Regan Buchanan

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Regan Buchanan discusses her family background, how she got involved in immigration issues, as well as her experiences working with Students United for Immigrant Equality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this year. Buchanan discusses the intersection of immigration issues and race, and her own position as someone coming from a social and family background where she often does not have to confront issues of race. She discusses the challenges of addressing ignorance and apathy as a student advocate, as well as her strategies for engaging various kinds of audiences with these issues. She does not believe that the immigration reform movement needs one overarching leader; rather, she sees the need for a core group of leaders to step up and motivate the youth who are already at the forefront of this movement. She thinks that access to education is a key issue that those who work for immigration reform should be focusing on.



Hetali Lodaya: This is Hetali Lodaya, I’m interviewing Regan Buchanan, on April 14th, 2014, on the second floor of the Campus Y. So let’s just start with something really simple, if you can talk about where you’re from, where your family’s from, and sort of your background coming to Carolina?
Regan Buchanan: Okay, sure. So I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina, I’ve lived there since I was two years old, so that’s home for me. My mom and her side of the family are all from rural Kentucky, and my dad’s side of the family, it’s kind of hard to explain, but he and his sister were born in Canada, and everybody else is from Scotland and England. So that’s an interesting dynamic I guess, but he grew up in North Carolina, and moved to Kentucky with my mom, and then they moved back here, and it’s all very complicated. But yeah. That’s a tough question, I guess. But that’s pretty much where my family is from. I always wanted to go to a really great school, and I’ve always been more liberal arts minded, so when I was thinking about places that I could go, I wanted to go somewhere that fulfilled all those requirements. But also I’m a homebody and-and family is very important to me, and so I love that I’m only forty minutes down the road. And UNC is one of the best schools in the country, and it’s a public school, and it’s just so convenient, and so how could you not want to go here? I’m sorry, it was where I was from, where my family is from, and what led me to UNC?
HL: Mhmm.
RB: Yeah, so that’s pretty much it. I’m really happy here.
HL: Cool. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in advocacy work that you do, and immigrant advocacy work?
RB: Sure. I don’t know, I’m a very self-reflective person, so starting, I guess, in high school-I come from rural-a place in Raleigh that’s very conservative, and I used to hear things in my high school, you know how high schoolers are, they always hear things their parents say-and then just regurgitate them at any moment, when there’s like a classroom debate. I heard kids saying things like, oh, well, immigrants, they’re taking our jobs, and immigrants are here and they’re leeching off the system. And I was thinking about that and I said, well, my dad’s an immigrant-and no one ever really complains about him taking-he’s occupying an American job and no one’s complaining. And I was like, oh, it’s because he’s white. So for me it-I realized that immigration isn’t necessarily a problem of origin, more a problem of race. So for me, that just kind of made me very upset, to think that people were using origin as an excuse to just be racist. I-my dad is really good friends with an immigration attorney, and so I interned at his law firm for-just between Christmas break and going back over the year my senior year, and I just really loved-even just going through files and seeing people. And when I went through these files I was seeing just money orders. Like people, like Western Union, sending money to their families. And so like month, month, month, month consistently for years. Then I even saw undocumented people paying taxes. Like tax forms, IRS forms. And I was just thinking to myself, well, they don’t seem like leeches at all to me. In fact, they seem like they’re family oriented just like I am, and they are contributing to this economy. Then also they do jobs-are doing jobs that no one else here wants to do. And so I started forming opinions about immigration earlier. And then I came to UNC and I know that this is a great place for social justice, and I was very excited about the idea of being involved in an immigration reform group. I was at Fall Fest and Pia, our co-chair, was out there, and she had her dog, Louie, who’s the most adorable thing in the world, and I was missing my dog so much, so I went and talked to her. And I started petting Louie, and I saw her sign, and it said for immigration reform, and I was like, oh my gosh! This must be fate. And I signed up, and of course you sign up for a million things at Fall Fest, and that was probably one of the only few that I ended up following through and actually going to the meeting for. So-wow, that was a lot of prepositions in that sentence and it didn’t really make much sense. But anyway, so that was cool. And I went to the meeting, and I heard Emilio and Pia talk, and they were the first undocumented people I had ever met, and I was just like, well, these people have been demonized for me for-like I said, I grew up in a suburb, everybody’s white and middle class, and very ignorant sometimes unfortunately. So I was like, these people are not bad at all, they’re really nice and they’re intelligent and smart and just want to give back to people, just like me. It’s not anything like what I’ve grow up hearing. So that’s what got me excited about it. Then we started on the One State, One Rate campaign. And I just-learning the facts about what immigration is, and just all of the things that are preventing these people from bettering their lives in our state and our country just made me so upset. I cherish education, and the fact that somebody else doesn’t have the opportunity to do the same thing just really unsettled me. So that’s why I got involved.
