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Undocumented: Reclaiming my voice during voting season

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JUNE 08, 2016

I’m most excited for election season to be over so that folks can stop asking me if I’ve registered to vote. So that energetic, button-donning Bears can stop asking me if I “feel the Bern” or if I’m “with her” on my way through Telegraph Avenue. So that I don’t feel like I’m somehow disappointing them when I tell them that I can’t vote because I’m undocumented.

While some choose not to participate in what they believe to be an orchestrated political reality TV show (and I’ve been finding it more difficult each day to prove them otherwise), others are not granted the ability to do so because of our immigration status. Being undocumented during an election season is to cease being a human being through the eyes of the privileged and become co-opted as their political points. Statistics put dollar signs on us, endorsements exploit our lived realities, and then when it comes down to our needs, a large portion of our community is criminalized and left out of the discussion. Then when it comes to international politics that affect our home countries, our so-called allies’ progressiveness fails to cross the border.

Their meritocracy divides us. They create a narrative in which those worthy of citizenship are those most likely to have been indoctrinated by the violent American mainstream, consumers of a narrative that claims that if you work hard enough, you’ll accomplish your dreams. They formulate DREAM Acts but criminalize the largest portion of our community, so that they can then terrorize and separate us. Laws, bills, orders drafted and passed by folks who often see us as tax dollars or the tools by which to gain the votes of our allies.

I was once someone who attempted to fit his story to those abstractly fabricated molds. I allowed myself to feel cared for whenever a Democrat mentioned immigration reform, all while they deported a record number of undocumented immigrants. I allowed them to criminalize my parents so that I might have a shot at proving that I was capable of being an American. I believed that if someone stopped using the i-word, they were somehow on my side. Yet, year after year, I watched as that mold became tighter around me, leaving more people out as it went. It began suffocating me to the point that I started wondering whether there would be a point in which I could no longer fit into it.

As election years went by, I became more jaded by the words that came out of Democratic mouths and began laughing at the nonsensical hatred spewed by Republicans. Immigration reform lost its meaning, and I realized that the mold I fit so nicely in had robbed me of a voice.

Now I’m reclaiming that voice.

Our life as undocumented immigrants is affected by decisions people disconnected from our reality make, and so community organizing becomes our vote. Community organizing is not exclusionary; it does not ask for a special federal ID to participate; it does not ask you to wear a button or sticker three months in advance to feel a part of it; it does not dehumanize you.

I’m not going to pretend I know more about community organizing than I do. In fact, some of the most dedicated community organizers I know would roll their eyes if asked to write this piece. I’m only going to speak of what it meant to me to reclaim my voice via protest.

Above all else, participating in community organizing meant tossing away the mold. It meant realizing the fact that my success came at the expense of others and revoking my success if it was not intersectional. It meant being comfortable with being made uncomfortable when my privileges within a marginalized group were called into question. It meant being told the harsh reality that citizenship was not the solution to the systemic oppression my communities face. And because community organizing has no political party, it meant having an actual opinion of my own.

It was surrounded by such powerful community organizers that I realized that voting did not grant me the privileges I now hold as an undocumented student. That Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) did not blossom out of President Barack Obama’s heart, but was the fruit of civil disobedience and emotionally draining negotiations. That San Francisco remains a sanctuary city not because of any one voter, but because of the resilient community that realized that the freest you’ll ever feel is chained to your comrades in the middle of a busy metropolitan street. That funding necessary for the survival of undocumented students at UC Berkeley does not come from a meeting with Nicholas Dirks, but with the meeting of various communities dedicated to keeping Sather Gate occupied.

So, no, I’m not registered to vote. I’m registered to fuck shit up.

And remember that as they go after our allies’ votes, they also go after our community’s bodies: either for exploitation of labor or deportation.

Don’t be with her, be with us; feel no Bern, feel our rage. Only then will we be able to trump whatever challenge might come our way.

Juan Prieto is an undocumented student, organizer and former layout designer at The Daily Californian.

JUNE 08, 2016