“Because There Are Young Women Behind Me”

Learning from the Testimonios of Young Undocumented Women Advocates

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 College of Education, Washington State University, USA carolina.e.silva1220@gmail.com

Abstract

In this article, I discuss the experiences of young undocumented Latinas, aged between 19 and 22, in a university support and advocacy group for undocumented students. While recent research has investigated the advocacy of undocumented youth, there is a lack of attention on the experiences of undocumented women who advocate. To address this gap, I center the testimonios (testimonies) of five young undocumented women to examine their advocacy experiences. As a result of advocacy, the young women gained visibility as immigrant youth leaders, created a pipeline of support for other young undocumented women leaders, and faced disapproval from educators. I conclude by suggesting that schools and educators can foster the leadership of young undocumented women and acknowledge advocacy as a legitimate tool for social justice in education settings.

Introduction

Undocumented youth have led a movement characterized by marches, sit-ins, and acts of civil disobedience for over a decade (De la Torre and Germano 2014; Nicholls 2013). In the late 2000s, undocumented youth began coming out of the shadows as undocumented and unafraid in masses, marking the beginning of their newly public and political persona in the immigration debate (Nicholls 2013). Undocumented youth who entered the US as children have been labeled DREAMers after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented youth. The momentum created by the 2010 national DREAM Act campaign resulted in a mass of young undocumented leaders who were prepared to organize regionally and locally (Muñoz 2015). This materialized in local advocacy groups across the nation and on college campuses, as newly formed undocumented student groups. Here, I focus on the experiences of five undocumented college-aged women as they led a student advocacy group at a university in rural Washington after the election of Donald Trump.

Recent Scholarship

Scholars have written on how undocumented activists make sense of and negotiate their so-called illegality (Muñoz 2015; Negrón-Gonzales 2014). William Perez (2015) highlights that first-generation and 1.5 generation1 immigrant adolescents are more likely to be involved in volunteering and community service than high school students in general. Perez (2015) also stresses that while immigrant adolescents are more likely to be engaged at the community rather than the political level, immigrant students gain civic resources and opportunities during their schooling years. Walter Nicholls (2013) recounts the ideologies and strategies behind the immigrant youth movement. In the early 2000s, undocumented youth were made the face of the immigrant rights movement and were trained to tell their stories to appeal to mainstream American audiences. Immigrant rights associations, politicians, and lawyers chose the DREAMers because of their compelling narrative and positioning as deserving immigrants. Undocumented youth entered the public sphere with a tight message that stressed their allegiance to the US, academic exceptionalism, and innocence. When neither immigration reform nor the DREAM Act were passed, undocumented youth broke ties with the organizations leading these efforts and took ownership of their own movement (Nicholls 2013). Since then, immigrant youth have organized to center the voices of undocumented people in the movement and contested the DREAMer narrative by presenting themselves as more than high achieving and good immigrants. While undocumented youth gained widespread attention in the late 2000s, their movement was preceded by the mass immigration protests of 2006 and wider efforts for comprehensive immigration reform that have shaped current US Latino politics (Zepeda-Millán 2017).

Research Context

Since 2016 Washington State has seen a swift growth of immigrant groups and rapid response networks that are community-based groups organized to respond to immigration enforcement activities such as raids and detentions (Smith 2019). These immigrant groups include organizations with nonprofit status, informal community groups, and student-led ones. UndocuStudents is a support and advocacy group for undocumented students at a large research university in Washington State. The university serves over 500 undocumented students and prides itself on observing best practices for undocumented students while having few tangible resources to support them. The university has one professional dedicated to supporting these students but offers no particular scholarships and does not have a Dream Resource Center where undocumented students can receive financial, academic, and personal support (Sanchez and So 2015).