HL: Sure. What over the course of this year, being involved with SUIE, do you feel like has been one of the biggest challenges, in the work that you all do?
RB: I guess for me one of the biggest challenges was probably a day we stood outside of Lenoir with signs encouraging people to sign our petition for the One State, One Rate campaign. Mostly because I-before that I had been surrounded by only SUIE members when we were doing our work, and by people that were just as passionate about the issue as I was, and I sort of was working under this false pretense that everybody knows that immigration is a big deal, and everybody kind of has general facts, and people are accepting. We got out to Lenoir and it was just very unsettling how many people just didn’t understand what we were talking about, and how many very ignorant things were said, and even at UNC. I was very shocked. Especially-I had a conversation with somebody that I knew, and my roommate was friends with, and he was like, well, immigrants, don’t pay taxes, like, they shouldn’t be here, and blah blah blah. And I tried to give him statistics about it, and he was just like, no. And I was taken aback, I was just like, what do you mean, no, that’s a number, there’s no “no”, there’s no, I have a different opinion, it’s a statistic. Like there’s no-and I was just taken aback by how people just refuse to learn sometimes and refuse to just open their minds to things. And I think that for me was a big challenge and I was very, very discouraged by that day. I remember getting done with it and I went and sat in the library and ate lunch by myself, and I was like, I just need to regroup for a little while and think about things, because it was just really disheartening, how many people just don’t know anything about it. And then a lot of people just don’t care to know anything even when I’m there trying to present them with information. So that was a big challenge for me.
HL: What do you think it will take to get over that, maybe sort of specific to campus or specific to North Carolina?
RB: You know what, that’s a really good question. It’s very frustrating to me, because I feel like a lot of times ignorance is bred because your parents bring you up to believe a certain thing. But then once you get to a certain age, I believe most of us are capable of generating our own thoughts and our ideas, and it’s almost like–it’s self-perpetuated, and I don’t know how you’re going to get over that. I honestly think it has to start with politicians and leaders because they themselves a lot of times contribute to this demonization of immigrants, of this horrible group of people. And again, it’s a highly racialized thing. And that leads to the media as well, you see so many news stories-I think someone at Fox News was comparing immigrant children to Children of the Corn, or something like that, and I was just like-that’s a Stephen King novel, and you’re comparing horror children to-immigrants to horror children. I don’t know, and things like that-because that’s what people see, and that’s what people hear every day. And if they just started presenting real facts to people instead of these dramatized portrayals, then maybe people will start understanding what this issue is. And it’s a human rights problem, it’s not a policy problem. This affects real human lives every day.
HL: Sure. You mentioned a couple of groups of people that you interact with in doing this work. There’s your other SUIE members, there’s other stakeholders, campus community, elected officials, people that touch this issue in different ways. What is it like working with other people to do this work? Are there challenges, are there people that you don’t work with that you wish you did?
