Jane Smith, pseud.

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Interview Text and Audio


Jane Smith (pseudonym), speaks about her involvement with issues related to migration, and the broader landscape of student activism work related to immigration in North Carolina. She shares stories from her work with Students United for Immigrant Equality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her observations on the challenges of working with the undocumented population in North Carolina. In particular, she finds the lack of central leadership challenging, and discusses how different stakeholders in the state might be able to work more effectively together. From her perspective, the landscape of activism in North Carolina has shifted over the past few years from solely awareness and advocacy work, to include more of a policy focus, in light of federal policies such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Advocacy has also changed as more and more undocumented students are becoming open about their status and choosing to advocate for themselves; this, however, sometimes creates tension when considering the role of allies in the movement.



Hetali Lodaya: This is Hetali Lodaya. I’m interviewing Jane, which is a pseudonym, on April 1st, 2014, on the 2nd floor of the Campus Y at UNC-Chapel Hill. So let’s just start with some background. Can you talk about where you’re from and how long you’ve been in North Carolina?
Jane Smith: Yes. I was born in Peru, I lived there until I was about nine or so, moved to the US in 2000 [pause] 2001, about? It was a long time ago, but I’ve been in North Carolina since, I’ve been in North Carolina for eight years now. So, the longest I’ve ever been anywhere.
HL: Can you give a little bit of background on your family that’s here in North Carolina, and that’s maybe still in other places?
JS: Yeah, so my immediate family lives in North Carolina, my parents, my siblings, but the rest of my family, uncles, aunts, cousins, all live back in Peru.
HL: And, just sort of describing your involvement in advocacy work, can you give a little background on where it began, and what kinds of things you’ve been involved in?
JS: Right, so, I’m undocumented, which for years I didn’t think really meant anything. I guess when you’re younger, when you’re a child, your parents are exposed to the bulk of what that situation means and I was really privileged at how my parents handled the situation. Working three jobs a day, and never really acting any different at home, still being great parents. I went to public school, it was all normal. And I guess it really kind of hit me when I turned, what was it, fourteen, fifteen, and I had to get a permit and I was able to get my permit, but by the time I got my permit, my driving permit, North Carolina legislation had changed to where you needed a social security number to get anything driving-related. So I could not get a license, and the rest of my peers got a license, and that was really the first time that the situation kind of hit me personally. It struck me as incredibly unfair, and after so many years of not being exposed to it at all, I really didn’t know what to make of it, so it was more of a confusion time. Then coming to college was I guess the next big step that really kind of differentiated me from everyone else that I had become friends with in my lifetime in North Carolina. It’s easy as the fact that everyone would be applying freely and applying to financial aid or whatever, whatever way they could afford to go to school, and those options were just not available to me. When I was, what was it, like eighteen, I was faced with the decision in which I’d gotten into all the schools that I’d applied for, but I simply could not pay for any of them. So I was faced with the decision of okay, right now, do I leave the country? Because I will go to college, whether it’s here or Peru or wherever. So, do I leave the country and face not seeing my family for ten years, because of the ten year bar, or do I stay here and, I guess, try to get some sort of job and try to pay my way through community college. And then miraculously, I was able to get a scholarship, a private scholarship, that covered my attendance at Carolina. And I felt like that was a sign. I felt like I’d been really confused and kind of useless, and the bigger picture of what this immigration debacle is in the United States [pause], and I felt like coming here meant, you’ve got to do something with this, more than just go to class. So I guess that’s kind of what pushed me to seek out, especially in the Chapel Hill area, what was currently being done with students like me. I actually had another friend who was undocumented, and he was openly undocumented, and that to me was a completely foreign, new concept. I met him my first year, is when I met him. He had gone to State and had dropped out because he couldn’t afford it, and he told me, you know, there’s actually this organization at Carolina, and they work with immigration advocacy on campus, and you should go to their meetings, they meet this time, and he didn’t even go to Carolina. And I was like, ok, yeah, yeah, you know, I’ll go. And that’s how I got involved with SUIE first, so yeah, I guess that’s background, kind of how it all started.
HL: And can you describe what kinds of work you did, you’ve done, with SUIE?
