Notes from the field - 2019 UC Undocumented Student Summit
I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 UC Undocumented Student Summit at UCLA in May. This summit was possible after years of advocacy and hard work by undocumented students from all over the state. The goal is to promote representation and community for undocumented students from all of the UCs. Each campus, besides UC Santa Cruz, brought anywhere from 10-20 students. We started the weekend off by setting community rules to create a safe space, followed by two great keynote speakers who shared their stories and struggles that came along with being undocumented at a UC. This space was the first time I was around so many people like myself. Even though I am a senior, it was the first time in my college career that I could speak up about a specific struggle and everyone knew exactly what I was talking about because they were also experiencing it themselves. A lot could go unsaid and it never got lost in translation. It was an extremely powerful space to be in.
After the introductions, I attended a workshop on organizing. A couple of people from The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) shared tips and models for how their organization had organized over the year. This empowering speech pushed all students to stand up and rise at their respective institutions to bring about social change. They urged each student to advocate for themselves given that no one else is looking out for them. They also made themselves available in case any of us wanted or needed help organizing at our campus. They pointed out that most of us are already making positive social change but at an individual level. They asked us to imagine the change that we could bring working together, having a louder voice. The rest of the evening included mingling and bonding events. I was able to meet lots of different undocumented students from all over California. It was really inspiring.
Sunday was more focused on the future. There were grad school panels and an entrepreneurship workshop. Someone from Immigrants Rising provided insight on what it is like to work for yourself as a private contractor, how to do it, and the challenges that can come along with it. It is common knowledge that we will always struggle with our status but the focus here was to find alternate ways to deal with our issues. The lack of a social security number prevents a lot of undocumented students from finding employment after they graduate so this was a workshop tailored specifically to address that issue given that we are so limited.
Overall this was a great experience. I would recommend any and all undocumented students to attend. Given that the summit is still in the making, there is a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully in future years there are more opportunities to network with different campuses to hear about different ideas and initiatives across California. Also, I think it would be really important to have professors who are leaders in research on undocumented people participate in the summit. Professional networking as well as peer networking could be a really powerful tool. Collaboration between all of these driven undocumented students can bring about incredible change and I am excited to hear how it develops into something amazing in the coming years.In the end we also heard about a fellowship opportunity that a group of the students are working on at their campus. They are trying to secure funding from different departments to employ undocumented students through stipends. One of the biggest issues for us is always being worried about how we will make ends meet while we are in school. Our parents, most of the time, don’t have the money to help us out so we are left to fend for ourselves. With no work study available for non-DACA students, the likelihood for us to stay in and finish school decreases. This fellowship would give non-DACA undocumented students a chance. They shared their work to encourage students to mimic this at their own campus.