The following is one of those conversations that seems to happen over and over again as I hang out with my undocumented friends.
Me: Hey, I can drive tonight.
Undocumented Friend: Are you sure? I can drive, you drove the last time.
Me: Seriously, I have a drivers license. It’s cool. I got it,
Friend: Hey, I’ve dropped the fear. I’m undocumented and unafraid!
Me: Well, I haven’t dropped the fear. I’m documented and afraid so get in the car.
We giggle as I drive off with my driver’s license in my wallet and my privilege checked.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a little bit more about what it means when I jokingly say that I am “documented and afraid.” Part of it is based on how I felt when an undocumented friend of mine was pulled over while driving. I was talking to her on the phone–when she got pulled over, she hit redial so I could secretly listen in on her conversation with the police. I listened with my heart pounding and tears swelling in my eyes, not knowing what might happen to my dear friend. But being “documented and afraid” is also based upon my reflections of being an ally in this movement.
People always ask me why I am a part of the NC DREAM Team. I always give my two part answer: because there are people that I truly love and care about who are undocumented; and because what is going on in my community is unjust and I refuse to stay quiet. But I think it’s time for me to change my answer: how about instead of explaining myself, I say “well, why aren’t you?”
That conversation usually leads to people thanking me for what I do. Both undocumented and documented folks do it all the time, as if allies are heroes that deserve to be fawned over because we take time out of our privilege-filled day to help these poor folks who have fewer rights than us.
I don’t need to be thanked; I shouldn’t be thanked. This movement is not about me. It is about the brave undocumented youth that are coming out of the shadows, taking risks, and demanding that people listen and make change.
This message is increasingly important as we mourn the loss of Joaquin Luna, an undocumented student from Texas who gave up hope and took his own life last week. As much as my heart and soul is in this movement, at the end of the day, I cannot even pretend to understand the struggle and shame that comes with having my humanity denied. That is why it is so important for undocumented youth to lead; when the “undocumented, unafraid, unashamed” voices reach someone that feels alone and on the verge of giving up, they can feel connected to those that are truly living their reality and find comfort knowing that they are not alone.
Sometimes the line between good and bad ally is quite thin; it’s tricky navigating the “ally” role. The most important thing I try to remember is that this isn’t about me; my role is always to support undocumented people. Standing shoulder to shoulder sometimes means taking a step back. My name doesn’t need to be on press releases, and I don’t have to speak at events. Instead, I should be actively encouraging undocumented youth to fill my shoes.
At the end of the day, this movement is about more than just legislation and policies. It is about a community getting empowered and finding its own voice to speak for itself. No matter how well intentioned, the voice of an ally in the forefront inherently cancels out the voices of those that need to be heard the most.