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Lifting up the voices of immigrant youth

Youth participants in AFSC's 67 67 Sueños program in Oakland. Photo: 67 Sueños / AFSC

Three young immigrant leaders share their journeys as part of AFSC's 67 Sueños program. 

"Ain't no power, like the power of the youth

'Cause the power of the youth, don’t stop - SAY WHAT?"

In Oakland, California, 67 Sueños works with marginalized undocumented youth and youth from mixed status families affected by high rates of violence, mass incarceration, deportation, and poverty. Using political education, trauma healing, artivism, and introducing them to alternative life changing experiences, 67 Sueños cultivates youth organizing and power building by guiding youth to trust their own process and reframe their stories as a source of power and resistance. 

We asked three youth to share their experiences with the program: 

Alva Martinez, 17 

"67 Sueños became my home away from home. In 2010 my father was deported. I was blinded to the impact it had on me. It wasn't until I met 67 Sueños in 2014 were I was finally given the opportunity to cope with my feelings of my father's deportation. 

At the time I was full of rage and sadness. My approach to fix what was going on in my life during that time was not the most productive. Through my activism in 67 Sueños, I was able to speak up and shine a light on how deportation affects children. 67 Sueños gave me an opportunity to use my anger and rage for good. It was not easy, but 67 Sueños taught me that it is not impossible. 

Although I am still not able to vote, I believe that as young people we still have the power to be civically engaged and create real change in our communities. This is why I co-led a voting registration party at my school where we pre-registered and registered youth who otherwise might not have been included in the upcoming CA Gubernatorial elections. Three years ago, 67 Sueños youth, including myself, shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in San Francisco for a couple of hours, but we know that our action must go further and as youth from mixed status families, we must use our citizenship privilege to uplift the voices of our parents. I was able to use my voice and body to demonstrate my resistance. All the anger and sadness that had built up for many years, I was finally able to let it loose that day. A wave of relief and tranquility ran in me that day.

Today I try to show my peers to not be ashamed of the experiences they have gone through. I always advise them to use their experiences to speak up for what they believe in, just like 67 Sueños taught me to do, be it through marching, being civically engaged, or just doing our best to thrive despite the barriers we face.  

I feel like it is powerful when youth take action because adults tend to try and control us and silence us. What adults tend to fail in acknowledging is that youth have power and we are capable of doing the unimaginable. Once youth get an opportunity to hold the mic, we make sure to make good use of it. Most of the time we leave adults speechless, because we do what they are scared of doing. Adults need to learn how to uplift youth voices more, because they need us as much as we need them."

 

Stephanie Gutierrez, 15

"67 Sueños has helped me learn many new things about both my heritage and issues impacting my community. I have learned to use this knowledge to inspire me to make change and fight back. I really enjoy 67 because when we learn about things we don't just sit back, we stand up with our heads held high and take action. 

Artwork by StephanieFor example, when we learned about Urban Shield, we took action by attending the voting meetings and spoke out against it in front of the Board of Alameda County Supervisors. In these meetings, we reminded the Board of Supervisors that we might not be of voting age yet, but in a year or two we would be and that we would hold accountable anyone who turned their backs on communities of color. For me this was a proud moment because it was one of the first times that I felt like my voice mattered and it was heard. Even though I am not able to vote yet because I am underage, I was able to feel the power of my voice just by speaking on that podium, and knowing that my voice and story could create social change. 

Another occasion where I felt powerful as a young person was when we learned about the significance of the snake to the Mexica people. This political education lesson inspired me to create an art piece titled "Xingones," which is a Spanish word that roughly translates to  'powerful badass.' 'Cause we latinos somos xingones! In 67 I have learned how to use art as a tool of resistance and as a way to inspire and communicate with others looking at my art. 

This past summer of 2017, I was given the opportunity to help paint a mural at Manzanita Seed Elementary school with 67 Sueños. One of the main reasons we painted this mural was to reclaim space here in Oakland, especially now when my beautiful city is being affected by gentrification - and many families are being pushed out and displaced, while others are being left homeless. 

Our mural focused on building bridges, not walls, and to stand together in solidarity. Especially in times like this when Trump is president. This is why I co-led the voting registration party at my school where we urged our peers to use their voting power and send a powerful message in the upcoming gubernatorial elections that we will not support any bigot. It is important that we use our collective voices, even if its through art, to fight back against the system that oppresses us." 

 

Brenda Garcia, 16

"67 Sueños has given me the opportunity to expand my individuality as a human being. Before entering 67 I was very shy and reserved. I would come to 67 Sueños and just observe. Entering into this internship my sophomore year, it was hard because I was dealing with many things emotionally, but I didn’t feel safe to share them. 

In the beginning, this affected my relationships with my mentors and my peers because I would shut them out. Eventually, 67 became my safe space. They turned into a family and this was the only place where I felt safe and comfortable enough to share my story and experiences. I would sit down and have long talks with my mentors and they made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Because of this, I was able to heal little by little, from some of my lived traumas. I can honestly say that if they wouldn’t have done that for me, I wouldn’t be the fearless Latina I a am today who has even traveled to Kenya to represent 67 Sueños and Oakland youth leadership.  

Eventually, I was able to put more on the table, which led me to build strong relationships with people around me. I was able to talk to them and express myself with confidence. I became this new mujer poderosa chingona, that is down for anything! 

All of this was important because I learned how important my voice was and how important it is to build good relationships with other peers and people in general. Because this was how we are able to create real change in our communities. Building strong relationship, builds strong movements. My communication today is what helps me feel connected to my own community because I get to meet other young people who are also powerful and that when we get down to organize to make the change we want to see."