As we celebrate José heading off to Washington DC to join NETWORK Lobby in their Associate Program, we wanted to give him an opportunity to do the thing he does best – share his story and share his perspective. If you are able to, we ask you join us on Thursday, July 12th at 5:30. Please email info@IJPCcincinnati.org to RSVP so we can plan better for pizza. We’re also collecting letters to make a book to send with José wishing him well and sharing anything else you’d like. If you have any photos you’d like to include in the book, please send them and the letter to AdiosJC@IJPCcincinnati.org by this Wednesday morning at 11 AM.
I used to think that my activism was a phase. When I was all grown up, in my grown-up job, I’d look at that point in my life and chuckle. For the longest time in my life, I was confused where power laid in my world. I was completely ignoring what my mother had spent years trying to show me, the greatest power laid among people uniting together. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united will never be defeated.
Ironically that was my favorite chant yelling at rallies. You see I was a kid who grew up in the ghetto, looking up to drug dealers and the flashy rappers I saw on TV. In high school, I had one goal. To go to a good college where I could study mechanical engineering and work for Ferrari in Italy. Once there, I would be making a lot of money. I would then use that money and invest it so I could grow my wealth and have the same type of power and wealth as the rappers, drug dealers, and the rich villains I saw in movies. I was a confused kid.
As I worked on achieving my goal in high school, I was spending 85% of my time outside of school being an activist. All thanks to YES. It’s funny how a phone call, or email can alter the course of one’s life. Fabiola Arce, now Galan-Arce, invited me to a United We Dream, UWD, regional meeting between all the mid-West Dreamers groups affiliated with UWD. In that meeting, I met Mayra Alza, now Wilson. She told me about YES and how they would love to have Dreamers share their story at events they had. I, without hesitating, said yes and I found myself sharing my story on a regular basis with Mayra or Sr. Alice Gerdeman. I would speak beside lawyers, professors, and other professionals who were knowledgeable about our broken immigration system. But I think the most impactful person I spoke beside was Marco Saavedra. An activist in the immigration reform movement, an undocumented activist, a member of the Dreamer 9, an activist who never forgets where he came from, and extremely educated man. I think everything shifted when I saw Marco occupy Obama’s campaign office in Cincinnati on 2012. He was one of the many who decided to sit in Obama’s campaign office demanding Obama do something to help undocumented youth. Because of Marco and others, we got DACA. Although, for Marco that wasn’t enough, he kept fighting for undocumented immigrants while not having DACA status.
I remember the days leading up to Marco occupying Obama’s campaign office, Don Sherman had asked Heyra Avila and I if we wanted to do it. We said yes but let us ask our parents. Long story short, we ended up deciding not to do it. To this day I regret not doing it. Activists decided to organize a rally in support of Marco occupying Obama’s campaign office. I spoke at that rally. As we pulled up to the office I remember seeing Marco looking out the glass window in his blue cap and gown. He waved at me as I got out of the car. That rally was the most painful rally I’ve ever been to. I was supposed to be there with Marco, I was supposed to be putting my body on the line for DACA, something that I was going to benefit from and Marco never did. I was ashamed of myself and felt lower than worms. When I got home I cried like a baby, and when DACA was signed as an executive order I was angry with myself for not doing my part. As punishment to myself, I waited to apply for DACA until all the people around me who could get had already gotten it. In that time, I also vowed never to sit on the sidelines while someone else fought for me.
Years passed of not having opportunities to keep the promise I made to myself. I almost forgot about it, until the 2016 election. On Thursday, November 10, two days after the election there was a YES meeting. About 50ish people showed up. It was the biggest meeting we’d ever had. All of their faces looked as if they had realized there worst nightmare became reality, because it did. We started off with allowing people to share their emotions. It quickly got crazy, some were crying, others yelling, and few still so shocked that they couldn’t speak. A YES advisory board leader quieted things down and said I was going to say something. Next thing I knew, I had 100 eyeballs on me and complete silence. It was so odd that it threw me back. Very quickly I thought about Marco and the vow I made to myself. I was not going to sit on the sidelines while MY COUNTRY was hijack by an administration promoting racist messages. The same feeling came again on September 5, 2017, the day DACA was rescinded, when I woke with a fever of 105 and had dozens of interviews with media outlets and a rally. Then one more time last December, as the budget was debated, but this time it was the crying and anger as I was sitting in Gallagher Student Center at Xavier while I watched activist from around the country sitting in legislators offices in D.C. demanding for a Clean Dream Act vote. On that day, I decided I was moving to D.C.
