Joseline Tlacomulo remembers her parents telling her she was undocumented when she was in high school.
“When I was applying to college, being told I wasn’t getting financial aid because I was undocumented was a slap in the face, and it was the first time that it hit me,” said Tlacomulo, now a freshman studying nursing at the University of Connecticut.
She and other UConn students shared stories of similar experiences Monday night in the Student Union Theater at “The Fight for Justice: Speak Out,” an event organized by UConn’s chapters of Students Without Borders and Black Lives Matter.
“These are real people, real lives and real stories being told,” said Daniela Doncel, secretary of Students Without Borders. “We hope to spread awareness of what it means to be undocumented and what it means to be oppressed based on race or gender. We’re hoping for people listening to get a new perspective.”
Tlacomulo shared her experiences as an immigrant from Mexico. Her parents left their home country when she was so young that she said she can’t feel directly connected to that culture.
“Because I was undocumented, my parents told me, I had to work 10 times harder than anyone else in my class. So I did work hard, for my parents,” Tlacomulo said.
Tlacomulo acknowledged that the situation for undocumented immigrants and their children is complicated and multifaceted. In some ways, she said, she had it easier than many other undocumented youth because she was a good student with supportive parents.
“Not all undocumented students are high-achieving,” Tlacomulo said. “Not all of us can achieve that, often because of discrimination felt from even our teachers. I’m privileged to be here. I admit it. I’m f------ privileged, but what about those friends of mine back home who can’t [get scholarships], because their family depends on them or they have to work three jobs?”
Tlacomulo is involved in Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), a group which advocates for undocumented youth, particularly for accessible education.
Renato Muguerza Calle, also from C4D, discussed his early childhood experiences coming from Peru at age four. When he was 11, he moved to Naugatuck, Connecticut.
“All of a sudden it was embarrassing to speak Spanish,” Calle said. “People called me ‘illegal.’ They asked what part of Mexico I was from…I’m Peruvian. Then they asked me what part of Mexico Peru is in.”
Several speakers discussed “intersectionality of oppression.” They drew parallels and noted overlapping experiences felt by different groups.
“I realized how complaint some of us can be when we have citizenship, and we think ‘I’m black’ or ‘I’m Muslim’ so I’m not responsible” said Haddiyyah Ali, a commuter senator in Undergraduate Student Government. “If you have these privileges it should make you sick, should make you angry that other people aren’t receiving the aid and privileges that they pay into.”
Vanessa Villar, ex-officio USG senator for the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC), described her time “finding her voice” in student government and trying to represent others.
“When I saw [USG] and found that minority representation wasn’t there I was shocked,” Villar said. “I was glad I joined. I wanted a student government that represented the student body at UConn, which isn’t all Caucasian.”
Others at the event give shared stories through poetry, music or audience participation.
“Use your talents,” Alyssa Hughes, a senior journalism student, told the crowd, “Whatever talent you have, that’s your voice… Use that to raise awareness for social justice.”
Hughes (who is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus) directed the crowd to stand up, turn to person next to them, and tell them, “I exist.”
“I think it’s important to keep realizing we exist and that no one can take that away from us,” Hughes said.
Hughes later directed the crowd to yell, on her count of three, “I exist” so loud that “the whole [Student] Union can hear it.”
Julian Rose, a senior biomedical engineering student, read a poem that began, “I’ve grown sick of giving my black opinion on black death.”
Rose’s poem dealt with topics of racism and oppression.
“And for the media, I’d like you to quote this for the next article that you write,” Rose said. “Maybe if we could raise the cost of bullets, police, fire, nooses, crosses, knives, drugs, the law, poor education, rape, hypermasculinity, prison, transphobia, sexism, religion, ‘otherness’, they’d stop killing us with them. Because, you know, the economy is tough, and maybe the price just won’t be worth killing another black kid, undocumented kid, trans kid, woman.”
Another student, Santi Diaz, performed a hip-hop song directed at “Students of UConn.” Diaz said he had recently performed the song at HuskyTHON (a fundraising event), but had his mic cut off and was told to leave the stage.
Eric Cruz López, a member of C4D, read a spoken word piece “to the white women on Instagram who wear sombreros with the hashtag ‘illegal,’” in response to a recent social media posting by four UConn students.
“Hash tag illegal because marijuana is legal in some countries and my mother isn’t,” López said. “I’m tired of having to defend my family and my people.”
Karla Garcia, president of Students Without Borders, pulled up the Instagram picture to show the audience near the end of the event.
“We want to reach out to everyone,” Garcia said. “We’re not trying to sugarcoat. We’re trying to tell it like it is.”
“We’re not just signs, or people behind signs,” Garcia said. “We’re real people with real stories.”
Garcia said the event was a success for bring awareness to issues faced by undocumented youth and other underprivileged groups.
“I think it was great. My focus was to get people who aren’t involved,” Garcia said. “I want to educate the campus on realities of what it means to be undocumented or just to black and walking on campus… When people are ignorant of this, it’s not their fault. They just don’t know.”
“I think was a good start of something,” Doncel added. “We hope to keep moving forward.”
Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.