Undocumented students in Washington State are eligible for in-state tuition and state financial aid if they meet certain criteria (Gonzales and Ruiz 2014). In my four years with UndocuStudents, I found that university leadership relied heavily on state legislation and was unwilling to invest institutional resources to provide services to this population. UndocuStudents used the pressure of the 2016 presidential election to demand services from the university including access to immigration lawyers. UndocuStudents is primarily led by young undocumented women between the ages of 18 and 22. This organization was created in 2014 by four undocumented friends who wanted a support group for undocumented students. In the fall of 2016, this secret group became public and gained visibility in the wake of Trump's presidential election. Since then, the group has become one of the largest undocumented student groups in the state with approximately 30 members, many of whom have participated in national advocacy efforts (Nadauld 2018). UndocuStudents is situated in Eastern Washington, an agricultural hub that attracts newly arrived Mexican migrant workers to orchards and is home to 40 percent of the state's undocumented population (Contreras and Stritikus 2008). Most members of UndocuStudents have worked and/or have parents working in agricultural jobs. It was not uncommon for members to return to the fields and warehouses in the summer months to save money for the following school year.

Geographic isolation created challenges for UndocuStudents. Little access to legal, education, and social services is common for such students in rural settings (Gonzales and Ruiz 2014). Research also indicates that undocumented people are more likely to experience ramped up immigration enforcement in rural locales (American Immigration Lawyers Association 2019). Members of UndocuStudents often discussed the frequency of arrests, detentions, and deportations in their local community and, in 2019, the group created a Rapid Response team, comprised of five women. These regional challenges shaped the daily experiences of these members and leaders.

Participant Portraits

I based this article on the testimonios of five young women, aged between 19 and 22 in UndocuStudents, all of whom have held official leadership roles and have participated in local and national advocacy efforts. I refer to these five women as the mujeres (women), a term I use to encapsulate their gendered and racialized identities as young undocumented Mexican women of color. The five mujeres self-identify as Mexican and consider Eastern Washington home. Each mujer was recruited based on her extensive participation with UndocuStudents and her ties to Eastern Washington. I use the terms organizing and advocacy to refer to the immigrant advocacy work of my participants since this is how they describe their work. Advocacy for the mujeres means active and frequent public support of a social justice cause. The mujeres engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy work such as outreach with younger students or making presentations to educators. They also organized, led, and participated in public events such as rallies, sit-ins, and marches. The mujeres discussed advocacy as constant in their day-to-day lives.

As the group's previous graduate student advisor, I had long-standing relationships with UndocuStudents when the project began, and these made it easier to recruit participants. The group and mujeres often called me their older sister since I provided holistic guidance from working individually with students facing immigration challenges to leading talking circles when disputes came up and providing support for advocacy efforts.

Adriana studies Political Science and English. She came to the United States when she was three and has lived in an agricultural community in Central Washington since then. She has one younger sister.

Sheila is the oldest of six children and lived in Aguililla Michoacan, Mexico, until she was nine. She remembers moving to the United States on the day of her ninth birthday. She is studying Social Sciences.

Karen came to the United States with her older sister at the age of five. Karen studies Secondary Education and looks forward to working with ESL high school youth.

Crystal arrived in the United States at the age of three and considered California home before moving to Washington. Crystal is the oldest of three children and is the only one of her siblings who was born in Mexico. She is studying Human Development.

Gabby is the second oldest of six siblings and came to the United States at the age of eight. She is studying Communications and Women's Studies.

Testimonios and LatCrit

I grew a lot as a person too because once you speak, you don't know how powerful you are until you say things. (Gabby)

As Gabby pointed out the first time we spoke, storytelling is an act of learning for the speaker as well as for the listener. To tell your story is to acknowledge your power as someone with a story that warrants sharing. Storytelling is one of the core values and fundamental tools of the undocumented youth movement. My understanding of undocumented organizers and their experiences is grounded in Latino Critical Theory (LatCrit) (Stefancic 1997). LatCrit derives from the Critical Race Theory tradition and prioritizes the legacy of white supremacy in American society and demonstrates how this influences Latinos. Since LatCrit acknowledges the prominence and impact of language, citizenship, and criminalization on Latino interactions and life outcomes it can help us advance literature on undocumented Latina advocates. LatCrit prioritizes lived experience and narratives, creating room for storytelling. The framework allows me to value and recognize my participants’ stories as theoretical in nature. For Latinas, group histories and lived experiences are intertwined with legacies of resistance to imperialism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism (del Alba Acevedo 2001), so there is much to learn from the testimonios of young undocumented Latina women. The stories I analyze here are part of a larger project on undocumented youth advocacy in rural Washington. The testimonios were shared in the aftermath of a 6-month campaign (October 2017–March 2018) for the DREAM Act.

