Foreword by Sue Schweik
Each year, for many years, as faculty member and Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of California at Berkeley, I have witnessed Amelia Barili’s work setting up structures and guidance that train UC Berkeley students to assist in translating for “undocumented” immigrants and refugees and people seeking asylum at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. In the process, Berkeley college students are motivated to learn to write well and to formulate effective arguments in Spanish for a simple and profound reason: their writing has stakes, real consequences for real people; it matters. This kind of action scholarship is a growing trend across the country. The students’ translation of “intake stories” at Santuario is a powerful example of this movement.
Out of this work spun another related project, a class – and this book that has emerged from it—taking in and telling new stories of the experiences of undocumented people in more expansive and creative forms. Of course, some Berkeley students, themselves undocumented, have been “intaking” stories of movement across borders and between cultures, of political exile and economic struggle, of being without “papers,” their whole lives. It didn’t take Santuario to bring these conditions to their attention. For them, this class was a chance to find voice within the academy, to begin to speak about their lives. For other students, this new class provided a creative opportunity to bear witness in writing to the stories of others, stories that they have listened to, closely and directly.
Nadine Cruz has written: “Service is a process of integrating intention with action in a context of movement toward a just relationship. Community service is a space to practice here and now small-scale models of a shared utopian vision. Service-learning is an intentionally designed program, a process of learning through reflection on the experience of doing service.” The writers here integrate intention with action. Daily and weekly, practicing in the here and now, they are moving themselves and others toward just relationships—with each other, with a broader community, for us all. Theirs is a deeply reflective and creative process, one that does them and their teacher proud and honors the people whose stories they bring to us, and I am very pleased that this volume gives readers access to this accomplishment. We readers of this book have a chance in turn to integrate our intentions with the beautiful action recorded in and exemplified by this writing. Follow these writers and take these stories in.
Preface by Amelia Barili
There are at least 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and many more people have suffered the experience of being undocumented while in the path to citizenship. This large segment of our population has been almost invisible and voiceless until recent legislation and work through organizations have brought awareness to their plight.
I know that anguishing plight very closely. For over a decade I have been part of a concerted effort from UC Berkeley and the community to assist refugees from all over the world and particularly from Central and South America. I am an asylee myself and, before obtaining my “papers”, I suffered the constant anxiety in which undocumented people live. That experience has motivated me to work to improve the chances that others, who are also in danger, might receive help. In 2009 I received the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service for the work my students and I do assisting Latino immigrants and refugees, and their children, in bilingual schools and legal services in Berkeley and Oakland.
Realizing the need to increase public awareness about the lives of the undocumented, I was moved to create Spanish 102C Biographical and Autobiographical Writing: Telling the Stories of the Undocumented. I wanted to assist undocumented students, and other students touched by the plight of the undocumented, to develop their voices while at the university. In this safe space the students gave voice not only to their stories and those of their loved ones and acquaintances, but also to the stories of other undocumented immigrants and youth who are going through similar experiences of challenges and of seeking hope. All the stories in this collection were written by students from that course.
This is the first time that these stories are told. It is difficult to begin sharing memories and stories of what it is to be undocumented in the USA. These are stories that were kept hidden by the students and their families for fear of being found out and deported. To have the courage to give voice to those memories is above all a healing experience. It is an experience of expressing, being listened to, understood and respected. The stories were asking to be made public, and we all listened, recognizing ourselves in each other. Students had that experience in the safe space of the classroom and then, encouraged by it, they allowed their stories to travel further by translating them into English, and by publishing them in English and Spanish. A few of the stories first appeared in the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program website. A bigger selection reaches the public now in this anthology.
As part of their healing experience of realizing the wide range of struggles by undocumented immigrants, students volunteered over twenty hours that semester at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an NGO that assists undocumented students and immigrants, and those seeking asylum, on their path to citizenship. Students translated documents, wrote intake stories for political asylum, interpreted for the UCB School of Law legal clinic, and did research on Human Rights conditions in the countries from which the undocumented were fleeing. They welcomed those seeking help and accompanied them while they waited to be assisted by the staff at Santuario. The undocumented immigrants they helped come from all over the world. They are hard workers, who are paid minimum salaries, and cannot afford to pay for legal help. They are fleeing from persecution in their own countries because of their political opinions, or for belonging to particular ethnic groups, or/and for their sexual preference. Some of the undocumented are students who were brought to the States when they were little by their parents who are undocumented. They grew up here and are part of this culture. They see themselves as Americans, but since they do not have their “papers”, they can be deported to a country that is foreign to them. Lately, many of undocumented seeking help in Santuario are Central American children and adolescents who arrive alone at the US border. They are fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their countries, and, in some cases, they are seeking to be reunited with their parents, who emigrated towards the US and were not able to bring them along. Santuario represents almost a thousand undocumented people at the immigration courts. My students and other volunteers make possible to keep expanding the red of help offered by this NGO.
Most of the stories in this anthology are about the life challenges faced by the students themselves as undocumented youth, and by their relatives and friends. A few of the stories are about undocumented persons that students met at the volunteering site or as classmates at UCB. To protect the privacy of those in the stories, the name of the protagonists and of places that could identify them have been changed. A few of the authors have also chosen to sign their work with a nom de plume. These are not fictional stories. They are all based on real life situations of real people.
Every day millions of undocumented immigrants and youth risk deportation and imprisonment by living in the U.S. without legal papers. They live in the shadows, with little or no protection from the law, vulnerable to exploitation, as they struggle to make a life for themselves in the U.S.
A lot is said about them, but we rarely have the opportunity to hear them talking about their lives, either because they are afraid or think nobody would care to listen. Exactly because of that, because otherwise we do not get to know who they are as people, it is so important to create spaces where the voices of the undocumented can be heard. It is my hope that with this collection of stories–more to follow–and through the course, which has become a favorite at UC Berkeley, we will contribute to change the landscape of our social awareness and we will expand the transformative role of our academic education.
By stopping and listening to these stories we begin to understand the wide range of lives that are touched by the experience of being undocumented, and the many facets of their struggle. It is a far reaching and serious problem in our society. The vulnerable, and in general ignored, situation of the undocumented, makes me think that this is the next frontier of human rights in our country.
James Baldwin was referring to the problem of ignoring the hardships of the African-American population in the US, and the importance of the writer as artist to awaken his audience, when he said in the sixties: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until is faced”. Luis Alberto Urrea echoes Baldwin, when he asks in 2007 about the precarious and little known situation of the undocumented in US: “How can we understand this problem without first listening to it? How can we solve it without first understanding it?”
May these stories help us to face the problem and better understand it by hearing some of the voices from that invisible population. And may they also serve to inspire other undocumented immigrants and youth, who may find in these stories a deep appreciation for their own challenges and hardships. And may we all contribute to solve this problem. ¡Sí, se puede!