RB: I really wish that we could work with the-we could make this a bipartisan issue. Right now we partner with Young Democrats a lot, with events, but I’ve never talked to the campus Republicans-I doubt there’s that many of them anyway. But I really-because like I said, this is-my biggest thing is I like to-I try to portray the immigration issue. It’s not like, I’m not some crazy person that’s trying to just, highly driven by emotion and not by logic, trying to get you to believe what I believe, I’m trying to show you that there’s a reason, economic, moral reasons to reform immigration. And so I wish that we could work-because I think that it could be a bipartisan thing. I wish that there was a way to convince Republicans on this campus, in the legislature, in the country, in North Carolina, to just look at the facts and accept those. And open their minds to what we’re trying to say. Because I think it’s a logical argument. And so that’s really hard, because we don’t work with them. And that’s a challenge. And then also a challenge, what I’ve learned this year is that you can get-you can talk to people, and most people are receptive and they’re like, oh, that’s interesting, oh, that’s cool but there’s a big leap between somebody being receptive to what you’re saying, and being able to get somebody to get up at eight o’clock in the morning and hold a poster with you at a BOT meeting. Or get somebody impassioned about something. That takes a lot more. And there’s a big difference. Like, I would talk to people in Lenoir, and be like, oh, are you interested in signing the petition, or liking us on Facebook, and that’s not hard, and they’d be like, yeah, sure, but I’d be like, would you be interested in coming out to a SUIE meeting at seven or would you be interested in standing out on the South Building when we have a press conference, and that’s just a completely different story. And I just thought that was interesting, how we are-I don’t know, increasingly lazy? I guess, it’s easy to do something through your computer but not get out and show what you care about. I thought that was interesting.
HL: Sure. Do you, in working with other students here around campus, I don’t know if you’ve gotten to interact with students that do this work from other universities, from other parts of the state, do you feel as though everyone is on the same page about how to do this work, how to be advocates for immigrant rights, or are there differences in opinions among different student advocates?
RB: Well, right now, the only student advocates that I’m-we work with as SUIE are satellite campaigns for One State, One Rate at UNC-Charlotte and UNC-Asheville. Because they are mirrored after our own campaign, they are going about things generally the same way that we are. The One State, One Rate campaign initially tried to get Chancellor Folt to endorse in-state tuition for undocumented students. But then we realized that she doesn’t really control that herself, and so now it’s like trying to get legislature to support us. And I think right now- UNC-Asheville and UNC-Charlotte are both trying to get their chancellors on board with what’s going on there. Other than that we haven’t-we don’t have a lot of interaction with other campuses about immigration advocacy.
HL: So you’ve talked a little bit about how it seems to you that a big part of the issue here isn’t immigration per say but it’s more about race.
RB: Yeah.
HL: Do you think it affects your being involved in this work that you-that you are white?
RB: I mean, affects-[pause]-I personally don’t feel, it doesn’t affect me negatively, I don’t-I personally feel like I haven’t encountered a situation in which I’ve been discriminated against because I’m white. But I definitely am a minority whenever we’re working, and that’s an interesting dynamic coming from a white suburb where anyone else but you was ever a minority. I-I worry about that, because if I am to get involved with personally working with immigrant communities in the future, is whether they’ll trust me or not. And I’ve also-people have just like, go ahead and assume that I don’t know Spanish and I speak pretty good Spanish, and I’m working on my minor, and so some things like-especially when I was working at the law firm, like they-I would answer the phone, and be like, buenos días, and they would be like-they obviously can tell that I’m not a native speaker because of my accent, and they would be like, are you sure you know Spanish, before I talk to you about this, and I’m like yeah, we’re okay, I promise. So that’s the one thing I worry about with me being white. But I also think it’s important, because the fact that I’m a co-chair of SUIE shows that this isn’t just a Latin American issue. Like, it’s an everybody issue. Like I said, my dad is Canadian, and he’s an immigrant here, but like I said no one really thinks about that. And there-because it’s such a racialized issue, no one cares about white immigrants here. So I think it’s important to show that it’s a diverse problem.
HL: Specifically talking about within the Latino immigrant community in North Carolina, having folks that are undocumented and having folks that are allies in that movement, what do you see is the role of people maybe who aren’t directly from a particular community, who aren’t undocumented, advocating for and wanting to support their rights and their advancement?
RB: What’s their role? Well, I think, in the undocumented community there’s a lot of fear, of being-of stepping up and being in the spotlight, because they’re always living in fear of being deported. So I think anyone with legal status, their role is to, you know, stand up for them. Because they understandably are afraid to voice their opinions and so as a legal citizen-as somebody like me, who’s born here, or somebody that has a green card, or anyone that has legal status-they need to stand up for the rights of the undocumented. I think that’s their role, is to defend a group that can’t defend themselves, a lot of times.
HL: Sort of a similar question, what do you see as your role as a student advocate in particular for immigration rights?