The purpose of a testimonio is to tell stories of oppression through a particular individual who bears witness to the collective experiences of a community (Yúdice 1991). The act of telling a testimonio is simultaneously personal and collective since it allows individuals to portray their experiences as agents of a collective memory and identity. Testimonios subvert majoritarian narratives that are socially constructed by whites (Delgado 1995). In doing so, testimonios disrupt Western notions of truth and objectivity by offering a counter-narrative to dominant ideologies (del Alba Acevedo 2001). Most importantly, testimonios allow me to demonstrate how the mujeres created their own social spaces to speak their truths and resist oppressive social conditions (see del Alba Acevedo 2001).

Methods

Each mujer participated in two semi-structured interviews during which they related their testimonios as undocumented students and advocates. Four of the five mujeres participated in a focus group in which they discussed women leadership and the emerging themes relevant to this article. The mujeres were also sent a manuscript draft and invited to provide feedback. The focus group and individual follow up were essential in the development of the three themes. I coded interview and focus group data through a thematic qualitative analysis. I first coded individual interviews while paying particular attention to how students navigate schooling institutions and participate in immigration advocacy efforts. Following Johnny Saldaña (2015) I used descriptive coding and In Vivo coding to capture certain elements of the testimonios as they were told. Similar codes were combined into 96 final codes that were grouped according to similar characteristics into 7 categories and finally collapsed into the 3 final themes. This coding process allowed for individual and collective themes to emerge. I provide excerpts from individual testimonios to shed light on the mujeres’ experiences as young community organizers and guide a thematic discussion on how they experienced being leaders of UndocuStudents in the larger context of the immigrant youth movement.

Mujer Testimonios

“This group is for my sister.” (Adriana) 2

In high school I knew I was undocumented, but I was like if I can help myself it's good, but it wasn't until I met Monica and I realized that she was undocumented too that I was like dang. I was trying to help her, but I didn't know how to so then we reached out to Miss Jasmin, and she helped us. I just wished there would have been more resources because I remember like I once went to talk to my general advisor, and she had no idea how to help me. I also started a group back home and its four of us, all women. So what we've been doing is we've been going to a lot of the Mexican restaurants and tiendas Mexicanas and teaching them what to do if ICE comes to their work and then we've also been going to a lot of the trailer parks where we know there's a lot of Hispanics and giving them Know Your Rights flyers. My goal was just to give information, but Zulema's goal for the group is to form an advocacy group, where like, a group where a lot of undocumented young individuals can come together and talk about their struggles and get help. So, I feel like, this group is for my sister, like I want her to be ok with being undocumented.

“Sometimes it takes personal stories and people to tell you.” (Sheila)

I wanted to go to college, but I feel like I just never knew my starting point because nobody was there to tell me you know. Nobody was there to tell me those stops. Yeah and my counselors didn't really know how to help undocumented students. I heard it from Brenda [undocumented high school graduate]! You know because she came back to the high school. Like sometimes it takes personal stories and people to tell you. Yeah. También I said I wanted to be a lawyer but then the thing was well I don't have papers. I can't be a lawyer but then I look at Luis and I'm like oh shit. He did that and I wouldn't have known that because I based it on hearing from people. It was never like a real experience that I saw.

