From comics to real life: Undocumented youth tell their story

Immigration reform has taken a sharp upheaval over the last decade with the legislative controversies over the DREAM Act and the strict provisions implemented by states such as Arizona, where they enacted a law that allows police to question the immigration status of those suspected of being in US illegally.

While this issue has been in a game of political football amid politicians, one the other side a large number of activists are taking a stand against America’s broken immigration system–and a majority of them are undocumented youth have become some of the loudest voices on the issue. This type of action toward reform has sparked a major debate in many parts of the country. It also has given birth to a movement within the undocumented community of undocumented youth who label themselves as being “Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic.”

This new movement by undocumented youth speaks volumes to the tipping point of where the lack of overhaul in immigration policies and the tactics used by the government to deport and destabilize immigrants in this country have come. The majority of youth involved in the “Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic” movement rings the same sentiment that was held by many movements before them, such as the Gay Rights Movement.

The Gay Rights movement exclaimed, “”We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!” This movement exclaims, “We’re Here! We’re Undocumented! We’re unafraid! Get used to it!”

Immigration policy in this country is unequivocally diluted and needs major reform to dispel the discrimination, disenfranchisement, stereotypes, and, for some, the fear of immigrants.

On October 19, 2012,  the Loop location of Graham Cracker Comics, hosted an event titled, “Parallel Universes: Drawing connections with comic books and real life undocumented heroes,” along with representatives from CAIR-Chicago, the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), and a number of undocumented youth, allies, and activists and, of course, comic book fans.

These comic book lovers and activists came together to speak not only on the issue of being undocumented, but also on the correlation between the heroes in the comic book world and the heroes in the real world.

Just as Spiderman, Superman, the X-Men, Batman, and a slew of other heroes in the comic book world, are trying to promote social change and do some good in the world, they must also keep their identity hidden to protect those around them and the persecution that might ensue. This idea correlated with many undocumented youth, who are the real life masked heroes.

“Us being here, us being vocal about our ‘undocumentedness,’ is also threatening people’s reality” stated one young woman in attendance. “You speak too well, you don’t’ look undocumented, they want to hold on to that image to step on us,” she continued.

After going around the group and everyone sharing who their favorite superheroes are–ranging from Iron Man to Catwoman to various X-Men characters–and why, the discussion then shifted.

The discussion began to touch on three important interconnected realms that correlate between the comic book world of superheroes and the real life heroic experiences of undocumented youth: self-care, identity, and narrative.

Narrative is a vital form of discourse for the movement of undocumented immigrants. Just as superheroes in comic books have a desolate backstory that prompts them to create an identity and engage in their particular actions and use their newly-found superpowers to combat an antagonist, so do real life undocumented heroes; narrative in the undocumented movement is centered on the same ideal as well.

Identity played a part in constructing who is part of the movement and how that projects the meaning of what the movement entails for immigrant rights and shifting the dialogue about relevant immigration-related issues. Many drew strong connections between the stories of superheroes and their own real-life experiences –such as Daredevil and his disabilities, and even the X-Men, for example, have superpowers that no one knows about, because if they revealed them, they’d be persecuted.

These heroes had to fight against the injustices that plagued them because they were seen as disrupting an idyllic world; something all too real for the undocumented youth in attendance.

“I never thought about the immigration status… about how the superhero would be in correlation with immigration law in the U.S,” one partaker acknowledged. “A superhero is held in higher regard, we understand the superhero can operate above the law because their surviving a greater goal,” he continued.

One participant then posed to the group the question of, “Can our superpowers as undocumented young people, whatever it is, be unhealthy for us?” – relaying the idea of how getting close to some people as undocumented youth can hurt people. Moreover, she entertained the idea about self-care and how emotions can affect the way individuals in the movement can affect better efforts to keep aspects of the movement going.

As another participant noted however, “If Superman reveals he’s Clark Kent, he’s exalted … but if [an undocumented person] reveals they are undocumented, they’re in a whole lot of trouble, right?”

“We are superheroes, but we don’t have superpowers” she acknowledged, “We’re organizing because it’s the way we’ve been vilified in society.”

The conversations and stories shared spoke volumes about what the movement means for many youth.

Attendees of the event highlighted the point that saying “I am undocumented” isn’t a troublesome statement for some, it is something where pride flourishes and organizing arises and a movement is born. This is done in order to give hope and change to millions of families, youth, and immigrants in all, to have a voice that will be heard, and receive the embrace to better their lives. They are real life heroes by standing up for the prejudices that surround the idea of being an immigrant and trying to dismiss the anti-reform rhetoric that has plagued the immigrant rights movement, especially for the youth.

Real life superheroes can’t fly, read minds, or emit laser beams from their eyes, but they certainly can unify and start a dialogue for change.

Following the conclusion of the discussion, an appeal was made to support an undocumented family. The Tariq family is an undocumented Pakistani family of which, two of the children are visually-impaired. Fawad, the eldest boy has gastroparesis, a rare stomach condition, which can only be treated but does not have a cure. The father, Mohammad, has a heart condition that limits his ability to work. They are on their way to adjusting their status but they cannot pay their legal and filing fees.

By giving your email, you allow the Immigrant Youth Justice League to contact you regarding the campaign, to sharing the online campaign for the family once it’s launched, and/or to help raise funds to defer the family’s immigration costs.

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