RB: Well right now I think my-a really big focus of what I’m doing is I just want to share the information and the facts with people that I go to school with. You can ask any of my friends, I talk about this a lot. The big reason for that is I really want my time here to be used effectively, to, you know, change somebody’s mind, and if I can educate four people in a semester about what the real facts about immigration are, then I’d be really happy, because those people are going to get-those people will understand what immigration is, and when it comes time to vote, they will vote for people who are in favor of immigration reform. So right now I think that’s in the smallest-on the smallest scale, I feel like that’s what I do here. Also, when we talk to the Immigrant Youth Forum of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, SUIE collaborates with them a lot, and I want them to know that kids in college especially-I think that a lot of times there is, and rightfully so, there is a stereotype of privileged white kids, like, they don’t really care, they’ve got their ticket. My parents are paying for me to go here, and I haven’t really-I don’t have to work for my tuition, and I want them to know that I haven’t forgotten about people that can’t go here. And so I think that that’s another thing that I want to do while I’m here, is tell those people, I understand that this is hard, and I’m trying to help you. Like, I’m not just going to stick my head in the sand and have my great four years here and forget that there are people trying to fight to be where I am all the time.
HL: Do you think, of all the things that make up immigration reform, whether that’s talking about wages and pay and ability to travel and path to legal status and access to education and tuition in state, is there one piece of this work that you think is more important or that needs to be focused on first?
RB: That’s really tough. Honestly, wages is a big deal-wages are a big deal, but education right now is, I just think it’s crucial. Because without the ability to allow immigrants to have the access to education at an affordable rate, then you’re just keeping people in a cycle of poverty, and what good does that do any of us? So if you look at Alabama for instance, they tried to pass a law that kept immigrants from using any public works, so like even public elementary and middle schools. Now what good are you going to do if you have an entire population of immigrant children that can’t read or write in English, and then they’re going to grow up and they can’t read or write in English? Now what good does that serve any of us? And if you are-allow immigrant people to get educated and-because they want to, of course, they want to better their lives here, if we just give them a chance. So I think if you allow them to get educated, they can go ahead and get jobs that are higher paying, and then also have more weight because they contribute more significantly to the tax base, and then also have more political clout as well, because they’re going to have a higher percentage of-there’s going to be a higher percentage of wealthy Latinos, and thus they’ll be able to influence the political things. So I think honestly if you just give these people the means to make their lives better through education, then I think a lot of it will sort itself out.
HL: And you think that applies to in particular North Carolina as well?
RB: Oh yeah, especially. We were doing research a couple weeks ago, because we were giving a presentation, and I want to say that there-we were talking about the DREAM Act, and how that’s never been passed, and if it were to be passed, there’s a really, really large amount of people that would be eligible for it. And if you factor in that all of these people will graduate from college, or serve in the military, and then go on to get jobs, they would contribute I think three trillion dollars to taxable income in the United States. So it’s-I don’t know, it’s a problem that affects the entire country, but North Carolina specifically, because we don’t even let them have in-state tuition here.
HL: Why did you decide to run for co-chair for SUIE or be a leader in SUIE?
RB: I guess, for me, I’m-I don’t know how to say this without sounding really lazy, but it’s really hard for me to get motivated about things that I don’t care about. So reading for a class, it’s really hard to get myself to do it, or to not procrastinate, and I always found myself very engaged in what SUIE was doing, I never minded going to meetings, I never minded really doing anything to just help out. And I was like, well that means I’m passionate about it, because it’s not a chore. And I just wanted-I want to help this organization succeed. And that’s-I just was like, why not?
HL: And what are you goals for SUIE next year?
RB: I’d like to increase our membership. Right now we have like twenty active members, and we can probably get like fifteen to show up on a good day to a meeting. And that’s really exciting, but I’d like to increase that, and I’d also like to increase the amount of events that we’re able to hold, like I said because we don’t have as many members as another club, a lot of times-or organization-a lot of times it’s hard to get with the-everyone has demanding academic schedules, so it’s hard to get everybody together, or host an event if we’re all busy and there’s only fifteen of us. So I’d love to have more members so that we can have different events, just educational things. We have a couple events where we just hosted people, and we were just like, well we’re going to present you guys with a PowerPoint and then open it up for questions. So that was just a really great dialogue of just educating people and shedding light on the issue, and I feel like I would love to have more events like that, and I think if we have more members, those will definitely be a reality. And I’d also like to work more closely with Immigrant Youth Forum, and just work harder on One State, One Rate, because right now the Attorney General Roy Cooper, over Christmas break he said that as North Carolina law stands right now, there’s no room to give in-state tuition to undocumented students. So we need to go about getting endorsements from other stakeholders. And I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to do that, but it has to happen, so hopefully we can figure out some way to do that next year.