“People I never met, they trusted me.” (Karen)

I would go to the [UndocuStudents] meetings, but I was too busy working. I had to work but then I attended congress [national conference for immigrant youth] in Texas. Texas changed everything. It was when we had to walk, it was very hot. We were dying of thirst and we didn't care cuz we were marching for something that we believed in even though everything was against us and that passion that made us keep going and seeing all the leaders around me do it and they trusted you. Like they trusted me, they trusted me to do chants, to lead chants. People I never met, they trusted me. And them giving me that opportunity to grow like just take it, ‘you got this’. They encouraged me so much. I saw her again in DC, she has curly hair. She's very bubbly. She said, ‘You remind me of me, here do chants, I know you got this, you don't know that, but I do’ and I think that was when like that was very powerful to me.

“I was exposing myself.” (Crystal)

I was in a high school where I had to reach out to people and a lot of people [other undocumented students] were reaching out to me because I was exposing myself and some people, me and this other girl began to reach out, then everyone began to reach out. Someone needs to start and that's the scary part because you never know if anyone will reach out [back]. When I first arrived on campus and I met the UndocuStudents advisor I knew I wanted to be involved. The group that came in, we were all pretty close when we came in and we got connected with UndocuStudents which at first was a secret group, and there were very few of us, like eight of us. Most of the time, not all of us would come and it would be like three of us and we had no idea what was going on. We were just like ok, we'll do this (laughs). So back then it was all over the place unorganized, but we wanted to get organized and we had a desire to make it work. So, we planned in the summer a lot so that the next year we could start something bigger which we did. It shocked us into how big it got in just a year after going public because we didn't want to be hiding in the shadows anymore and the secret group was continuing on hiding behind the shadows and I wanted to feel like they felt free to express who they are.

“Now I know that there's resources for them.” (Gabby)

I had to make sure I go to them [advisors] and that's what hit me too. I don't feel like I had the support until after they saw that I came back. Like when I was thinking of dropping out, where was that support that I wanted, or I needed? After I came back, I told them what happened to me and they learned I was undocumented. They didn't know I was undocumented because of my involvement. I guess most undocumented people are not as involved because they don't feel comfortable. Then my collaborations started, and I felt more informed. I knew I wanted to speak to people, I knew I wanted to help but I didn't know how. So, when I went with United We Dream, I felt more powerful. I felt more confident to talk to people. I knew where to send them, and I know what to say now compared to when it first started. Now I know if someone reaches out from my hometown, I'm like ‘go to this person.’ This person is helping or let me find someone that can help you, but definitely, now I know that I can't say ‘“I don't know many people.’ Now I know that there's resources for them.

Discussion

The testimonios highlighted the lessons and challenges the mujeres encountered as they advocated for immigrant rights, and the focus group provided an opportunity for community reflection. In this section, I present the three major themes: “Getting out of your comfort zone,” and “Because there's young women behind me,” along with “They say we advocate too much.” I use participant's words as headings that help me capture the essence of the mujeres’ advocacy experiences. I also discuss the testimonios in relation to girls and young women. Finally, I discuss the themes as they address the research question regarding how advocacy networks are led by young undocumented women.

“Getting Out of your Comfort Zone”

The most prevalent theme across the experiences of the mujeres was what they called, “getting out of your comfort zone.” Since the mujeres faced critical moments when they chose to do so for several reasons and under different circumstances, it is crucial to consider the significance of agency. In their testimonios, they all identified coming out of the shadows as undocumented high schoolers as one of the first times they had to “put themselves out there.” Crystal clearly remembers making the choice to tell her educators about her undocumented status. She still credits her ability to reach out as the reason she was able to acquire the support necessary to navigate the college application process. Scholars (Gonzales 2008; Muñoz 2016; Negrón-Gonzales 2014; Nicholls 2013) note that the coming out process is a critical social and political act for undocumented youth, and that college campuses are sites that generate political participation among these young people. This is a precarious process since it can put students at risk as (Muñoz 2016). Coming out of the shadows was a necessary step for the mujeres to further their education and later it became a strategy for collective empowerment and advocacy. Leaving their comfort zone as high school students was the mujeres’ first act of advocacy for themselves and this became a precursor to their community advocacy work.

