“Every breath I breathe, chasin’ the American Dream,” Rihanna sang in a video projected on a screen behind the stage, where keynote speaker Blanca Villagomez stood and shared her own immigration story to a full audience. Villagomez wore a black t-shirt with the words “I Am Undocumented” printed in white text.
“The crackdown of illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed,” President Donald Trump said in a Twitter statement early Sunday morning.
Trump’s “promise” has caused anxiety among the undocumented student community who fear they will not be able to work or further their education in the United States.
When Villagomez found out about the presidential election results, it was past midnight. She was staring at her computer screen from her bed. “I almost threw up,” said the University of California Los Angeles alumni at Wednesday’s campus event “A Day in the Life of an Undocumented Student.”
The event, which was spearheaded by Associated Students, Inc., took place at 4 p.m. in the University Student Union ballrooms where some students shared testimonials about being undocumented.
“The motive is just to educate people and bring out the stories of these students who are struggling and want somebody to hear their voices,” said ASI cabinet member and public policy graduate student Kenia Duarte.
Other campus organizations involved in hosting the event were the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Dream Success Center and Future Underrepresented Educated Leaders.
Paintings displayed at the event showed a man and a woman of color dressed in graduation regalia.
Villagomez first openly shared her undocumented status during her freshman year at UCLA, where she spoke to a crowd of about a thousand people, most of whom were strangers. She was then given the opportunity to speak in front of donors who provided $25,000 in funding toward a career program and housing initiative designed specifically for undocumented students.
Villagomez was born in Mexico but has lived in the US since she was two years old. During her testimony, she highlighted some of the struggles undocumented students face.
“We have to navigate institutions and systems while being highly aware of our limitations … and that constant survival mode affects us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically,” she said.
Students participated in a roundtable discussion where they talked about dismantling some of the social stigmas associated with being an undocumented immigrant, such as being labeled a “criminal,” as one student said during the open mic segment.
Not all students who attended the event were undocumented. Senior religious studies major Matthew Argame said he felt it was his “responsibility to know what the needs are for [the undocumented] community.”
“Right now, it’s just as vital for those people who don’t share the experience of being undocumented to learn more and to speak out,” he said.
Villagomez ended the discussion by encouraging students to share their stories with others and to remain hopeful. “Being undocumented doesn’t define you. We have so much potential, so much talent, so much skill. And if we’re really here to stay, then we have to do it together,” she said.