HL: How do you feel when you think about tackling some of these issues, particularly One State, One Rate? How do you feel about what that’s going to be like over the next year, the next couple of years?
RB: It’s a little stressful, because it’s a really big challenge, but it’s also really exciting, and also, working with SUIE, especially just with immigration reform in general, you have to accept the fact that you’re not-you’re not going to change the hearts and minds of people in a year, or two or three or even maybe ten. So for me I was thinking the other day, I was like, well, I mean, not everyone can be a Gandhi, you know? Not everyone can be a Cesar Chavez. But you can be the people that lay the work, lay the footwork for those people, lay the foundation. So when I think about One State, One Rate, I think maybe we’re not going to get in-state tuition in my four years here at Chapel Hill, but if I can start the conversation, and get some politicians in our favor, and change the way that people think about in-state tuition for undocumented students, then maybe in the coming years after I graduate and after I’m gone, then we’ll have some success and some real legislation passed in favor of undocumented students.
HL: Do you think immigration reform in North Carolina or broadly needs a Gandhi or a Cesar Chavez?
RB: You know, I think they need somebody. Like we need to rally around a central person, I feel like. Well, now that I think about it, that’s kind of silly. Because, we’ve got a really large population of undocumented students in North Carolina. But like I said, there’s a culture of fear surrounding that. So I think you need maybe a smaller group of leaders, specifically maybe undocumented leaders, because if they can see that these people are stepping out of the shadows-because that’s what they call it, stepping out of the shadows-stepping out of the shadows and saying we’re not afraid, we’re undocumented, we’re not afraid of being deported, we have to stand up for our rights because this is our home just as much as it is anyone else’s, then we can rally around that. But I don’t think we need one person, we need a group of like ten or twelve.
HL: What do you think it will take to get more undocumented people willing and ready to step out of the shadows?
RB: Well, the younger generation is already making a big jump. Like I said, Immigrant Youth Forum, those are all high school, early college age kids. So younger kids are less afraid because this-we’re beginning to change the conversation about undocumented students. But I don’t know what you’re going to have to do for the older generation, because for them family and being able to provide for your family is everything, and so risking that, for anything, is just unreasonable, and selfish. And so I think for them, they would just rather remain anonymous. We were doing a photo gallery the other day for SUIE and one of our members was taking pictures of local undocumented immigrants with items of significance for them. And you noticed the subjects of the pictures that were younger had no problem with their faces being photographed. But after about the age of 30 or 40, it was just a body picture, no faces. So I just think that they can’t even-they’re afraid of even getting their picture taken. So I’m not really sure about how you would go about changing that. I just think information would be the biggest thing, and then maybe something will happen.
HL: Do you think it is important to or it matters to? Maybe they face of immigrant advocacy by undocumented people in North Carolina is-is youth. Is that okay, or do you need everyone?
RB: Well, it normally starts with youth, doesn’t it. Everything does. But I think that-I mean, one thing I’ve been learning this year is that any movement that has large amounts of success has to have multifaceted areas. So you have to have older people supporting you, you can’t be a bunch of crazy college kids, because that’s exactly how you’re going to be labeled. So if you just have a bunch of 18-years olds like, yes! We need rights! No matter how right you are, the people that are older than you are just going to dismiss it as youthful ignorance. So you need older working class people to stand up and be like, no, they’re right, we agree with that completely. And that doesn’t just stem from undocumented populations. We need people like my parents, conservative older people that live in my suburb to support what we do. Because they’re the people that really hold the power. If a bunch of undocumented people get upset, no one really cares, because they don’t have a vote, they can’t vote, it’s not really that big of a deal. But if you get a bunch of wealthier people in a wealthy suburb of Raleigh to be like no, it’s actually not cool guys, you’re kind of being jerks, then it’s much more significant. So you need support from all sides.
