The Campaign for an American Dream is organizing a cross-country march, that will send four walkers, who are all undocumented and living in the United States, from San Francisco, Ca to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights. They’ll be stopping in 200 communities holding various events and rallies, and plan to arrive in D.C. in late October, 2012.
I spoke with 25-year-oldNicolas Gonzalez, one of the four walkers. He came from Mexico to the U.S. with his mom and older sister in 1992. When they arrived, they moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he’s been living ever since. Gonzalez is an immigration activist and shared with us his story and motivation for embarking on this trek.
Youth Radio: Describe your experience growing up in Illinois.
Nicolas Gonzales: When I was 12, my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is something that really impacted me and my family. When I was 18, it spread, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer. My mom wasn’t working anymore and my sister wasn’t living with us. I dropped out of high school and began working. My mom needed that support. My dad had to work to pay for the house, to pay the bills.
My mom passed away two years ago on January 23, 2010. It was the hardest year for me. I saw my mom going to the public hospital, along with many other immigrant women; they would have to sit around and wait for treatment, and switch doctors. I was the one who knew what medication she was taking, who her doctors were, translating for her.
Youth Radio: How did your mom’s sickness impact the work you’re doing now?
NG: My mom died in this country of freedom where she was considered a criminal. It didn’t seem right, and I needed to do something about it. [Me and some other youth] were really tired of living in fear. We said, ‘how can we challenge the system?’ I became part of a group called the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago.
When March came around, we had already started organizing an immigrant rights march. We decided to have an event called a “Coming Out of the Shadows” day on March 10 in Chicago. We went against politicians, organizations, and older activists, saying we want to take the stage and declare our undocumented status. We were tired of people speaking for us. We have a voice. Eight of us went on stage; we told our stories.
Youth Radio: When did you find out, or really notice the impact of being undocumented?
NG: I was 15 or 16 when I realized I didn’t have [a] Social Security number. I wasn’t able to go to [any] summer programs that they offer to students. I was always doing volunteer work because I couldn’t get paid. Everyone else my age was getting paid, but I wasn’t, for doing the same or even more work. That’s when I realized [life] was going to start getting tougher. My parents told me get work, start working.
But [being undocumented] didn’t hold me back. I was always volunteering everywhere. Sometimes they would pay me with gift certificates to Target or to Starbucks; that’s how they would pay me. My education was through other means, not necessarily by institutionalized ways of getting educated, but through my own terms of getting little training here and there, for domestic violence or trainings that got me to where I got.
Youth Radio: Why are you participating in the CAD walk?
NG: My mom’s passing pushed me in a lot of ways to push other youth to organize. I was asked to do groundwork in Alabama, but a week before I left, I was called and asked to be one of the [CAD] walkers. I’m looking forward to meeting different people, and really knowing that what we’re doing is powerful. It’s not only going to educate our communities, but our allies. Sharing our stories as a political tool to create change is something I look forward to.
I’m not doing this for myself, but to empower communities, and also to send out a national message of unity. We’ve lived in oppression too long. How do we move forward?
Stay tuned for upcoming coverage on the progress of the CAD walk. Have you heard a story similar to Nico’s? Think the walk is a good idea? Let us know what you think.