Student organizers focus efforts on rehumanization
THE SANTA CLARA
May 11, 2017
Adorned with vibrant paper mache flowers, a banner that read “Drop the I Word” and informational posters, a chain link fence stood between Kenna Hall and Benson Memorial Center last week.
The fence, known as the Mock Border Wall, is a part of the 6th Annual Immigration Week sponsored by the Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCAAP), Multicultural Center (MCC), Undocumented Students and Allies (USAA) and Ethnic Studies Department. Programming throughout the week included a May Day Rally, open mic night and day workers’ panel to raise awareness about issues surrounding immigration and migration.
Senior Yesenia Veamatahau, one of the event organizers, said that Immigration Week is an opportunity to share the experiences of marginalized people: immigrants, migrants and refugees.
“Bring folks on the margin to the center and to demonstrate a visible commitment to amplifying their experiences and mobilizing our own resources, knowledge and privileges to be advocates,” Veamatahau said.
In past years, Immigration Week was met with backlash from the campus community. In 2015, derogatory Yik Yak comments surfaced and the Mock Border Wall was vandalized. Immigration Week also usually falls on the same week as Cinco de Mayo.
For many years, Santa Clara students hosted an off-campus party called “Cinco de Alvisos,” which drew controversy for being a culturally insensitive celebration. The party was held again this year under a different title: Alvisos 2017. Organizers barred students from entry if they wore culturally offensive outfits.
Under the current political climate, the state of immigrants remains unpredictable. An executive order stopping immigrants from Muslim-majority countries was blocked by federal judges. President Trump campaigned on harsher immigration enforcement, which has resulted in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s arrest of 35,147 undocumented immigrants, including those who overstayed their visas.
Veamatahau said she was surprised by the lack of overt opposition to the Mock Border Wall this year, speculating that the November campus-wide walk out in support of undocumented students and staff was a factor. She said she thought the event helped individuals recognize the humanity of the undocumented community even if they held differing political views.
“Being able to put a face and a name to these kind of abstract policies and concepts has been really important,” Veamatahau said. “I think that has been one of the main reasons that there has been more support or I guess less vocal opposition.”
Grandi sat in front of the Mock Border Wall throughout the week, hoping to spark and facilitate dialogue among students. She said the wall’s intentionally inconvenient location, blocking passage through the Kenna lawn, brought greater attention to the issues surrounding immigration.
“(The wall) forces people to confront the issue of immigration which I think is necessary on this campus,” Grandi said.
One banner on the wall read “Drop the I-Word,” where people could sign their names as a commitment to not use the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. Veamatahau said the word contributes to the dehumanization of undocumented people and illustrates people’s detachment from immigration.
“People’s visceral reaction is very telling of how truly removed they are from the people who are migrating here, most often under obligation,” Veamatahau said.
This year’s theme, “Yearning to Breathe Free,” is a fragment from the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
New Colossus,” Veamatahau said, is a poem that conveys openness to immigrants coming from Europe— a receptiveness not afforded to indigenous people, African slaves and non-European immigrants.
Veamatahau said using the poem in the context of Immigration Week was an attempt to shift the narrative that the U.S. is welcoming of all people and acknowledges the struggles faced by marginalized groups.
“Who are we really embracing? Who are we reaching out to? Who are we really including in this nation? As opposed to who we are symbolically including or using?” Veamatahau questioned.
When asked about their favorite event, Veamatahau and Grandi were both appreciative of the Day Worker’s Panel. The Day Worker Center, located in Mountain View, is a non-profit dedicated to ensuring fair working conditions for day workers. Director Maria Marroquin, described by Grandi as “an angel walking among us,” shared the stories of immigrant day workers and her mission to advocate for their rights.
Sophomore Julio GarciaJimenez regularly visits the Day Worker’s Center through Grandi’s SCCAP program, Worker’s Connection.
He expressed admiration for Marroquin’s efforts and said he values his time spent at the Center.
“I feel very fortunate to know these people and hear their stories and hear their struggles and in a way, be able to relate to them just because of what my parents went through,” Garcia-Jimenez said.
As a graduating senior, Veamatahau said she hopes that discussions on immigration in an academic setting acknowledge the human lives directly impacted, including people within the campus community.
“These things just don’t exist in our classrooms or on our campus,” Veamatahau said. “There are people who are on this campus who are affected.”
Contact Bella Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org