The Independent

URO rally: undocumented and unafraid

Nicole F. Anderson

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Left to Right: Maria Quiceno, Samantha Romero, Leo Tunguia, Francine Chaong. Photo by Nicole F. Anderson 

 

“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” the crowd chanted while walking into NEIU’s quad. The crowd was led by Undocumented, Resilient and Organized (URO) member, Melanny Buitron on the bullhorn: “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!”

URO president Carolina Vázquez Torres opened the rally by addressing the crowd in English and Spanish. Behind her was a large canvas sign painted with a tree, handprints for leaves, monarch butterflies and a message: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

URO secretary Daniel Hernandez said, “The rally is a way to put faces to our struggles. Coming out to tell our stories will change perspectives. It won’t be people dictating a single narrative.”

Vazquez Torres thanked NEIU, NEIU’s Art Club, 33rd Youth Ward, Centro Autónomo, North River Commission, Roosevelt High School’s Pioneers Dreamer Club, Von Steuben High School’s Dreamers Club and the audience for their efforts and support. “Thank you for being here and thank you for being you,” Vázquez said.

NEIU senior, Alexandra Castejon’s sign read: “education not deportation.” Castejon said, “It was my first time coming out to a rally like this. I would like to keep advocating for people who need it.”

Shortly after Vázquez Torres introduced the keynote speakers and said, “Keep your vocabulary in mind. Not every undocumented person is a Dreamer. UnDACAmented and undocumented are different…both require a lot of courage.”

The first keynote speaker was Glarien Sanchez. “I’m the second of four children in a mixed-status family.” A mixed-status family consists of a family whose members have different citizenship or immigration status.

Sanchez talked about her sister who lives in fear of her undocumented family being taken away. “Every time there was a knock on the door, she would jump,” Sanchez said, “We have to go and protect our communities. We have to address this now.”

At least 50 people came to the rally. Community members and students from NEIU, Loyola Academy High School, Von Steuben High School and Roosevelt High School surrounded the keynote speakers.

Vázquez Torres said, “It’s amazing to see the support undocu students and community members can feel from local organizations and NEIU itself. It’s one thing to plan it out for months and another to see it actually happening. We put a lot of hours into this and it was a collaboration with so many amazing individuals that all expectations were exceeded.”

Second keynote speaker Jose Hernandez said, “It was then I learned I was undocumented. I couldn’t be the astronaut that I wanted to be.” He started at Richard J. Daley College and came to NEIU afterward. It was at NEIU that he found URO, which has helped him to “stay leveled.”

Jose Hernandez said, “The rally was an opportunity to show that there are people who will stand by and support the undocumented and the larger immigrant community.”

Vázquez Torres introduced the third keynote speaker Melanny Buitron. She started her speech by asking the crowd to chant with her: “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” Immediately afterward, Buitron said, “I am undocumented and unafraid.”

Buitron’s speech was about her parents, “the original Dreamers.” She talked about how her mother was in the top of her high school class, in the marching band and came to America with dreams of becoming a dentist.

Her father, Buitron said, “dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and he has. With only a high school education and not knowing the language, he has had two small businesses here in the United States and is employing American citizens… I refuse to let their stories be buried and labeled as the bad immigrant.”

Photo of Melanny Buitron. Photo by Nicole F. Anderson

“Growing up, I have taken on roles that I am proud of having; I was a translator, a lawyer, a person they passed the phone to when they didn’t speak Spanish,” Buitron said. Several of the crowd members said “yes” in agreement.

Buitron’s voice echoed off of the NEIU buildings and tears began to fall from several of the audience members when Buitron sang the lyrics of “Imagine” by John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”

She concluded her speech and said, “undocumented today, voter tomorrow.”

NEIU student Samantha Romero said, “Melanny’s story was very impactful because I can totally relate… I am not undocumented, but I still consider myself as an immigrant because I come from the blood, sweat and tears that my parents have carried on and kept fighting for my future since the day I was born… Her strength in her voice was amazing and inspiring.”

Alfredo Palafox was the fourth speaker. Palafox was notably cold due to a lack of a jacket and one of the audience members gave him a scarf to wear over his shoulders. Palafox said, “There’s no such thing as an illegal human being. There can be ugly people, beautiful people, but illegal? It makes no sense… I want people to look at me for my personality, not for what defines me.”

Palafox talked about the Dreamers from 2001 and said, “Those people who fought for us, so I could be a part of the discussion, so I can be here and have a conversation. We have a chance. A chance to be part of this society, a chance to be part of this country… and actually, it is my country, a paper says it is not, but I feel as American as anyone else here that’s American.”

He talked about changing the narrative from “si, se puede,” which means “yes, we can,” to “si, se pudo,” which means, “yes, we could.”

The fifth speaker, Gerson Mendia spoke to the crowd in Spanish. He said his story is very long but would do his best to try to sum it up. Mendia said he didn’t know much about immigration and still doesn’t.

Mendia talked about how immigrants are not just Latinos, that they come from other countries. According to Migration Policy, out of the 1.49 million immigrants that moved to the United States in 2016, the leading countries were India and China.

Daniel Hernandez was the final speaker and he talked about identity. He is a NEIU student, the secretary for URO and makes music.  “A single piece doesn’t complete my identity,” he said.

He talked about a middle school experience with his social studies teacher, “Mrs. J.” One day “Mrs. J” obtained a piece of paper that listed all of the undocumented students and read it in her class. “I remember growing up in constant fear…I asked myself, how can I be more white?” Daniel Hernandez said.

It wasn’t until Daniel Hernandez took a creative writing class at Harold Washington that he was able to begin to express himself. “I don’t push it away anymore; I love it. We will not be silenced,” he said. Daniel Hernandez concluded his speech by reading the lyrics of “Real” by Kendrick Lamar.

Crowd member, Abner Gutierrez found out about the rally via a Snapchat story. “The rally was great; very powerful stories. Sometimes I forget because I’ve been doing similar things for so long. It’s nice to see the dialogue change and the different generations doing it.”

Photo by Nicole F. Anderson

Vázquez Torres concluded the rally by giving the audience the opportunity to go up to the mic to share their own stories, thoughts and opinions.

Afterward she said, “I felt empowered and very proud of my community. I felt very thankful for the outcome. URO is a second family. It’s my support system. A group of people that were once complete strangers and we have built friendships and assisted the community and students in the best way we can.

 

 

This story was printed on March 27, 2018.

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