HL: Where do you hear this or feel like you get this impression, that people think you’re just a bunch of crazy college kids, loud college kids?
RB: You know, unfortunately, a lot of times that comes from my family. Not from my parents, they’re very open-minded, but my-like I said, my mom’s side of the family is from rural Kentucky, and they’re wonderful people, I’m certainly not discounting that at all, I love them to death, so great, but they-they come from a different area. And different experiences. And so that lends itself to a different worldview. I think when I first started getting involved with these things that SUIE was doing, they were seeing posts on Facebook and all this kind of stuff, and I came for Thanksgiving and they were like, now, what is this stuff that you’re getting involved in at UNC? Have they liberalized you? What is going on? And I was like, well, first of all, was that way before I came. Second of all, it’s not crazy, and so that just for the most part is what made me think that people were seeing what I was doing as, oh, this is what all college kids do. They get really idealistic at this age and then they graduate and the world hits them and it’s over, but for me this is like a problem that’s going to perpetuate for the rest of my life. Then, thankfully, once I presented the issue to them and the actual facts about everything, they were completely understanding of what I was doing. So it was no longer a crazy college kid phase. It was like oh, she’s actually passionate about a real issue. So that’s like-my family, they’re the greatest people in the world, they just, they have different ways of going about thinking about things when they first hear it, but then they’re completely understanding once they get the real facts about stuff.
HL: Do you think it’s harder to speak to people that you know, family, things like that, or is it harder to speak to strangers?
RB: It’s really hard with your family. Because-I personally, I have a really bad habit of when somebody doesn’t agree with me, I get really mad. So especially when it’s something like this where I have dedicated a lot of my time and I believe it firmly with all my heart-and there’s lots of facts behind me, I know it’s not just some silly thing that I’m believing-and so when somebody’s just like, “no”, I don’t like that. And I know it comes from a place of ignorance instead of from a place of actual facts-that makes me really upset. And I don’t want to be upset with people I love, or people that I have to be around on a regular basis-that’s I think what made it so hard about arguing with that one guy in front of Lenoir that was my roommate’s friend, because I know him and I see him all the time. And now I think he has that bad image of me, and I think when you’re passionate about something, you have to be prepared to turn some people off with your-
HL: Are there things that you think student advocates should be doing or things that you’ve seen SUIE do to try to combat this idea of crazy college kids, to come off maybe as more level-headed or-or is it ok?
RB: To a certain degree, I think it’s fine. You have to be idealistic, otherwise you’re not going to be hopeful and it’s going to be sad and boring. But I-honestly, I don’t think really SUIE gives off the impression that we’re crazy. We don’t do anything like-we’re not like the weatherman or anything like that, where we like give bombs to people, or stuff-I shouldn’t say bombs on this thing, I’m sorry.
HL: It’ll be fine.
RB: I think that we just need to stop-when you’re appealing [pause] to people of the right, conservative side, you need to present facts and statistics and straight hard numbers instead of the moral appeal, because to me, when you’re talking just about morals, that’s when it comes off as, oh, you’re a college kid, what do you know about the world. But if you just give them straight, hard facts, and numbers, that’s something that is going to apply to everything that they do. So that’s I think how you avoid sounding like you’re just this idealistic college kid, is you’re like no, actually, I have this statistics sheet here all ready for you. Throw out some literature. But I don’t know.
HL: Coming off of that, you said something really interesting earlier about you-when you first started working, when you first started interning, you got this sense that these are family people-
RB: Yeah.
HL: -just like I am. And I think one of the values that we associate with the conservative movement or with the Republican Party is this idea of family values. Where do you think that disconnect comes from?
RB: I don’t-I think that, again, I think it boils down to race. For them, family is-it’s not nice to say them-for crazy [pause] very, very right-winged conservatives, I think for them what they say is family values, is, oh, family values for white people. Family values for us. When they think of family values they think of a wife who stays at home and a dad who goes and earns a six-figure salary and brings it back, and then have 2.5 kids and a dog and a white picket fence, and that’s family. They’re stuck in that idea. But when I think Latin Americans or any immigrants, when they think of family, they think of-it’s like a different concept, it’s like your grandmother, your grandfather, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, this whole inclusive set of people, and they all share this tie to their homeland or to where they live now and it’s all just-it’s very great ,but I think the disconnect arises with the race thing is like oh, I think about, a white family, it’s really cute and has blond kids, but not like a Latin American family or a black family or an Indian family or anything like that. I think that’s a big problem that they have.
