Lessons from Iowa

I will confess, I am a bit behind and still reeling in from the travesuras in Iowa. By now, many of you have read up about how Governor Rick Perry was interrupted during his speech at Steve King’s Freedom Summit. However, despite the success of our action and our continued commitment to hold all politicians accountable for their words and actions, Iowa made me reflect on a whole lot on my work as an activist and organizer.

I am approaching my 26th birthday, which will put me close to the decade mark of organizing for the Dream Act and immigration policies. Over the years, I have helped organize countless events, some which were occurring in different time zones or states—all from the comfort of my bed in South Florida. I have confronted politicians, conversed with others and issued faux thread of civil disobedience in order to secure meetings. I have taken buses from Miami to Detroit, from Fort Lauderdale to Washington D.C., and flights without a valid form of identification—all to meet with new activists fighting for their loved ones, fighting to ensure that those of us who come to their country have a chance at our American dream.

Iowa made me realize that I am getting older. This is somewhat of a misplaced conflict, at least from my point of view. It is true that there are plenty of people who are considerably older than I am, and are still doing the groundwork. However, I have come to terms that I am no longer the eager and hard-headed activist I once was. The term “immigrant youth” is beginning to fade from the list of adjectives that are synonymous with my undocumented status, and with this comes the truth that new leaders are needed to take up the mantle that many of us once held onto so tightly.

Do not mistake this post as a sense of surrender. My work will continue, just in a different manner. Life has caught on to me, and as responsibilities increase then attention is best served in the priorities that we set for ourselves. I am currently focusing in completing my education, securing a job and ensuring that my non-DAPA eligible parents are safe and cared for. They too are growing older, something that I continue to reflect upon as they continue to pay their Social Security, without the certainty that they’ll be able to get any benefit from doing so, and do no qualify for most health care programs.

Perhaps all of this comes as a side effect of my current complacency, my unquenchable thirst to live a normal life. A life that does not require me looking over my shoulder every other day, a life that does not require me to check every single text message from my parents in fear that is a call for help to stop their deportation, a life where “fun” is more aligned with reading a book at a park and not with poking the eyes of politicians that disagree with me. Perhaps this is just me growing up.

“I do not want to be organizing for the Dream Act when I am 30 years old,” I told some of the participants who were present at the Freedom Summit. I want to be able to continue to do the policy work and continue to fight for my rights, the rights of millions. But I also long for a sense of tranquility, one that is free from the anxiety that most undocumented students feel. Does this make me selfish? A side of me tells me no, but another one feeds me with all kinds of guilt—almost as I am admitting defeat by plunging into my personal comfort zone.

The beneficiaries of both DACA and DAPA will write the next chapter of the undocumented saga. I say this mainly because it will be up to these individuals to ensure that the rest of the undocumented population, those who do not qualify for either program, are represented, accounted for and not left behind should another immigration measure (legislative or executive) comes down the pipeline. Yes, I include myself in those who will help lead this next push. Perhaps it is time to do more behind the scenes work, put both of my degrees to work (a privilege that I am fully aware of), and continue to use my writing as a tool for change.

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Juan Escalante is an undocumented activist, an MPA candidate at Florida State University and a social media enthusiast. You can follow Juan @juansaaa.

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