On August 14-17, I and five other members of the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) followed the No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice, also known as the UndocuBus, to their stops in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. Those four days made me optimistic of the growth our community and movement is making. The strength and courage the people on the bus have is inspiring as it shows the determination they have to live and organize without fear. Since the first day that we arrived in Memphis, we realized the diversity and intergenerational make up of the bus. The people telling their stories in public community events were of all ages and various backgrounds. As somebody who has participated in the Coming Out of the Shadows rally in Chicago, I was excited to see adults coming out alongside youth. Every person who shared his or her story through words, theater, dance, or poetry did it with conviction. They spoke without shame and were unapologetic and unafraid. Coming out is so important because every time undocumented people share their stories with the community, it encourages others to lose fear as well.
Although sharing our stories within the community is empowering in itself, watching people face those who have criminalized and marginalized them is also powerful. On our last day, August 17, four of the UndocuBus riders stood up during the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USSCR) hearing in Birmingham, Alabama while the author of SB 1070 and HB 56 Kris Kobach spoke. Since the hearing was meant to reflect on the effects of immigration laws like SB 1070 it was essential for undocumented people to speak on their own behalf even if we were not invited to do so. The four riders, Gerardo, Maria, Juan, and Mari Cruz who courageously stood up displayed signs that read undocumented and proceeded to explain why they chose not to be afraid. When Mari Cruz spoke about her responsibility as a mother and how she was speaking up for her children reminded me of my own parent’s strength to live without fear in this country because they want a better future for their family. Those who spoke could have been intimidated by the risk of arrest or by the anti-immigrant laws that plague the south but they put that aside to call on the conscious of Kobach, those who support his laws, and the USCCR. They sent a clear message – they were not going to be intimidated and they were not going to let hateful laws treat them as anything less than what they deserve as human beings. The moment was inspirational as it exemplified the power that we have as a community to stand up and confront those who continually attempt to oppress and criminalize us as immigrants.
In the days leading up to the Alabama action, we were also able to learn about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and identify parts of that history that can help guide our own movement. At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Civil Rights Collection of the Nashville Public Library, we were able to have honest conversations about what it took the 60’s civil rights movement to grow. It was exciting to have dialogue that was intergenerational since it shows that it is not only possible to work with a cross-generational community but necessary. For example, in 1960s while some people sat in lunch counters as an act of civil disobedience against racist laws other community members contributed by providing them meals or in collecting funds for bail. Ensuring the desegregation of lunch counters in the south was possible because the entire community became involved. Reviewing this part of history shows us how important it is for all community members to take part in our movement. All of the people on the UndocuBus show time and time again that they are determined to fight for what they believe in and that fear is not a factor. I thank them for reminding me that our community is undeniably strong especially when we are united.