The following blog is written by a young woman who has just completed her AS year and who hopes to go to university next academic year. Here, she describes meeting two US migrant rights campaigners – ‘Dreamers’ Renata Teodoro and Lucas Codognolla – at a subsequent Let us Learn campaign meeting.
I arrived at the Let us Learn office without a clear idea about the purpose of the session but was excited nonetheless. It began with an ice breaker where it was quickly established that majority of those who were in attendance were of Nigerian or Jamaican descent (Let Us Learn has now been contacted by young people who are unable to access student finance who were born in over 30 different countries). It was here that we were first introduced to two Brazilian-born, US migrants’ rights campaigners, Lucas and Renata.
The session quickly progressed and we next heard the moving story of two young members of the Let Us Learn campaign. They both spoke of how they came to the UK as young children and the challenges they faced as young migrants. We were also informed about the genesis of the Let Us Learn campaign and of its aims and objectives.
Hearing these stories was somewhat of a shock for me. Admittedly, I have not known either speaker for a very long time but it was hard to reconcile the image of smiling, happy, “normal” young people with some of the challenges they had faced. I doubt there are many people in this world that could stay as optimistic and upbeat if their life story was as…hmm…colourful (to put it mildly).
Following the pattern of the day, Lucas and Renata then shared their stories. It quickly became apparent that they were part of several groups that were advocating for the rights of undocumented young people in America, including United We Dream. One of their goals is to enable undocumented migrants to attend college (or university as we know it) in every US state. They explained that the rules of who could go to university were set by each state. If they were able to make every state change their laws, then they would have succeeded.
It’s safe to say that being impressed was an understatement to describe how I was feeling. Once they explained that they had managed to get an immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a policy that gives undocumented migrants who came to the US prior to their sixteenth birthday the right to work – passed by protesting and taking the fight to the white house and Obama, I was more than just impressed. I was in awe.
But it was not all excitement and roses. Lucas and Renata explained that they had failed (by five votes!) to get the Dream Act, that would have granted conditional permanent residency to some undocumented immigrants, passed. But they explained that they learned from this setback and that it only made them stronger as a movement and as leaders.
I feel that the session was very informative and eye opening. Meeting Renata and Lucas taught me about the importance of sharing our stories. If I share my own story then no one else can share it for me or even tell it incorrectly from their point of view. If we all share our stories then we all stand together in solidarity and remove the stigma attached to being a migrant. We acknowledge that we’re doing absolutely nothing wrong, just living our lives.
I also learned about the importance of education. As the campaign grows and we gain new members, it is important that we teach them all that we know. We must inform others about how to fund raise, how to spread awareness of our cause and how to take our campaign to the next level. To me, Lucas, Renata and all the members of the United We Dream group are an inspiration.
By Wendy Hemenya, aged 17.