University of Indianapolis alumnus Isaias Guerrero and guest speaker Guadalupe Pimentel shared their personal stories of being undocumented immigrants as well as discussed the importance of speaking out and being a voice for other undocumented immigrants.
“We speak for the voiceless,” Pimentel said. “We want to help you find your voice so that you can share your voice. Because we all have voices that we really believe the empowerment of it.”
The University Series Lectures and Performances focus primarily on two learning goals this year: critical thinking and social responsibility, according to Vice President of Mission and co-chair of the University Series Committee Michael Cartwright.
Cartwright said that the committee hopes that by selecting themes that raise awareness of emerging trends and ask critical questions regarding the issues of DACA, new expectations and social responsibility will be addressed on a grand scale.
“What the unexpected turns of the conversation about immigration has taken is about what we understand the citizenship to mean, where the conversation is dominated by legal versus illegal,” Cartwright said. “The struggle ends up seeming like it’s all or nothing. However, when we refocus the conversation around what is—as Guerrero calls it—a cultural definition of citizenship, then we can begin to see how some undocumented Americans already exercise their responsibilities of citizenship and where we have friends and neighbors who are undocumented who are already exercising the responsibilities of citizenship. We cannot help [but] to see ourselves as like them, culturally speaking citizens, and in that context understand.”
Pimentel was born in Cordoba, Veracruz in Mexico and migrated to the United States on her seventh birthday with her family in hopes of a better future. Pimentel said she was unaware of her status as an undocumented immigrant until she was filling out her 21st Century Scholars application. Through the help of a scholarship, Pimentel graduated last fall with a degree in media and public affairs from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Pimentel is a founding member of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, a nonprofit organization focused on providing resources to undocumented youth. She also works as a legal assistant specializing in immigration law.
Pimentel talked about how she and a few peers fought and advocated for the Development, Relief, And Education For Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act. Pimentel said that she and other advocates went to speak with former governor Mitch Daniels to discuss the issues with past legislation that prohibited colleges from providing scholarship or grant aid to undocumented immigrants.
“[On] May 9, 2011, six individuals—including myself—participated in a civil disobedience and were arrested in the office of [former governor] Mitch Daniels because we asked to meet with him,” Pimentel said. “We wanted to meet with him so he could see our stories, because we wanted him to see that those bills would directly affect us, but he refused to meet with us.”
Pimentel said that many undocumented immigrants find sharing their experiences and personal stories difficult.
“I think that a lot of those who are undocumented go through this struggle of sharing the aspect of their story, because our stories are criminalized,” Pimentel said. “And there is a negative connotation with individuals that cross the border. Trump ran his campaign on that basis.”
Guerrero said he migrated from Colombia with his family when he was only 15 years old, attended school in Greenwood and graduated from UIndy in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and international relations. He said he currently works at the Center for Community Change, for the coalition of 44 immigrant rights organizations across the United States that protect the dignity and policies that help undocumented immigrants across the country.
Guerrero spoke about the responsibility he feels as an undocumented immigrant to speak for the estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants in the United States. He said speaking out helps provide hope for a better tomorrow. Guerrero also said that it is important for those who are undocumented to respond in a way that does not mitigate the bigger issues of current immigration laws and not focus solely on DACA.
Junior biology major Auy Rueangnopphasit attended “Finding our Places in the Story of Immigration,” an interactive timeline that presented immigration history spanning back five generations. At the event, students shared their own stories of immigration by placing sticky notes on the dates when their families immigrated to the United States. Rueangnopphasit said that it is important for students, regardless of where they are from, to pay more attention to others’ stories and be aware of the ongoing immigration situation.
“The timeline pushed a more positive aspect of DACA because it showed that immigration isn’t focused only on Hispanic immigrants but allows us to see that we are all immigrants at one point or another,” Rueangnopphasit said. “We all need to pay more attention to these issues because it [immigration] affects more than just one life. It affects thousands.”