The mujeres became comfortable sharing their immigration status publicly and asking for resources across settings. Once they learned to advocate for themselves in educational institutions and enrolled in college, they continued stepping out of their comfort zone in order to advocate for their communities. As De La Torre and Germano (2014) point out, coming out of the shadows allows undocumented youth to overcome fears and feel a sense of control and agency despite their status. Disclosing their status and using their identity as an advocacy tactic allowed them to come to terms with their undocumented status. As Adriana said, being part of UndocuStudents helped her to “be ok with being undocumented.”

Taking risks and participating in advocacy is what allowed the mujeres to grow as leaders and learn to advocate on behalf of their families and communities. Whether it was telling their personal story or participating in public actions, they learned that gaining visibility allowed them to gain support and resources. Thus, they were willing to gain visibility as immigrant youth leaders at their university and beyond. Gaining visibility manifested in their public recognition as community leaders and meant that immigrant families and youth contacted them for support in navigating education and immigration processes. Resisting social norms is also part of leaving one's comfort zone and has been referenced as a common strategy among undocumented activists (Negron-Gonzales 2014). Living in the shadows is a survival tool among undocumented people used to having to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Despite this, the mujeres understood that remaining in the shadows would continue to perpetuate the fear with which they grew up and they now choose to challenge this norm in their everyday lives.

As a result of their advocacy, the mujeres experienced personal and collective empowerment. Gabby reported feeling more “confident and powerful.” Crystal told her story to engage and empower younger students and Sheila realized her ability to activate her peers and campus community in support of undocumented students. Like other undocumented advocates, they recognized themselves as political agents with the power to shape community and political landscapes (Morales et al. 2011; Muñoz and Maldonado 2011; Pérez Huber 2010). They were able to grapple with their status and use their stories for social improvement. In UndocuStudents, stories were used to build community and inspire younger members to come out of the shadows. Storytelling was also instrumental when they met with and testified in front of legislators. The mujeres realized the power of storytelling in movement efforts and understood the complex impacts of advocacy.

Although the DREAM Act did not pass, our advocacy did do a lot because more people noticed us, heard our voices, and heard our stories. We gained so many allies which is going to help us later on and so we have to continue to let them know that we are still here and we are still in the same situation because there's not going to be a change if we are silent. (Crystal)

As Crystal noted, advocacy does not always result in legislative wins, but victories can take many forms. For her, the DREAM Act campaign was successful because it increased awareness and public support for undocumented youth, creating the conditions for a legislative win in the future. She also insisted on the continued need for undocumented youth to be visible and vocal to bring about change. There were many reasons for leaving their comfort zones and the implications were personal and collective. Ultimately, the mujeres’ participation in the movement allowed them to use their identity as a strategy for empowerment and social change.

“Because There are Young Women behind Me”

The second theme encapsulates the spaces and relationships young undocumented women were able to create through their advocacy work. Growing up undocumented, the mujeres were raised to be cautious at all times. Finding a network of fellow undocumented peers allowed them to feel intimately close to and comfortable with others. Most of the women described UndocuStudents as a family away from home and the first group in which they felt fully comfortable being themselves. The mujeres reported experiencing the same feeling of family in national immigrant youth movements. For instance, Gabby described her national advocacy as time spent with family and stressed being able to relate to other young undocumented leaders in an intimate way. She said,

I just feel like you know when you reunite with your family at gatherings and ugh yes, I'm going to go see my family. So, seeing them, it was just like a stress relief. I guess like when I saw Cristina, I was like man I can breathe, I can talk to you. People who can relate to how you feel and everything, you feel them closer to home. It was really nice. It feels like family.

