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Soy poderosa because I can lend my voice in solidarity

Guest Blogger: Karen Guzman, Policy Intern, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Karen Guzman tells the story about when she realized she was poderosa – when she found out her cousin was undocumented, and could lend her voice in solidarity.

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Every time I hear the word poderosa or powerful, a particular experience in my life strikes me immediately. The details are all incredibly vivid and I begin to remember this particular moment that completely changed my life. I was 18 years old the first time I ever felt empowered to create positive social change. At the time, I was applying for colleges and universities and immigration started to play a huge role in my life.  During this time I was lucky to have 2 of my cousins go through the college application process with me since we were all the same age. It was an exciting time for us because we were all about to be the first ones in our families to go to a college or university. After years of waiting and asking others for advice on how to apply and what scholarships to look for, we were finally going to achieve one of the biggest goals we had set for ourselves: to be professionals in the United States. To my surprise, it was while filling out one of those applications that I found out that one of my cousins was undocumented. The blank after “SSN:”  on an application — that I had quickly filled out and overlooked — was the only thing standing in the way of her dreams. Never mind the fact that she wanted to be a doctor and was incredibly smart, or that she was on the honor roll every quarter in high school. It felt as if her shot of going to a four-year university was shot down instantly. The day I found out about my cousin’s immigration status, I felt hopeless and disempowered because I knew that nothing I could say to her would bring the light back to her eyes when she talked about her future.

My cousin, who was once so hopeful about her life and her future, now felt trapped and betrayed by the American Dream and, even worse, she felt alone. I don’t know what exactly happened to me after that day, but something struck inside of me and I knew I had to do something for my cousin and for the thousands of people like her. A couple of months later, the perfect opportunity showed up as I found out about a rally in Washington, DC right by the mall on a sunny summer day. This rally would be the first one I ever participated in, but certainly not the last. I decided to go with my mom because I was terrified of going by myself and since she knew how much this meant to me, I knew she would be a great supporter. Together we went to the rally for immigration reform, which was hosted by the campaign to Reform Immigration for America where hundreds of individuals and organizations came out to express their thoughts on our broken immigration system and possible solutions to fix it. Amongst the advocates and supporters there that day were grandparents, fathers, mothers, and lots of youth. The diversity of the people really struck me and I felt at home. Between chants and marching, I eventually found myself next to about 15 DREAMers from Texas. They were holding up a huge American flag with the word “DREAM” on top of the red and white stripes. Their motivation and energy was contagious so my mom and I decided to join them. While we marched, we each exchanged stories and in each one of them I saw my cousin and I knew she wasn’t alone. Their courage and resilience really touched me and I still remember feeling like I could actually do something about the immigration system in America—right then and there I felt poderosa—powerful and almost invincible. I realized that my words and my actions do have meaning and purpose and that I could be a catalyst for social change in my community.

Years after that rally, I created several events and programs at the University of Maryland to raise awareness on immigration and have been actively supporting the Marlyand DREAMers. I am continuously finding ways to engage my community to fight for justice by being a support and resource for them, after all that’s when I feel that I am a poderosa.  My cousin, who was my main motivation for my activism ended up getting permanent residency and is now in the process of completing her nursing degree. Thank you primita for letting me find my passion and helping others realize just how poderosas y poderosos they truly are!

Photo Courtesy of The New York Immigration Coalition

Tonight on HBO – Ted Kennedy fights for immigration rights up until his death

From our b-listed blog

Tune in tonight to HBO2 at 8pm EST for “The Senators’ Bargain“.

Given the massive 200,000 turnout in D.C. this sunday that marched for immigration reform,  this documentary is perfectly timed as it provides an in-depth look at the inner workings of our nation’s political system as Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his team, including advocate Frank Sharry, fight to push the immigration reform bill through Congress in 2007. The film follows Kennedy, who died in 2009 from brain cancer,

capturing the political legend in candid conversations at his Capitol Hill hideaway and rallying his allies with impassioned rhetoric on the Senate floor.

“The Senators’ Bargain” is just one episode in HBO’s 12-story “How Democracy Works Now” series that began filming in 2001 to give the American people a more comprehensive understanding of what really takes place inside the massive political machine that determines our rights.

According to a NY Times review, the documentary

provides scary insight into the ways of Washington and the expediencies that trump reason and goodwill. But mostly it’s a bruised, elegiac look back at a Democratic defeat. The tone is not so much indignant as wistful, attuned to the lyricism of lost causes and the-dream-shall-never-die romance of failure.

A review from New American Media had a slightly different take.

What’s inside the box is an arcane world of closed-door meetings, book-length legislative blueprints, and bare-knuckled and profanity-strewn negotiations carried out to a large degree via phone and Blackberry…”The Senators’ Bargain” contrasts with many documentaries about immigration because it focuses not on the world of the U.S.-Mexico border or ethnic neighborhoods, but the drab Washington, D.C. cubicles, offices and conference rooms where policy is made.

Indeed, immigration reform is a dream that has not died despite the passing of one of its most staunch supporters. Considering the fact that 200,000 showed up to march for immigration rights in Washington D.C. this past weekend, it is clear that people have not forgotten the urgency of this cause. Just last week, Senator Schumer and Senator Graham revealed a blueprint for immigration reform, and this back-story to major legislation will hopefully guide us and provide deep insights into the process that will make it a success.

Photo courtesy of bluejersey via flickr.