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How I Became an Activist
I’m not a rich white man, but I am an American
Wendy Herrera
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One day in 7th grade history, my teacher asked the class, “What if you’re not informed, and the president passes a law to deport all undocumented immigrants, and then your family gets deported?” Because both my parents had immigrated from Mexico and didn’t have green cards, I realized I had to learn more about this issue. (My sister and I were both born here.)

I started to watch the news and learn more about how the government worked and how it affected our lives. In June 2012, President Barack Obama instituted a policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. (It was an executive order, so he didn’t have to get Congress to agree to it.) Under this policy, children who immigrated to the U.S. before their 16th birthday got two years in which they were protected from deportation. They could also get work permits. People who applied for DACA could renew for another two years when their first two years were up.

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My two oldest cousins were born in Mexico but were brought to America at a young age. They signed up for DACA. It allowed them to travel to Mexico to see family members without fear of not being let back in. Obama made a big difference for my cousins and other young immigrants. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, almost 600,000 people from Mexico have been approved for DACA and another 150,000 from other countries.

Besides helping immigrants, Obama inspired me in other ways. He showed the world that a black person in the U.S. can be anything as long as you put the effort into it. And Obama helped my family by passing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which meant we could afford health insurance.

Who Is This Guy?

One day last summer, my little sister Ashley and I were watching the news, and we saw a guy with scary body language call Mexicans “rapists” and “drug dealers.” Then he said he was going to run for president and that he was going to build a big wall between the U.S. and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it.

My sister was 9. Her face showed the confusion that I felt. Hearing somebody who was running for president say such terrible things about Mexicans made me think of Hitler’s speeches about Jews. I blew this thought away because that was another era, and humans have learned not to be racist from studying the Nazis in Germany and slavery in the U.S. My mother said not to worry about this Donald Trump guy; he was just spewing hatred. But after this event Ashley and I watched more news and debates so we could be informed.

Over time, Trump said more hateful things—about black and Hispanic people, Muslims, immigrants, poor people—pretty much all people who aren’t white and rich like him.

I’m in foster care, but Ashley still lives with my mom. (My father recently passed away.) Ashley was worried our mother would be thrown out of the
country.

I told her that some undocumented immigrants who have been here for a long time are protected by laws and that deportation was a long process. I believed the adults who told me that Trump was just a joke and not to take him seriously. He wouldn’t become president.

As the months went by, and Trump kept winning Republican primaries, many of my family members talked about their fears of having to go back to Mexico. I asked my mom, “What was so horrible about Mexico?” She explained that she and my father had left to escape crime and corruption and so their children could have more opportunities.

The Birth of an Activist

On November 8, I watched the election returns on TV with my foster mom, while my sister watched with our mother, but we talked to each other on the phone. When the final results came in, we both cried and cursed the TV. I was 17 then; I turned 18 in January, so I just missed being able to vote. Like me, many kids from my school were frustrated that they had no say in this important election.

The next day, I saw on Facebook that there would be a protest march from Times Square to Trump Tower. I told my sister about it, and she said she wanted to go. “I’m not going to be a bystander,” she said.

“But what if it gets violent? I don’t want you to get hurt,” I said.

“We have to take that chance, just like Rosa Parks and others protested so that black people and women could have the same rights as white men, and not be under them.”

I left school the next day around 10 a.m. and picked up my sister from her school. We bought poster board and markers from the dollar store. She told me that a white kid in her school had told her to go back to Mexico. My sister told him she wasn’t going anywhere and that she would fight for what she believed was right.

I looked at my 9-year-old sister and saw a speaker and fighter for rights like Martin Luther King, Jr. When we got to Times Square, there weren’t many people, but that didn’t stop Ashley. She pulled out the big cardboard and made signs (see illustration at left).

At first there were only about 30 people, but as we started marching to Trump Tower, more people began marching with us. When we got to Trump Tower, we saw news trucks and many police officers. My sister asked them why they were protecting Trump.

“It’s my job. I have a family to feed,” one of them told us. We understood that they didn’t necessarily agree with Trump’s ideas. No one tried to get past the cops. It was a peaceful protest.

After 3 p.m., it started raining. I didn’t want my sister to get sick so we went to buy umbrellas and came back. It was amazing to see how many different people protested, women and men, old people to kids, and every skin color. I felt like we were all united.

We had gotten to 42nd Street at noon, and we stayed for 14 hours, until 2 a.m. I had to carry my sister home and then go to my foster home.

All the Same Inside

It was an amazing experience. I felt there that no matter what our backgrounds are, we are all the same inside and we are looking out for each other.

I’ve read that over time protesters will get tired and move on with their lives and just live with a Trump presidency, but so far that’s wrong. The Women’s March on Washington, on January 21, also had “sister” marches around the country and the world including New York, Los Angeles, Australia, Antarctica, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and South Africa.

Since then, other protests have attracted huge crowds, like the ones at airports around the country protesting Trump’s anti-immigration executive orders. Not only are citizens protesting Trump’s positions on immigrants’ and women’s rights but also those on race and LGBTQ rights—as well as his policies on climate change and education, just to name a few.

I hope we can put our differences aside and come together and care for each other instead of putting each other in separate categories. This terrible man becoming president makes me realize how important it is to be informed and know your rights and history. I watch the news every morning now and follow news on Facebook. In addition to knowing what’s going on and knowing and contacting our lawmakers (see sidebar below), we all need to go out and vote. I’m scared of what’s going to happen in the future, but I will continue to attend protests because I believe that if we all come together, we can make our voices heard.


Make Calls to Make Change

Protesting is one effective way to make your voice heard. But calling your representatives in Congress is just as important. Go to 5calls.org to find out who your congressperson is and how to contact them. It also provides scripts about different issues, so you know what to say.

(FCYU-2017-04-24)