Undocumented stories dominate DuPage rally
Tears, cheers, chants and dramatic stories of growing up undocumented in America dominated Friday’s first “Undocumented & Unafraid” rally held on the footsteps of the DuPage County courthouse.
Within eye-shot of the County Jail, almost a hundred people - many undocumented - gathered to tell their stories and advocate for a change in immigration policies that keep people who grew up in America from becoming legal, driving, working in certain professions and legally holding a job.
Subtitled the “Coming Out of the Shadows Rally,” supporters said they wanted to show they are “unafraid” and encourage others to come out to affect change.
“That is why we wanted to meet at the courthouse and in front of the jail,” said Fanny Lopez-Martinez, 22, who crossed a Southwest desert when she was 13 to get into the United States.
On an 80-degree Friday afternoon, supporters held up signs saying “Don’t Kill Dreams,” “Ally Love, I support your dream,” and 6-year-old Marlene Merez of Addison held up a picture of a female superhero with the headline “Undocuhero.”
“We’re not criminals; we’re just dreamers who want their dreams to come true,” said Rubi Mesino, 20, of Bensenville, whose family came to the United States from Acapulco when she was just 3 years old.
Remarkable aspects of the rally were both the number of youth present and the Midwest accents many of the supporters had. They came to the United States at such an early age, there’s no trace of Mexico in their voices but their speeches were peppered with tears of hardships and discrimination and fear they won’t share in the American dream.
“I look forward to the day when I can apply to medical school and become a doctor,” said Emmanuel Cordova, 19, of Addison, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and was snuck across the border at age 4, pretending to be the child of an American couple.
Cordova now attends the University of Illinois - Chicago, but says medical school is a pipe dream as long as he can’t get federal or state financial aid and can’t produce a Social Security card to a medical school.
Fanny Lopez-Martinez, Rubi Mesino and Emmanuel Cordova were among individuals who spoke at the rally, which waxed between English and Spanish and rallying chants of “Up, up, with education. Down, down with deportation.”
The rally was organized by two Hispanic youth organizations, Nuestra Voz and Latin Youth. Nuestra Voz is a group that meets at a community center and has members from towns surrounding Melrose Park, including Northlake. Latino Youth Action League draws members from towns surrounding Addison.
Melrose Park resident Omar Vazquez, 18, wrote a poem for the event and had his sister Jeneth, 17, read, “Undocumented and Unafraid,” a moving poem referring to their upbringing and hopes for the future.
The poem ended as all the speeches did, with “My name is ... I’m undocumented and I’m unafraid.”
Supporters said they held the rally so other undocumented young people will come forward to help change the laws for other young people who spent most of their lives in the United States and are excelling. Going back to Mexico, some said, would be like going to a foreign country.
DuPage is particularly strict in enforcing immigration laws and many undocumented youth are deported without ever having committed a serious crime, said Maria Robles, a social worker with Addison School District 4.
Robles was born in America, but she cried as she recounted how her mother had gotten into the trunk of a car with other men in order to come across the border and has lived her whole adult life undocumented, working illegally for minimum wages and no Social Security.
Jocelyn Munguia, 19, of Wood Dale, goes to College of DuPage, majoring in child psychology.
“Because of my status, I don’t know if I will be able to (pursue) my dreams,” said Munguia, a member of the Latino Youth Action League.
She came to America when she was 11 from Mexico City.
Many of the immigration stories had their own twists and turns. Fanny Lopez-Martinez, whose family came to America when she was 13 years old from Mexico City told a tearful story of her mother holding her 3-year-old sister in her arms as they crossed a Southwestern desert nine years ago.
“Seeing my mother carrying my sister through the desert, I thought we were going to die,” Lopez-Martinez said.
Today, she attends the University of Chicago and is married to Sgt. David Martinez, who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The wife of a reservist, she still can’t get documentation because, she says, she crossed the border illegally.
She says she has been told she has to go back to Mexico and reapply and that the process can take 10 years, but her husband has a contract with the reserves. So if she goes, he can’t follow for years.
Lopez-Martinez repeated a line many of the speakers and some of the signs used, apparently pointing to a pervasive feeling among undocumented youth that they are living under the radar.
“I am a human being,” she said. “I am a human being.”