented identities that don’t subscribe to the mainstream “good immigrant” image. We are intentionally in bringing together the voices of undocumented Asian-Pacific Islander community members, undocu-queer and gender non-conforming, undocu-trans, and many, many others which are also deserving of humanity in a system that aims to erase them.
By proclaiming that we are “undocumented and unafraid,” we take control of our narratives and use them to dismantle divisive ones. We stop being the abstract concept of an “illegal” by putting a human face to each individual. We have humanize our movement to be inclusive and tie our liberation together to emphasize that we are all deserving of dignity regardless of what mistakes were made that got us here.
More than anything else, the most marginalized need to be at the forefront. “Coming Out of the Shadows” offered that opportunity this past weekend. Our voices soared in unison about our collective struggle, one that we will overcome together.