HL: Do you think sharing numbers and statistics and very hard facts will change some of those perceptions, and some of that focus on race?
RB: I think it opens the door. Because like I said, a lot of times when you just go in with this really impassioned emotionally driven moral appeal, it’s very easy for people just to shut you out. So if you go ahead with the statistics, that gets people listening, because it’s very calm, it’s very prepared, and it’s very fact-oriented. That way you have more a presentable argument, and then once you’ve got them on that, you say, these people are family people just like you. And then you get them with, you’re a racist, but you say it very casually-just because they’re from Latin America doesn’t mean that their family is less than yours, or something like that. I was talking to my dad the other day, and he’s very conservative, and I was like, you know, dad, if the law-or if for some reason public opinion shifted and Canadian immigrants were now these horrible people like, you wouldn’t be here, you’d be demonized, and how would that feel? Just things like that, trying to relate it as much back to their own experiences is how you get them.
HL: Have you found that it works?
RB: Yeah, absolutely. Like, my parents, they’re both rather conservative-like not crazy, they’re like more middle of the road-and just relating it back to, they value work, very, very-like work ethic, very, very much. And so if you talk about, you know, the immigrant community, they come here and they want to make a better life for themselves. They’re not sitting around, they’re not just trying to leech off the system-which I don’t know how they would do because they don’t have a social security number anyway to apply for welfare-but they say that anyway-but they’re actually working really hard and the jobs they do are not glamorous but they’re trying to make a better life for themselves and their family. And my parents know what that’s like, because they try to do that every day. So if you can find ways to relate what-or know your audience, and relate your issue to what is special for them, then a lot of times they’re more accepting to what you have to say. Because that gets my parents a lot, is they’re working really hard.
HL: Sure. What skills have you found to be most important to have as a student advocate or that you think will be most important over the next couple years?
RB: Well, communicating is really important, just because you understand an idea doesn’t mean that somebody else will. So you have to be able to communicate things in a very relatable way, like I was just talking about, or in a very clear and concise manner. Also, nobody likes to sit and listen to tons of legal jargon about the different bills that are passed, so keep it short and simple. Also, I think being calm when you’re arguing with people, because you’re not going to win anybody over by calling them a dick and running away. So that’s important. And then…
HL: Any things that you think are particular to North Carolina or to working at UNC, even?
RB: Working at UNC… I mean, I think that you have to understand that-I love this place so much, and there’s a really great network of people willing to help you if you just give them-like I said, if you just give them the facts and tell them why your issue is important. So just don’t be afraid to ask for help, some of our best events have come from collaborations with CK, or one time we worked with the Indian sorority on campus, and that was really wonderful, and they came from unexpected friendships, and people are willing to listen to what you have to say, just ask for them to do that, and that’s how you’re very successful.
HL: Do you think that that’s how you might approach this over the next couple of years and that the best strategy is about making this about more people than just the Latino community, or just the undocumented community? Do you just bring everybody under the umbrella?
RB: Yeah, I completely agree with that, because like I said, it’s really easy for people to get wrapped up in their own lives, and that’s through no fault of their own, we’re very self-oriented creatures, but if you show people how this affects them and how this affects people like them, then it makes it much more of an impactful issue. So like I said, that’s why I think it’s also important-this sounds weird-but the fact that I’m white helps SUIE a little bit, because it’s like, oh, there’s somebody that’s not Latino that’s worried about immigrants, like that’s-why? And then they’re interested in why I care. Which is kind of bad, but also I can use it to my advantage, I guess.
HL: How do you think other people in SUIE feel about what you just-what you just articulated?
