For Carlos Aguilar, Monday changed from a day of uncertainty to a day of singing.
March 5 had for months been the deadline that Aguilar and thousands of other “Dreamers” were dreading: the last day for DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, when undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children would lose their protected status and become subject to deportation.
But a recent Supreme Court ruling has delayed the deadline, allowing Congress more time to come up with a way forward on the program.
“We’re still here,” said Aguilar, 27, a PhD student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who moved to the United States from Mexico 12 years ago. “Our lives are not dictated by their confusion.”
The limbo continues for the Dreamers. But on Monday, at an event at Harvard called “A Day of Hope and Resistance,” sponsored by the Harvard DACA Seminar, it was a day for song, poetry, music, and discussion.
Inside the Harvard Memorial Church, professors and students, documented and undocumented, participated in a songwriting workshop, chanted to the tones of a violin, a piano, and a steady beat-boxing rhythm.
They called the song “Grito of our Generation,” or “Cry of our Generation.”
“Activated by fire. Driven by desire. Power to conspire,” the lyrics read. “The world we inspire. We gotta grow like a garden. They try to make us target. Others are driven by greed, we start planting our seeds.”
The event featured South Bronx-based bilingual rap crew Rebel Diaz on hip-hop and immigration; a gallery presentation by undocumented, queer artist Julio Salgado; a Know Your Rights workshop; and performances by Grammy-winning composer and bassist Esperanza Spalding and Quetzal, an East L.A. Chicano rock group.
“Where does culture and creativity play a role in empowerment especially for immigration rights?” asked Melissa Castillo-Garsow, a post-doctoral fellow in the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History and one of the organizers. “I think it’s really important to see migrants as more than just people who are a legal issue but as three-dimensional people who have creative and artistic lives.”
The Trump Administration gave Congress a March 5 deadline to decide what to do with young undocumented immigrants who’d arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and who were granted renewable work permits under the Obama Administration along with stays of deportation.
Congress has taken no action. If DACA had been rescinded Monday, an average of 915 DACA recipients a day would lose their protection from deportation and work authorization, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The DACA seminar, which sponsored the event, was founded by three Harvard professors as a way to delve into questions of immigration policy, deportation, and what the termination of DACA and Temporary Protected Status could mean for young people and communities.
“Though I remain hopeful that something can be done to move us to a more permanent solution for these young people and their families,” said Roberto Gonzales, a professor of education at Harvard University, who conducted one of the largest studies of the undocumented youth experience in the country. He said there are nearly 100 DACA recipients enrolled at Harvard as undergraduate and graduate students.
‘I think it’s really important to see migrants as more than just people who are a legal issue but as three-dimensional people who have creative and artistic lives.’
“I’m also aware that’s not going to happen without grassroots involvement,” Gonzales continued, “without organizing, without young people lifting their voices, without community members actively involved in working toward a just solution for immigrant families in this country.”
DACA recipient and Harvard graduate student Alma Valverde, 27, said as a little girl she always thought if people knew her immigration status they wouldn’t like her. It’s something she kept hidden away. But her heritage makes her proud. As a Mexican-American, she’s both and neither. Ni de aqui, ni de alla, not from here nor from there.
“I’m graduating from Harvard with a Harvard degree,” Valverde said. “I think I have a lot of options. Once we have the degree, once we have the experiences, once we have the knowledge, even if we are deported we still take that with us and we will still make change.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org