67 Sueños: Undocumented Youth Tell Their Stories to Change Perceptions

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Photo by Amy Mejia

by 67 Sueños Collective

Lourdez, a 17 year-old student at Metwest High School, cares deeply about immigrant justice. “Some undocumented youth live in fear and are scared to speak out because of fear of being harassed or being deported.  I want to change that,” says Lourdez.

A daughter to undocumented parents herself, Lourdez believes what drives the fear is a misrepresentation of undocumented people in the media and a lack of pending legislation for a path towards citizenship. “The only thing happening in Washington DC to address undocumented youth and our needs for the last decade does not even include two-thirds of us—that’s unacceptable,” says Lourdez.

Lourdez is among the sixty seven (67) percent of undocumented high school-aged youth that are living in the United States who would not benefit from the proposed legislation known as the D.R.E.A.M. Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act).  (DREAM Vs. Reality a report from the Migration Policy Institute)

Under the D.R.E.A.M. Act, undocumented youth would be eligible for a path to citizenship after completion of a college degree or two years of military service.

“Most of us struggle to graduate high school. Most of us can’t afford college. Many of us have to work in the fields and can’t finish school. Others are forced to work as day laborers as early as 14 years old.” says Javier.

Javier is a 15 year-old student who is also undocumented. The struggles facing migrant youth who want to continue their education post high school are present and real for Javier. This summer his sister is migrating back to Mexico because she cannot afford college without federal financial aid. Undocumented students living in the U.S. are not eligible for financial aid.

Last year, Lourdez and a handful of other migrant youth from Oakland, California’s public school system began organizing to learn about, and take action on, migrant justice issues. “We were gathering and learning about the immigrants’ rights struggle and watching the way it was handled on TV and news media. We quickly asked ourselves, where are we in this discussion? Where are our friends? Where are [the] young day-laborers and young farm workers?”

They formed the 67 Sueños (Dreams) Collective, a media activist group of high-school-aged undocumented youth.  67 Sueños aims to give voice to the undocumented youth community and address the needs of the sixty seven percent of migrant youth not being met by current legislation. “When we realized the media was not telling our stories, we decided to tell our own stories,” says Lourdez.

Javier believes the group can help change his sister’s future and possibly his own, “I chose to be in 67 Sueños to show the world what we as undocumented people have to go through to help our families.”

Ramon, a member of the Collective has experienced first hand the effectiveness of 67 Sueños . “Through our work I have found out that in order to help yourself first you have to help others who are in this struggle because if you don’t join in this struggle you are not going to be able to overcome it. Fear is one thing I am overcoming. I no longer stay in my house like being in prison closing the blinds and watching my childhood go by because of the fear of being discovered that we are an undocumented family.”

Since its inception last year, the 67 Sueños Collective has grown in size and boasts membership and support from adult allies and documented students.

Seventeen year-old Marta is a High School Junior with permanent resident status. Her family experienced the fear, dangers, and struggles of migration and being undocumented. Now she is using her story to express what others cannot: “I feel like I can be that voice for those undocumented people who feel scared to speak out. I can help make sure their stories are heard.”

But what moves Marta and the other members of the 67 Sueños Collective to action is bigger than story telling as Marta points out. “Undocumented youth should have the opportunity to speak out about the struggles they face and also to achieve their dreams. Knowing some youth cannot reach their dreams because they lack a social security number motivates me to do the work of 67 Sueños.”

This summer, the 67 Sueños Collective will be creating a 96-foot by 24-foot community mural just three blocks from San Francisco City Hall that will serve as the official debut of the group and their story telling project. A website as well as collaborations with NPR’s Storycorps, New American Media, and ColorLines Online Magazine are also underway.

The group hopes to document 67 stories by the end of next year using video interviews, audio recordings and partnerships with allies. Their goal will be to use the stories to raise awareness about their struggles and meet with legislators to make their mission a reality.

Marta speaks with valiant clarity about the importance the 67 Sueños mission. “When people’s stories are not heard, and their perspectives are not acknowledged, they don’t get to dream. We want to change the way the news talks about us, and the way Washington DC excludes us.”

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Comments

  1. I grew up in Miami in the 1980s when immigrants would not talk about their status. It is wonderful to see these brave young people refuse to remain invisible. I wish them well.

  2. It’s great seeing all these young men and women take a stand for what they believe in.