UndocuTribe holds Dreamers Week to destigmatize immigration

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UndocuTribe's Immigration Panel was hosted in Tucker Hall. DAISY GARNER / THE FLAT HAT

March 24 to March 28, the College of William and Mary’s immigration awareness and advocacy group UndocuTribe hosted their fourth annual Dreamers Week. Throughout the four days, Dreamers Week offered different events aimed to help students become better allies to immigrants and the undocumented community.  

The principle objective of Dreamers Week’s was to showcase the diversity of immigration. UndocuTribe members emphasized that immigrants originate from different countries and have diverse experiences. According to UndocuTribe Director Olivia Leon Vitervo ‘19, immigrants can be refugees, Temporary Protected Status holders or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients; some immigrants live without documentation entirely.  

During Dreamers Week, students and professors discussed these realities and engaged in a dialogue about the unique experiences faced by immigrants from Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America.  

UndocuTribe illustrated this diversity by selling Tshirts with the phrase “no human being is illegal” in 10 different languages on the front and “migration is beautiful” on the back. UndocuTribe members Ariana Afsari ‘19 and Aida Campos ‘20 conceptualized and designed the shirts, an example of how each component of Dreamers Week was planned by students. 

“Our club has been brought together by this,” Vitervo said 

Wednesday, March 27, UndocuTribe hosted an immigration panel entitled “Becoming ‘White’ in America, featuring professor Stephen Sheehi from the Asian and Middle East studies and Arabic studies departments, along with professors Sohoni and Gosin of the sociology department 

As an organizer for Dreamers Week, Patrick Wachter 19 explained that UndocuTribe incorporated the panel into the week’s program in order to portray diverse perspectives on assimilation. Panelists analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of white, and argued that while the census is supposed to serve an apolitical function, it has broader political ramifications 

“I felt like this needed to be addressed,” Afsari said. 

According to the professors, making changes to the census would better represent the realities of certain groups within the United States. They proposed the combination of race and ethnicity on the census form, and changing the form’s interface to make it possible for individuals to check multiple boxes. However, President Donald Trump’s administration has vetoed these proposals.  

Student attendees found the panel interesting and insightful. 

“As a white person, it’s very easy for me to ignore these issues,” Connor Kennedy ’21 said. But that’s exactly why this panel was so important. It was illuminating in a lot of ways.”  

Thursday, March 28, UndocuTribe hosted their culminating event of the week, “Borderless Dreams, alongside the Center for Student Diversity. The event, which featured activist and artist Samantha Ramirez-Herrera, aimed to draw attention to the experiences of undocumented individuals in the United States. 

“It is through their stories we are able to validate their experience and better empathize,” Vitervo said.  

After considering several potential speakers, Ashley Hernandez Estrada ‘21 and CSD Assistant Director Roxy Patton felt that Ramirez-Herrera’s story was exceptional. As a 33-year-old single mother without a college degree, Ramirez-Herrera is not a typical DREAMer, and her unique experiences were ones that Dreamers Week sought to publicize. 

Ramirez-Herrera began her talk by reflecting on her experience immigrating from Mexico to America when she was six years old. She remembered saying goodbye to her grandparents in Mexico, not knowing if she would ever see them again. Soon she would be running through the desert, her mom carrying her sisters and her dad holding her hand.  

“We were running, and I didn’t know why we were running,” Ramirez-Herrera said. 

When Ramirez-Herrera and her family eventually arrived in Arizona, she felt like an outcast in her new environment because she did not understand the language and felt misplaced in the American school system. 

The longer Ramirez-Herrera lived in the United States, the more she felt like she was American. However, when her high school friends were applying to college, Ramirez-Herrera felt like an outcast once more since DACA did not exist at the time, Ramirez-Herrera was ineligible for financial aid and scholarships.  

“It was really heartbreaking to feel like I was just my friends, but I wouldn’t be able to go to college,” Ramirez-Herrera said. 

Ramirez-Herrera struggled for years as a waitress and single mother living in Atlanta. Keeping up hope throughout her struggles, Ramirez-Herrera continued to remind herself, “My day will come.” 

Ramirez-Herrera started a YouTube channel, SamOffThaRecord Experience, and eventually rose to become an entrepreneur and filmmaker. Through her position as a filmmaker, Ramirez-Herrera has become involved in activist circles fighting to vocalize the experiences of vulnerable communities in the Unites States 

“I have been in this position to elevate the experiences of communities that are marginalized and not visible,” Ramirez-Herrera said.   

Among her other accomplishments, including working alongside Gloria Steinem and former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams, Ramirez-Herrera was also invited to be U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson’s guest at the 2019 State of the Union.  

“I was there taking up space with my brown self; my undocumented space,” Ramirez-Herrera said. 

“I was there taking up space with my brown self; my undocumented space,” Ramirez-Herrera said. 

Students rushed to take photos with Ramirez-Herrera after the event and described how the talk inspired them. Attendees, including Billy Bearden ’19, were affected by Ramirez-Herrera’s talk and reflected on how Dreamers Week had impacted them. 

“I can’t say that hearing people talk usually fills me with inspiration, at least not to this degree, but her words moved me deeply and filled my mind with not just the adversity which she has faced, but what we’re capable of,” Bearden said. “I came away from the event, organized by the ever-wonderful UndocuTribe, filled with hope and ideas for making the world better. Additionally, it speaks to the cruelty of the U.S. immigration system, how a settler-colonialist state can deny so many people humanity on stolen land.”  

Vitervo says that Dreamers Week is essential because it facilitates important conversations regarding immigration, and that the events all sought to restructure narratives about undocumented individuals.  

“The media is portraying immigrants and undocumented immigrants in a way that is very detrimental to our community, painting us as criminals, dehumanizing our experience,” Vitervo said. “There is a sector on our campus that does not believe what we believe, but we want them to be able to have these resources to come have the conversation with us. That is why we have this whole week.”  

“The media is portraying immigrants and undocumented immigrants in a way that is very detrimental to our community, painting us as criminals, dehumanizing our experience,” Vitervo said. “There is a sector on our campus that does not believe what we believe, but we want them to be able to have these resources to come have the conversation with us. That is why we have this whole week.”  

UndocuTribe hopes that the effects of Dreamers Week will change the negative image that some Americans may associate with immigrants.  

“Maybe through stories and compassion we are able to change what you think of us,” Vitervo said.