However, the mujeres described their participation in other student groups as limited by a lack of inclusive practices. In many student organizing arenas, the women faced microaggressions because of their immigration status, gender, and/or ethnicity. In describing their leadership experiences, the mujeres noted sharp differences outside the undocumented youth movement. As student organizers, they were often looked down upon because they were women. As Karen explained, “Because I was a woman of color, they felt they could disrespect me. It was a completely different experience than being a leader for UndocuStudents.” As Karen's narrative demonstrates, hers was a dichotomous experience during which she felt marginalized and dismissed as a leader in a Latino student group but felt appreciated and empowered in UndocuStudents. The mujeres felt most at home when they were surrounded by undocumented peers and had women role models.

Among the mujeres, women's leadership was a catalyst for initial participation in advocacy and a motivator to build young women's leadership. Sheila, in learning from the lived experiences of others, said, “It takes personal stories and people to tell you.” Since they shared the lived experience of being undocumented, the mujeres were inspired by other undocumented women who had navigated similar challenges and offered their wisdom to them. They relied on lateral mentorship from women a few years older than them and attributed their interest in participating in immigrant advocacy to these women. They reported feeling empowered and encouraged when other young undocumented women took on leadership roles. The same women they looked up to often encouraged them to become involved in the movement and take on leadership positions.

While UndocuStudents is only a few years old, mentorship for and by undocumented women has become the norm, reflecting the values and praxis of feminist Latina scholars (see del Alba Acevedo 2001). Current women leaders rely on previous leaders for formal and informal guidance, while actively identifying future women leaders among new members. The leadership of women was recognized as an urgent matter because, as Gabby pointed out, “Women have long been put down.” Since the mujeres were intentional about fostering women's leadership, gender was a common topic of discussion for the group. In the talking circle, they emphasized desiring to develop their own leadership so they could build a pathway for younger women in the same way older women did for them. As Crystal put it, “I want to step it up as a role model because there [are] young women behind me.”

Since there was little platform for the work of young undocumented women prior to the creation of UndocuStudents, the mujeres had to set up a place in which they felt safe, understood, and supported. They made it clear that having an undocumented women-led space was an essential part of their experience as immigration advocates. They also recognized their role in maintaining and developing this for the growth of future undocumented women leaders. Thus, the mujeres relied on lateral mentorship in their advocacy work, found strength in networks of immigrant women, and prioritized developing the leadership of younger women.

“They Say We Advocate too Much”

While the mujeres overcame personal fear in order to advocate, they continued to face social constraints through the disapproval of community members. They often encountered criticism and censure for their public advocacy by peers, family members, and educators. The talking circle revealed that parent concern or disapproval was very common. The women recognized that their advocacy fundamentally disrupts social norms for undocumented people. As Crystal stressed, their parents “know nothing other than being in the shadows.” Thus, the young women understood their parents’ attitudes but continued to prioritize advocacy as a tool for community improvement. Despite the disapproval, the mujeres remained committed to participating in advocacy and being visible. They stressed the importance of visible leadership so that younger students and community members could see there was something being done on their behalf.

I don't know if you all heard but we organized like a fast rally when the raid happened. We organized it within five minutes, and we drove to the detention center. There were people who would pass by and say, ‘Why are you here?’ or ‘You're not going to change anything.’ But we didn't care, we were there to show the community that we're doing this for them. We are putting ourselves on the line. Like we are doing this for them and if it works, it works and if not, we'll keep on trying. (Gabby)

Gabby became emotional as she told this story. She stressed the importance of advocating on behalf of those most affected despite the criticisms of onlookers. In the end, she was reaffirmed by knowing why she was there and who she was there to advocate for. She was also validated by her fellow organizers who also faced scrutiny but remained committed to organizing. The young women expressed frustration with Latino educators who policed their advocacy work. Several of the women were warned by educators to stay away from public actions like walkouts and rallies. While educators claimed that they were being protective, several of the young women perceived these to be silencing tactics. In response, the young women reaffirmed their independence and agency. At times, educators criticized UndocuStudents for being “too radical.” One educator described the women in leadership as having personalities that were “too strong.” These discursive practices shed light on accepted norms about how young undocumented Latinas should be and act. As young women, their visible leadership and advocacy were characterized as excessive and even detrimental. As Latinas, their actions were seen to be outside the bounds of acceptable behavior for their gender and ethnicity by those who often paint Latina women as being sacrificed to traditional cultural values that prioritize family and child-rearing (Chavez 2013). Participating in public actions and criticizing people in power was frowned upon while meeting in conference rooms with university leaders was applauded.

