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Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education

The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists


Susana M. Muñoz

The topic of immigration has become increasingly volatile in U.S. society, and undocumented college students play a central role in mobilizing and politicizing a critical mass of activists to push forth a pro-immigration agenda, in particular the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM Act is the only federal legislation that would grant conditional citizenship and some financial aid assistance to undocumented students who have completed two years of college or enlist in military service. Since the DREAM Act failed to pass, undocumented students have moved from peaceful marches to acts of civil disobedience, seeking to disrupt the public discourse that positions undocumented students as living in the shadows of our system. Undocumented college students have created public forums in which they «come out» from these invisible images and pronounce themselves as «undocumented and unafraid».
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Chapter One

Exclusionary Immigration Policies



“We started by shouting. ‘No papers, no fear, immigrants are marching here!’ And then alongside hundreds of people, we finally chanted loudly and proudly, ‘undocumented and unafraid, undocumented and unafraid!’’ (Ireri Unzueta, Immigrant Youth Activist)

In 2007, I conducted my dissertation research study in the Rocky Mountain region where I met four undocumented Mexican women who were to have a profound impact on my life. During one of my interviews, I remember sitting across the table from Sofi, an outgoing, small-framed college junior studying business administration who hailed from Hueyotlipan, Tlaxcala, Mexico. Our conversations delved into her family life, cultural background, prior schooling, and college experiences. As Sofi discussed her challenges and hardships of navigating her legal status in higher education, I distinctly recall that critical moment in which Sofi let out a deep sigh as she sank back into her chair. Her eyes were focused intently at the ground as she expressed, “Sometimes I feel ashamed when I talk about my status; it makes me want to avoid taking about it.” The word “ashamed” struck a chord in my heart; I pursed my lips together and shook my head in sadness ← 1 | 2 → while blinking back the tears that seemed determined to appear. Sofi’s struggle with shame mirrors what many undocumented immigrants experience in U.S. society.

The years following my dissertation study spurred more social activism from undocumented individuals, from occupying streets and congressional offices, to holding public...

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