I’m a Latina Activist and a Sorority Sister: That’s Not a Contradiction (OPINION)

Oct 28, 2020
4:14 PM

As a Marquette University junior and Sigma Lambda Gamma sister, some of the greatest moments I’ve shared with my sorority sisters have been on the front lines of justice. This year I’ve walked alongside them at Black Lives Matter marches, grieving with our Black neighbors and protesting police brutality. My sisters and I have also participated in volunteer voter advocacy with a local organization, texting and calling friends and family, empowering them with the tools to vote.

While the word “sorority” may conjure images of party girls in matching rush outfits, social justice and democratic participation are central to the Sigma Lambda Gamma sisterhood. And we’re not alone in this mission. As college campuses have grown increasingly diverse, their multicultural Greek organizations have expanded. And so has their mandate. Amid a global pandemic and a countrywide racial reckoning, Hellenic houses are bonded by a lot more than philanthropy and social events.

Here at Marquette and nationwide, we’ve become activists.

Earlier this month, Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc., our sorority’s national headquarters, released a statement saying that the organization prioritizes empowering the Black community, and any member in defiance of this mission should terminate their membership. As the largest and fastest growing historically Latina-founded multicultural sorority in the country, these words carry weight—not just among our members but across Greek life and even the broader campus at Marquette. Other sisters from predominantly white sororities and other multicultural organizations at Marquette have reached out to us, thanking us for standing with vulnerable communities and asking to partner with us on initiatives that will drive continued social action.

While our sorority is Latina-founded, our sisters and their families hail from all corners of the world, including Asia, Europe and Africa. We are immigrants and the children of immigrants, which means we’ve all been direct targets of the current administration. Many of us come from mixed status families, where our siblings, parents or grandparents might be undocumented. Some of us are undocumented ourselves. In fact, undocumented students make up more than 450,000 students in higher education, including 216,000 DACA-eligible students, according to New American Economy. For us, like so many young people of our generation, this election is personal. We’re voting like our lives and the lives of our relatives depend on it—because they do.

A few weeks before I was born, my pregnant mother left her native Mexico for the U.S. with one goal in mind: to give me the opportunities she never had. My dad had crossed the border separately, a treacherous journey he’d taken multiple times. We eventually settled in Milwaukee. And though my parents lived in the shadows, they’d given me the life-altering gift of citizenship.

After my parents separated when I was around five years old, my dad and I remained close. Every weekend he’d host me and my brother José, showering us with attention and care. He kept a tidy home —no shoes allowed— and cooked us bountiful meals. I loved waking up in the morning to stacks of pancakes with mini sausages and eating his tasty pasta dinners. I’d always leave his place overfed in the best possible way.

One day, when I was in middle school, my dad surprised me at my mom’s house and invited me for lunch. I was overjoyed by the impromptu date. I had no idea I’d never see my father again. For days afterward, I wondered why he wasn’t returning my calls. It was so out of character. My mind raced. Did I say something to upset him? Was he mad at me? Then, my aunt and uncle broke the news: He had been picked up by ICE and was scheduled for deportation. I kept thinking back to our lunch—the way he smiled at me when he announced the surprise and our happy conversation. Just like that, he was gone.

My experience was traumatic, but captures a fraction of the massive pain that our immigration system inflicts on families—from separating children from parents at the border to force-sterilizing women detained by ICE. No one is safe. Not citizens like me. Not immigrants like my dad, who worked, paid taxes and lived a good life. My dad could not attend any of my graduations, and when I get married, he won’t be there to walk me down the aisle.

This is why my sorority sisters and I have spent recent months reaching out to those we know in Wisconsin, urging them to vote. In addition to calling and texting, I’m personally canvassing with Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin, which advocates for voter access and endorses candidates who support low wage and immigrant workers. We are mobilizing voters with a simple message: keep families together. And it’s working. Every time I share my story, I connect personally with a voter and help them see the direct relationship that policies have on families like my own. My sisters and I are taking the time to get out the vote, all while juggling school responsibilities during a pandemic, because we want to protect others from the trauma of losing their parents, siblings and friends. My mom became a citizen two years ago, so she can’t be taken from me. But I hardly feel secure knowing so many others are not.

The author of this piece, Lisset Perez

My Sigma Lambda Gamma family has helped me stay strong in the face of all this. I feel proud knowing we’ve pledged to fight for each other—and for all the immigrants and people of color who struggle under the current administration’s inhumanity. This isn’t the typical experience for people of color in Greek life. The system has historically racist roots, from whites-only membership clauses to the present-day blackface parties. But my sisters and I are proof that liberation is possible, if only we come together to demand change. That’s what we’re doing this election. Won’t you join us?


Lisset Perez is a student at Marquette University and a sister at Sigma Lambda Gamma.