The mujeres were expected to be quiet and passive, even when they were met with xenophobic actions from other student groups. Their leadership was acknowledged and praised by educators when it met social expectations. When mainstream social norms were not met, their leadership was perceived as alarming or dismissed altogether. For example, rather than acknowledge that legal victories such as DACA and in-state tuition for undocumented students were outcomes of advocacy, educators dismissed the work of students by implying that advocacy was not valuable or effective. The mujeres reported feeling invalidated when educators advised them against advocacy. In response, several mujeres made it a point to remind UndocuStudents members why advocacy was necessary.

Many people are just like ‘Hey I don't like the way you put yourself out there by advocating’ but the reality is that if no one did that type of advocating people would think we are not doing anything, and we don't have certain rules on campus because people sat down on couches and said, ‘Hey we want this to pass.’ You can go and sit in meetings with administrators but just keep in mind that we do have to do both, because that's how our voices are heard. (Sheila)

Sheila was the most vocal about the need to advocate as an undocumented woman. She emphasized the importance of several types of advocacy and made it clear that public advocacy is just as legitimate as behind-the-doors advocacy. She proactively exposed group members to advocacy opportunities across the state and country. She also vocalized her concerns directly with educators in relation to how students responded to criticism of their advocacy. As is clear, the experiences of young women in UndocuStudents were plagued by the concerns of family members, the expectations of educators, and the scrutiny of onlookers. It is also important to note that, while the five mujeres agreed that advocacy was critical, they often had different immediate priorities and distinct ideas about how to execute their advocacy work most effectively. I emphasize this because disagreement was not uncommon, yet there was a common understanding about the importance of advocacy which they agreed could look several ways.

Conclusion

The mujeres explained their advocacy through personal and collective growth. They chose to leave their comfort zone by disclosing their undocumented status and gaining visibility as immigrant rights advocates. Leaving their comfort zone allowed them to gain support, allies, and find empowerment in their identity. They also benefited from lateral mentorship and became committed to fostering the next generation of undocumented women leaders. The mujeres faced societal constraints manifested in the concerns of their family members and opposition of educators. They were critical of the educators and administrators they believed were trying to silence them. Some of the mujeres felt dismissed and undervalued as a result. This affected their self-esteem and confidence in their public advocacy work. For this reason, I urge educators to acknowledge the critical political socialization and support networks that students gain through community organizing (see Perez 2015) and recognize advocacy as a useful tool for learning and social justice.

In telling her testimonio, Karen's first words were, “Well I'm a woman,” implying in a sentence that this includes a wide range of experience that encompasses her world view as defined by her gender. Immigration status is the salient experience shared by UndocuStudents members, yet gender was equally central to the experiences of the mujeres. They understood their gendered and racialized identities and elevated the role of gender in their advocacy discourse and practices. The mujeres understood that their leadership in the immigrant rights movement was both necessary and powerful. They frequently referenced the election of a record number of women in the 116th US House of Representatives as a hopeful sign for democracy. The testimonios and talking circle shed light on their commitment to challenging machismo (aggressive masculinity) in the Latino community and uplifting the voices of young women. Their understanding of young women's oppression and lack of representation in political endeavors is what drove them to prioritize developing leadership among younger women. More specifically, their own representation and inclusion as young women leaders in the immigrant rights movement became a priority. The mujeres came together to fight xenophobia and they created opportunities for the leadership development of young undocumented women in the process.

Notes
1

This refers to someone who immigrates as a child or teenager.

2

These accounts have not been edited so as to preserve the integrity of the voices of the mujeres.