As corny as this may sound, I believe that sometimes your purpose in life is chosen for you. I spent the majority of my late childhood and early teenage years going to rallies with my mom and Don. Being in a rally is so normal and natural for me, it almost feels like I’m in my natural habitat. I was given opportunities to continue doing advocacy work my whole life. And in all this time I’ve spent being an activist, I’ve seen over and over what true power looks like. The same power that was used to start the American Revolution, and of many other Latin American countries. It’s when the people come together and say, “We’re human beings and we want to be free.”
The activist I am today is strongly shaped by IJPC’s philosophy. I grew up in a neighborhood where you couldn’t walk down the street without having a gun pointed in your head, especially if you were a young boy with your pants drooping. Non-violence was incomprehensible to me. But at IJPC, I was challenged to search for my humanity so that I could remember that every human is born with the natural need to protect life, and violence only meant the loss of massive life. When you find this, at least in my experience, you can’t simply remove it. Life is irreplaceable, and you can’t simply say some must go in order to make it better for all.
I spent two and a half years working at IJPC. Two and a half years of sitting at the same desk, looking up and staring at the same three words; Advocate, Challenge, and Transform. I’ve looked at those words so many times and asked myself over a hundred times if I’m upholding those three values in what I was doing. I’ve reflected on it so many times I feel that I’ve embedded them into my DNA. Those three words are as much a part of me and everything I do, as they are a part of IJPC.
Next month I’m leaving Cincinnati and moving to DC. This transition has been hard; it is the hardest transition I’ve ever experienced. I am saying goodbye to my hometown. The city that watched me grow from a young boy seeking to be wealthy so I would never face the financial hardships my mom endured as a parent, into a young man who is devoting his life to fight for the liberation of the oppressed. I’ll miss being a YES member. Going to YES meetings, being at rallies speaking as a YES member, and always being surrounded by my YES family. Above all, I’ll miss the people. Seeing Mel get annoyed by a call from someone wanting a marriage license. Walking in and getting Sr. Andrea’s warm hello with a smile as bright as the sun. Competing with Allison to see who can pick up the phone the quickest when Mel is unable to answer it. Making Samantha laugh by being my crazy and goofy self that I only felt comfortable acting around my co-workers. They have been the best co-workers I’ve ever had, and I doubt I’ll ever find better ones. I’m going to miss the YES Advisory Board Leaders, my bests of friends. How I wish I could share the most hilarious moments I’ve spent with them, but they are part of the YES secrets (?). I remember once reading that the people you experience hardship together with is a one-of-a-kind friendship. I completely agree with that.
I don’t know what my life would have been if Fabiola Galan-Arce never called me that morning, or if Mayra Wilson didn’t invite me and gave me rides to YES meetings. If Allison had never answered my email to meet with her about YES, or if she wouldn’t have called me to offer me the position as the immigration program organizer I probably would have still been working at the Boost Mobile Store on Montgomery Rd in Norwood. IJPC gave me the space to fall in love with activism and understand the kind of man I was born to become, empowering the oppressed.
Mel, Andrea, and Samantha thank you for all that you three have taught me. To all the IJPC board member’s past and present, thank you for believing in me. To all the IJPC family, thank you for all your support. Nancy, Sandra, and Esther thank you for sticking with me at the beginning of it all. Andrea S, Rolando, Heidy, José S, Hazel, Mari, and Francesca thank you for one hell of a year and for being one of my closest friends. Mayra, Sarah, and Fabiola thank you for doing what you did to keep me affiliated with this organization. Marcos, thank you for mentoring me in the earlier years of my activism career. Don, thank you for being like a father figure to me and introducing me to my greatest passion; activism. A Ma, gracias por siempre llevarme a rallies, marchas y reuniones. Nunca viera podido hacer lo que hice en YES si no fuera por verte todo estos años trabajar para mejorar nuestra comunidad. Gracias por todo. To every single past and present YES member, thank you for allowing me to work with you. It was a true honor. Allison, thank you for everything. Believing I could bring back YES, allowing me to roll with the greatest team ever, for all that you have taught me, always wanting the best for me, and being my friend. Lastly, thank you Heyra and Laura. You both have kept me sane, called me out on my BS, and made me a better activist. I don’t know what I would have done without you both.
In the past month, I have been training the new Immigration Program Organizer, Sandra Ramirez, who will take the lead in organizing YES this year. YES has been my baby and it has scared me thinking about leaving my child with someone I don’t know well. After this month, I’m confident YES will be in good hands. In Sandra, I see the same passion, drive, ambition that I had when I first walked in the doors of IJPC. I hope all of you will continue to be engaged with YES and keep advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.