My Activism Resulted in a Right-Wing Campaign for My Deportation
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The following is an excerpt from Undocumented and Unafraid: Tam Tran, Cinthya Felix, and the Immigrant Youth Movement.It is part of a short series on the youth-led immigrant rights movement, produced in solidarity with the 11 Million Dreams Week of Action.For an overview of the movement, you can read the first piece of the series here.
On May 20, 2010, nine brave students sat down in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard in front of the West Los Angeles Federal Building to advocate for passage of the DREAM Act. The Wilshire Nine action took place three days after DREAM Act students staged a sit-in at Senator McCain’s office in Arizona. In Los Angeles, immigrant youth came together to take part in a similar non-violent direct action. Direct action disrupts “business as usual” but most importantly, it is an act of sacrifice by individuals who are willing to put themselves at risk in order to push for the greater good.
The nine demonstrators were all US citizens, but they took this action in solidarity with their undocumented friends and classmates. One of the protestors was an Iraq War veteran. We chose Wilshire Boulevard because it is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles and is located a few blocks from UCLA. Dozens of supporters marched in a picket line surrounding the Wilshire Nine, who took over the street for two hours, sitting in a circle wearing graduation caps.
I was stationed with my laptop computer and cell phone a few blocks away at a coffee shop, conducting media outreach for the action. The coffee shop was our makeshift office, and I sent out press releases with updates and took calls from many reporters. I was identified as the media spokesperson on the press release, and my cell phone number was listed.
The traffic congestion caused by the street closure was immense. Television and radio reporting of traffic delays is a constant preoccupation in Los Angeles, so a traffic jam caused by civil disobedience attracted considerable media coverage. Little did we know that one of the motorists stranded in traffic was a right-wing talk radio host who regularly spews anti-immigrant rhetoric on his shows.
As I was conducting an interview for an international cable news show, my phone began to ring repeatedly. I answered a few calls and was attacked and insulted. One caller told me, “You need to understand that illegal is illegal,” whereas another voiced that “illegals like you need to be deported back to Mexico.” I soon learned that a national campaign had been started by the conservative AM radio talk show to call for my deportation.
I was unaware of the radio show’s reach and was shocked to discover its popularity. I listened to the radio broadcast and was disgusted by the distorted information sent out to its listeners. The sacrifice that our allies made in order to push for the passage of the DREAM Act was being used to demonize immigrant youth.
That day I received hundreds of hateful and racist calls, text messages, and e-mails. However, I also received messages of love and support from friends, classmates, and professors who were shocked that right- wing talk shows had launched a national campaign calling for my deportation. The shows also announced on the air that they were selling a printed t-shirt advertised online as part of the campaign. “Deport Nancy Meza” was printed on the front of the shirt, with a phone number for Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the back. It was available in different colors and sizes for about thirty dollars and even included baby and toddler sizes. I couldn’t fathom the thought of parents’ buying “Deport Nancy Meza” t-shirts for their children and babies to wear.
I came to the United States from Mexico at the age of two and have been living here as an undocumented immigrant for more than twenty years. I grew up in the poor, working-class neighborhood of East Los Angeles and was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and go on to college. Although I had experienced various instances of anti-immigrant sentiment, this attack was the worst by far. Nevertheless, it has made me stronger and prouder to be undocumented and unafraid.
As undocumented students, we have decided that while we take a risk in exposing ourselves and revealing our undocumented status, the greater risk is when we remain silent and unknown to the world around us. Although exposing myself as an undocumented student sparked a national call for my deportation, that same act informed and mobilized my community and other supporters about the realities we face and motivated them to take action. I have not faced deportation, but it is a risk that I am willing to take for justice. I know this risk might result in being torn away from my family and sent to a place I have not seen since I was two years old, but this is the reality that far too many immigrants face. It is a reality that needs to be changed. If I can do anything to advance the fight for human dignity and justice, I will do so, even if it means being separated from my family and loved ones.
Copyright © 2012. Reprinted with permission of UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, Los Angeles, CA.