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  • Negrón-Gonzales, Genevieve. 2015. “Undocumented Youth Activism as Counter-Spectacle: Civil Disobedience and Testimonio in the Battle Around Immigration Reform.” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 40 (1): 87112.

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  • Nicholls, Walter J. 2013. The DREAMers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.

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    • Export Citation
  • Pérez Huber, L. 2010. “Using Latina/o Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) and Racist Nativism to Explore Intersectionality in the Educational Experiences of Undocumented Chicana College Students.” Educational Foundations 24 (1): 7796.

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    • Export Citation
  • Perez, William. 2015. Americans by Heart: Undocumented Latino Students and the Promise of Higher Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saldaña, Johnny. 2015. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Sanchez, Ruben Elias Canedo, and Meng L. S. 2015. “UC Berkeley's Undocumented Student Program: Holistic Strategies for Undocumented Student Equitable Success across Higher Education.” Harvard Educational Review 85 (3): 464477.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Rich. 2019. “How to Prepare for ICE Raids in Washington State.” The Stranger, 11 July.

  • Stefancic, Jean. 1998. “Latino and Latina Critical Theory: An Annotated Bibliography.” La Raza LJ 10: 423498. https://doi.org/10.2307/3481065

    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Yúdice, George. 1991. “Testimonio and Postmodernism.” Latin American Perspectives 18 (3): 1531.

  • Zepeda-Millán, Chris. 2017. Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Contributor Notes

Carolina Silva (ORCID: 0000-0002-5589-7770) earned her PhD from the College of Education at Washington State University. A previously undocumented student, she has been an immigrant rights advocate for almost a decade. As a student organizer, she focused on attaining legal services for immigrant students on her campus and fostering undocumented women's leadership. Email: carolina.e.silva1220@gmail.com

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

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  • Morales, Amanda, Socorro Herrera, and Kevin Murry. 2011. “Navigating the Waves of Social and Political Capriciousness: Inspiring Perspectives from DREAM-Eligible Immigrant Students.” Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 10 (3): 266283. https://doi.org/10.11771538192708330232.

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  • Muñoz, Susana M., and Marta M. Maldonado. 2011. “Counterstories of College Persistence by Undocumented Mexicana Students: Navigating Race, Class, Gender, and Legal Status.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 25 (3): 123. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2010.

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  • Muñoz, Susana M. 2015. Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

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  • Muñoz, Susana M. 2016. “Undocumented and Unafraid: Understanding the Disclosure Management Process for Undocumented College Students and Graduates.” Journal of College Student Development 57 (6): 715729.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nadauld, Taylor. 2018. “The WSU Students Fighting for the DREAM Act.” Moscow Pullman Daily News, 2 February.

  • Negrón-Gonzales, Genevieve. 2015. “Undocumented Youth Activism as Counter-Spectacle: Civil Disobedience and Testimonio in the Battle Around Immigration Reform.” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 40 (1): 87112.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nicholls, Walter J. 2013. The DREAMers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pérez Huber, L. 2010. “Using Latina/o Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) and Racist Nativism to Explore Intersectionality in the Educational Experiences of Undocumented Chicana College Students.” Educational Foundations 24 (1): 7796.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Perez, William. 2015. Americans by Heart: Undocumented Latino Students and the Promise of Higher Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saldaña, Johnny. 2015. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Sanchez, Ruben Elias Canedo, and Meng L. S. 2015. “UC Berkeley's Undocumented Student Program: Holistic Strategies for Undocumented Student Equitable Success across Higher Education.” Harvard Educational Review 85 (3): 464477.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Rich. 2019. “How to Prepare for ICE Raids in Washington State.” The Stranger, 11 July.

  • Stefancic, Jean. 1998. “Latino and Latina Critical Theory: An Annotated Bibliography.” La Raza LJ 10: 423498. https://doi.org/10.2307/3481065

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yúdice, George. 1991. “Testimonio and Postmodernism.” Latin American Perspectives 18 (3): 1531.

  • Zepeda-Millán, Chris. 2017. Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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