Undocumented and Unafraid
March 14, 2017
Filed under Arts
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On Tuesday, March 7, Student Union hosted the Cal State LA Dreamer’s Resource Center’s event with Yosimar Reyes. The event was designed to question and broaden understandings of the undocumented narrative from one that is largely dominated by media coverage of tragic or problematic stories, to one of everyday routines, joys, and victories, as well as overall agency and resilience. The speaker of the event, featured in the documentary, 2nd Verse: The Rebirth of Poetry, was introduced by Jose Guevara of the Dreamer’s Resource Center. “Yosimar Reyes is a nationally acclaimed poet, educator, performance artist, and public speaker. Born in Guerrero, Mexico, and raised in Eastside San Jose, Reyes explores the themes of migration and sexuality in his work. His first collection of poetry, For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly, was self-published after a collaboration with the legendary Carlos Santana. Reyes holds a BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He is currently an Arts Fellow at Define America, an organization founded by Pulitzer Prize winner journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.”
Reyes is a writer and activist who is in fact, undocumented. The focus of his stories is the will of undocumented people. “I don’t feel like we showcase that a lot,” he explained. His workshop presentation called, “Documenting Joy: Shifting the Narrative in Undocumented Storytelling,” is part of his “mission as somebody that’s creating media content now as an undocumented person.” He came to the U.S. from Southern Mexico with his grandparents at 3 years of age and explains that reporters are often looking for the most dramatic circumstances to illustrate a viewpoint relevant to an issue. “A lot of times reporters wanna like, ‘Oh my God! Tell us your migration story!’ and I always tell people it’s not that exciting. People wanna hear the trauma like, ‘Oh my God! I was so thirsty in the desert and I hallucinated and then La Virgen Maria came, and then she told me I was gonna make it…’ People want that, but that wasn’t me. I don’t remember Mexico. My earliest memory is of Clifford the Big Red Dog because I read it in Kindergarten…I feel like a bad undocumented person because I don’t have a tragic story.”
Reyes’ work pushes back against an idea that undocumented people have little power or agency, or that they simply lack the ability to laugh or celebrate. He believes the undocumented community is so under attack that the media naturally gravitates toward narratives of trauma and fear, with the common question asked of undocumented people being, “Are you scared?”
As Jose Guevara said when quoting a fellow member of the Dreamer’s Resource Center, “We all love someone who is undocumented, whether we know it or not.” Reyes seeks to bring a measure of positivity into the typical narratives of hardship concerning undocumented people. He wonders: what brings undocumented people joy? What makes a woman like his 82 year old grandmother, who sees the deportations taking place on television, go out day after day to sell her products on the street? In “Keep Looking Forward,” a short film, Yosimar states that, “The biggest lesson my grandmother has taught me is to not dwell on what we do not have. Through hard work, things tend to fall into place.” This is the resilience that Yosimar seeks to display in his presentations.
One of the things Reyes points out is that being undocumented is not an identity, it is a social condition. Like poverty, it is strategic and mathematical. He believes there are reasons for why there are so many undocumented people today and those reasons are tied in part to race. Being 3/5 of a person under the law, or being blacklisted, being undocumented is a social designation of exclusion. Additionally, he believes that after 2006, when the undocumented movement first became very large, the message of those immigrants was co-opted by Democratic political forces preaching integration and solidarity hoping to gain Latino voters. In his view, little other than DACA has been accomplished in the last decade, and the narrative of undocumented people has been watered down. For this reason, he challenges the extreme perceptions of the “good” and “bad” immigrant, as well as praises the Black Lives Matter movement for refusing to be co-opted and watered down by organized politics.