Undocumented and unafraid. Dreamers is a movement book about the generation brought to the United States as children—and now fighting to live here legally.
Of the estimated twelve million undocumented immigrants living in the United States today, a significant proportion were brought here involuntarily—children whose parents made the decision to immigrate for them. Although President Obama has been sending positive messages to the “Dreamers”—so called for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, introduced in 2001—his administration’s policies have not changed, and deportations have only risen, compounding the difficulties and stigmas Dreamers face. Meanwhile, as political debates over immigration policy and solutions continue to stall, these young adults live under the specter of deportation to places they do not remember—but they’re fighting against these threats in revolutionary new ways. Journalist Eileen Truax discovered this first-hand when she arrived in Los Angeles from Mexico City and began reporting for La Opinion, her assignments taking her deep into the city’s immigrant community.
Now navigating the rites of passage into adulthood, Dreamers are dealing full-force with the obstacles accompanying their lack of legal citizenship. “The Dreamers’ fight brings into focus the very concept of citizenship as the active exercise of rights and responsibilities in the place where one is, regardless of whatever some piece of paper says,” Truax writes in Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream. Through in-depth interviews and participation in their events, organizations, and everyday activities, Truax illuminates the everyday struggles, and the persistent hopes, of these young immigrants and activists, highlighting what she calls their “lesson in organization and strategy, in courage and sensitivity, that should serve as the engine of the broader immigration movement to come.”
Determined to let Dreamers “speak for themselves,” Truax relates tales of fear, rejection, and at times deep depression that permeate their lives, writing, “The life of an undocumented immigrant is affected in every facet because it must be lived in the shadows.” This “shadow status” is particularly marked for Dreamers, she explains, because they must encounter life moments like trying to get a driver’s license—or “the grim turning point that all Dreamers must face: applying to college”—only to be rejected due to their legal status. “Everybody says your senior year in high school is the best,” a Dreamer named Catalina tells Truax, “but for me it was the worst year of my life. It was time to apply to college, and when I looked at what you had to fill in, I saw you had to put down your Social Security number. I cried and cried; I couldn’t stop.” Dreamers from Arizona speak to the particular terror unleashed by 2010’s SB 1070 and infamous Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who, Truax writes, observes “made it his mission to train his staff in how to effectively harass and intimidate.” “Parents stopped taking their kids to school, my family was afraid to go out,” a Dreamer named Viridiana tells Truax. “Arpaio is terrorizing people… I’m sick of being persecuted.”
More dramatic still are the stories of lives built and nourished in the United States, Truax writes, only to be upended or erased—stories like that of Nancy Landa, who, as Truax illustrates, spent virtually her entire life in the U.S., with friends, a degree, a career, and hopes for the future, only to be deported to Tijuana at age 29. “The system sees everything in black and white, it doesn’t look at people’s individual circumstances,” Landa told Truax. “They treated me like a common criminal.” Dreamer Joaquin Luna Lerma, whom Truax examines in-depth, wanted to study engineering in college, but shot himself to death in the family bathtub the Friday after Thanksgiving of his senior year in high school. Lerma felt pushed to the brink, his family told Truax, by the obstacles posed by being undocumented and trying to apply to college and find work.
But in the face of rising deportations and deepening stigmas, more and more Dreamers are resisting fear and, as Truax documents, are organizing and seeding awareness of their struggles in innovative, bold ways. Truax introduces readers to the places in which Dreamers find support—places like the Food Closet at UCLA and El Hormiguero in the San Fernando Valley—as well as the nationwide network DreamActivist, whose guiding principle, she explains, is to openly recognize that their members are undocumented and invite them to come out from the shadows, rather than remain hidden and be intimidated more easily by authorities. Truax met leader Mohammad “Mo” Abdollahi as he was preparing a group of Dreamers—the “Alabama 13”—for an act of civil disobedience in Montgomery in November 2011, following the May 2011 passage of Alabama’s HB56. As Mo trains newer activists in how to field media questions, how far they might be willing to go in their act, and how to gracefully handle arrest, he instructs them, “We need to overcome our fear, and cause a moral crisis for the Republicans. Traditional protests are no longer enough.”
Despite the progress and tenacity of this movement, Truax writes, the underlying problems persist beneath the broader immigration debate, and deportations continue to rise. Truax asks how many Dreamers studying and trying to work in the U.S. today might be like Dr. Alfredo Quiñones Hinojosa, who as an undocumented teenager picked tomatoes in California but today, at 46, is the head of brain surgery at Johns Hopkins, and one of the most respected brain surgeons in the world. “These kids are brilliant,” California State Senator Gil Cedillo tells Truax in his office, reflecting on Dr. Quiñones’s story. “They learn the language, work, and pay for school. They’ve become the best this country has to offer, and we should recognize that and encourage them.”
Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream
E-book ISBN: 978-0-8070-3032-5