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Poetry and protest in pursuit of a dream

young woman in front of blue mural
Litzy Castillo Photo: AFSC

As an intern with AFSC’s 67 Sueños program, Litzy Castillo has helped stop an immigrant detention bus, developed characters and scenes for a mural, participated in multiple rallies and workshops, and traveled to colleges and universities to perform original poetry. You would never know that a year ago, she was struggling in school.

“Last year I flunked ninth grade and wasn’t as passionate about anything,” she says. This year, with encouragement from AFSC staff, she applied and was accepted to the California State Summer School for the Arts, a selective pre-professional training program for high school students demonstrating artistic promise.

Through 67 Sueños, Litzy has found mentorship and people she can turn to for help with schoolwork. But she has also found opportunities to engage with issues that are deeply meaningful to her.

“I am undocumented and all of my family is undocumented,” shares Litzy. “My mom came when I was one year old. She crossed the river with me and my siblings.” A few years ago, Litzy’s mother was detained. She was transported by bus from San Francisco to a detention center in Arizona, and was gone for more than a month. “It was hard for me and my siblings to deal with that.”

67 Sueños is named for the 67 percent of undocumented young people for whom there is no proposed path to citizenship. Like Litzy, many of them came to the U.S. as small children and know no other country. “Sueños” means “dreams” in Spanish. The program encourages youth to learn about the issues affecting them, become involved in their communities, and find ways to pursue their dreams.

“Whether it’s in my own community or going to San Diego or Los Angeles, we work together to find a way to help,” she says. When a bus carrying immigrants to Arizona was successfully stopped by protestors recently, it was an emotional day for Litzy. It was the same bus that had carried her own mother a few years before.

Litzy dreams of winning a scholarship to attend a university so that she can become a lawyer and advocate for immigrants who are mistreated and held in detention centers, “people who don’t have a lot of help.” In the meantime, she continues to be active in 67 Sueños, expressing her family’s story through her poetry and in the public murals the group creates together.

“Every single day I go there [to meetings of 67 Sueños], it’s even more meaningful to me,” she says.