I would like to dedicate this blog to all who decided to not be silenced but rather to speak as loud as they can!
(This is for all of the people who never gets mentioned but do 90% of the work for the Trail.
Meagan, Vickie, Grey, Wilfredo, Favi and everyone else
in this campaign and local communities that have received us.)
From Wake Forest, NC
Everyday I wake up around 6 AM, eat breakfast, tie my shoes and head out the door down a long road to liberation –walking through the Southeast. Although many have doubted our ability to complete the 1,500 mile trek from Miami to Washington, D.C. we hold our heads high, despite the fact that we are undocumented students in a nation where unjust laws make our existence unauthorized. We felt, as Dr. M. L. King, Jr. once did that, “today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is between nonviolence or nonexistence.”
If I could go back in time, I would have never imagined being part of the Trail of DREAMs –a non-violent campaign for the liberation of unauthorized minorities. After a three year involvement in social justice organizations, I see the Trail as the cusp of my transformation. This started when I graduated from high school, not being allowed to continue my education as a result of my immigration status. Having grown up in extreme poverty in Brazil, I felt trapped again by an unfair system that would not allow me to fully develop.
In the moment of my greatest despair I found strength being active in Students for Equal Rights (SWER). Although I had been president in Student Government for a year, trying to give a platform of expression to students who felt voiceless… it was not until SWER came into my life that I learned about my internalize oppression. Together, with what grew to be my brothers and sisters in this struggle, we embarked on a process of self-liberation.
We came together to stop other student deportations; provide college accessibility to others like us; try to pass legislation for the benefit of immigrant youth; win Temporary Protective Status for Haitians, and even fight back local sheriffs supporting agreements and partnerships with Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE). Yet, despite our growth from one campus chapter to fourteen since I started helping to organize in SWER, detentions and deportations have only increased. I quickly came to the realization that only escalation could create the urgency for reform and stop “middle America” from denying our existence.
The immigrant rights movement had become stagnant, so we took the initiative to awaken what the 2006 media classified as “the sleeping giant”. We are twelve million people living the American nightmare in one of its most vivid archetypes. We are forgotten in the margins of society, used, detained, and then returned as damaged goods to our country of origin. Young immigrants like me grew up in this society not knowing what awaited us after high school, believing the illusion that we would be treated fairly if we proved our self-worth. However, we soon learned that our worth depended more and more on access to a barcode –a social security number.
The Trail of DREAMs is a loud cry for justice, but on a more personal level, it’s been an affirmation of my identity: I am a son, forced to succumb to the reality of only contacting my mother on the opposite end of a phone receiver once a year. I am a man who dreams of one day being considered equal in the eyes of society next to my partner, Juan Rodriguez –the wonderful man I fear being separated from at any moment when all I wish is to spend the rest of my life with him. I am a student, yearning to surpass the ultimate scholarly test of proving himself as a teacher. I am a human being –I also bleed red. I am DREAMER –believing that every human being deserves a fair chance at a future. I am a fighter –daring to overcome whatever obstacles necessary to ensure equality.
We have witnessed outrageous abuses against our fellow immigrants along the trail. We met a mother of four who had more than four thousand dollars stolen from her in wages. We met a man who was a victim of a hate crime in north Florida and still faced the threat of deportation while he lay in a coma. We saw the tears of an eleven year-old boy as he pleaded for the current administration to give his father, who was in deportation proceedings, a chance. However, we also saw incredible displays of solidarity as we stood side by side with the African American community as part of an anti-racism counter-demonstration to a KKK rally. Though hate was present during different portions of the walk thus far, it was outweighed by the quantity of love.
It has been cold and my body has taken a great toll, but I feel renewed every time I remember the hundreds of stories I heard in this trajectory. I have slept in their homes, churches and schools. People have shared their food and love beyond our widest dreams. We feel empowered and honored by their courage and resilience but know very well that we also hold a responsibility to make sure that their voices are heard. We shall not falter in delivering their struggles and hopes to the very hands of those that have the power to pass a more just and humane immigration system. We will demand a favorable response even if it means risking everything to ensure that the message gets through.
This country has experienced many movements for equality and little by little, people have seen improvement. Now is my turn to do my small contribution for change. Like many of those who came before me, I am risking it all but carry onward undaunted. Deep inside, I know that freedom does not come for free and I carry this hope jointly with my peers that the Trail of DREAMs may be the missing piece we needed for real change in the United States. When I come back to Miami, FL I will not be the same. I will have learned that our lives are more precious than political games. I am more than ever committed in building a stronger progressive movement.Felipe