RB: I don’t know, I haven’t really talked to them about it. I don’t-I think race is such a tricky thing that everybody just likes to avoid it. I always feel very uncomfortable because, like I’ve said numerous times here, I come from a just a majority white area, and so if I-I feel uncomfortable talking about race because I’m afraid I’m going to offend people, because I’ve just not been around it where the dialogue is very-like it happens frequently, so I just like, I’m afraid that I’m going to say something and people will be like, ahhh! So we haven’t really talked about it. I don’t think that they view me as any different than they are. And there-we have-like there are different races represented in our group of people, which is good, I think. I don’t really think that they-we haven’t had really a conversation about it.
HL: Do you think it’s important for the advocacy community to bring up this topic more? So you’ve talked about how you feel like in some ways, the issue is not as much immigration status as it is race. Do you think that it’s important to make that a part of the public dialogue about the issue of immigration?
RB: I wouldn’t use that as a the forefront of your argument, because then you’re going to make people really upset, because nobody wants to be called a racist, so I think that the best way is to be really sneaky about it, like I was talking about before, and you really just start with tax reasons. And then go for moral appeals and then after that you hit the race card. Because, like I said, nobody wants to be called a racist. That’s not going to make anybody happy.
HL: How do you see yourself continuing to be involved in this work? After being a student, is it something you want to keep doing?
RB: Yeah. I’m very finicky about what I want to do when I graduate, and I always talk to my parents about, I’m like, I don’t know! And it’s really stressful, because I’m a planner, and I like having concrete things that I’m going to do and they’re like, well, you’re so passionate about this, and you can’t stop yourself from talking about it when people ask you and you know, you do all these things and you dedicate a large amount of your time, why not this? So the way I see it going is I would love to be an immigration lawyer, and not one of the ones that helps people get deported, but the ones that fight that. I would like to maybe, in order to sponsor my work, work formally with companies that want to sponsor employees to come work over here, and then that’s like good money, and through that I can do pro bono work with the undocumented community. Other than that, I also was thinking about international law, and I’m doing global studies with a concentration in Latin America, so I think a lot of times if you combat the problems in the countries that cause people to leave, you can solve a lot of the problems that they have right now. That’s what I-I don’t understand, people they’re like-why do people always want to come over here, I don’t understand. You don’t realize how-nobody wants to leave their home, no one wants to leave where their family has been for as long as they can remember, they have to because it’s inhospitable environment. So I think if you can fix that stuff first, you won’t have the problems to begin with, and people can stay in Mexico, because they like it there and it’s their home, and they can have jobs and it’ll be great. But yeah, either of those things, I’d like to do.
HL: Last question. You’ve shared a couple of stories of times where things were hard, things were discouraging, things were disheartening. What’s made you stay? What’s made you want to keep being involved in this work? Is it any particular thing that happened that was really encouraging?
RB: I don’t know, I think working with the Immigrant Youth Forum was amazing because before, we had just been looking at stats or saying oh, undocumented students are facing this. And just talking about it as a large group of people. And that makes it very unpersonal-impersonal, I don’t know. But anyway, so we talked to the Immigrant Youth Forum, and they came out, and we just ate pizza with them and sat down with them for a little while. I was talking and one of the girls-we were asking, we were like, oh, where are you guys applying to college, because a lot of them were seniors. And one of the girls was like, oh, I’m applying to UNC-G, and I’m applying to UNC-Chapel Hill, and all this kind of stuff, and she’ s like, but I’m probably going to have to go to community college. And I was asking her why? And she’s like, well-that was kind of a dense question, now that I think about it, because, I mean, I know why-but she’s like, because my parents can’t afford out-of-state tuition at UNC-G or UNC-Chapel Hill. So just to see her, very, very intelligent person, smarter than I am probably, and the fact that she’s being denied an education based solely on the fact that-where she was born. It seems very ridiculous. And so that made me very upset to think about that, and then also the fact that not that many people know about it. People, like I said, it’s so easy to get absorbed in what you’re doing on campus, but you forget that there are people fighting every single day to try to be where you are, and you take things for granted. Just talking to them just made me remember how lucky I am to be here, and how I want to give other people the chance to do that like me. So that’s really what drives me on, I think. I really, really just-it makes me so upset that they can’t do what they want to do. Education’s been a huge part of my life, without fail I’ve always been the girl that loves school, and so the fact that they’re taking that away from somebody else really bothers me.
HL: Thank you.
RB: Yeah, sure.