JS: Right, so, SUIE is Students United for Immigrant Equality here on campus, and when I joined, we were about two years old. Very new organization, and the way immigration work is done in North Carolina, you have obviously a lot of levels, like lobbying, anywhere from grassroots to lobbying, to going to DC and trying to figure things out over there, which our other co-chair does. But when we started we were fairly new, so we focused more on doing events on campus that kind of raised awareness about the misconceptions that people have about your day-to-day immigrant, or specifically your day-to-day undocumented immigrant. My first year, it was a year or two after the Trail of Dreams, the walkers from Florida that walked all the way to DC, and that was one of the first instances of having openly undocumented students saying, hey, I’m not a criminal, I’m educated, and I want to be a part of this society, I’ve lived here, I’ve grown up here. So that was kind of the regime change that we were at at that point. Because up until then, I think, immigration work had been a lot of work done by allies, that, they said, you know, we stand for undocumented people and we really believe that they deserve these human rights to education, to health, health insurance, and things like that. But when I joined it was kind of a change of undocumented people themselves coming out and saying, this is who I am, I speak English, I’m here, I’m part of your society. You know, every person knows, directly or indirectly, an undocumented person, there’s 11 million of us out there. So our other co-chair, he was openly undocumented at the time, and it was an interesting dynamic for me personally because I wasn’t, and seeing all of these people come out. So we worked with the Immigrant Youth Forum, a local high school student group from Carrboro, and they’re high school students who are undocumented, and they’re juniors, seniors, and the struggle of trying to transition into college. And they would come and have coming out rallies at the Pit, where they would, you know, with a megaphone, say, hey, my name is so-and-so, I’m this old, and I am Carolina born and bred, but I will not be going here because of this policy, essentially. And we started getting a great response, and people-it was a new way of doing things, people were really kind of taken by it, and we said, hey, you know, we should have a big thing once a semester and see what the interest is in people, and maybe raise funds for a scholarship. And so the year that I joined we did our first Immigration Awareness Week with a big banquet, where we brought Jose Antonio Vargas to speak. He is an undocumented journalist who now is a big advocate, and does amazing work, but we got him before he was famous, so he was cheap. But thanks to him, and thanks to his help and the banquet, we raised money, it was like 1500 dollars, nothing huge, but still could pay for a semester or so of community college. It’s something, anything, could help. So that’s how we started, and from there we’ve continued to do that in the past three years, and we’ve also kind of taken up the tuition equity campaigning battle. We took that from a different aspect, we would meet with stakeholders on campus. We really believed that Carolina, specifically being the flagship school of public education, should be accessible to everyone, if nowhere else in North Carolina. And you try to approach it through the chancellor, and through stakeholders, and it was a battle. It still is, but we launched the One State, One Rate campaign, which gained public-public attention, because nothing like that had come out from Carolina before. And it was during this time that I came out also as undocumented. That–you know, I think it helped, and I hope it helped, and I, since then I’ve been openly okay with talking about it, and I think it really does change the perspectives when you meet someone that is undocumented. So we’ve been working with the One State, One Rate campaign, since it has spread out to NC State, UNC-Charlotte, and UNC-Asheville. They’re doing kind of local work through the campaign on their campuses, but the idea is that if we spark enough ruckus in enough campuses, then the decision making will be kind of pushed by educators. We want to make this an education issue, though the One State, One Rate campaign, so tuition equity has kind of been our focus lately.
HL: I remember being there at one of those rallies in the pit, it was really special. Talking about that change in how advocacy work is done, shifting from allies to the students and the people themselves doing that advocacy, can you talk about how those two pieces of who you are, the fact that you’re a student and the fact that you’re an undocumented student, how do you think they affect your interactions with all of these stakeholders? With legislators, people in the university?
JS: Interestingly enough, there’s upsides and downsides of being any player in advocacy work. If you are an ally, who is pushing for tuition equity, you will have stakeholders who maybe believe you don’t have the credibility to speak on that issue because you’re not undocumented. Then you may have undocumented students themselves, who say, hey, we’re coming out now! We’re here, we have our own voices, don’t speak for us, speak with us. So it’s been an interesting shifting change because it’s created a lot of different mentalities as to how to work together now.
HL: How do you feel about that? Working with, or the role of people that are allies?
JS: Well, it’s been one of my biggest struggles because I was, in my opinion, I was cowardly for a long time. I’m not saying that people who don’t come out as undocumented are all cowards, but I felt that way, and I felt that seeing a fifteen-year-old undocumented high school student come out on a college campus and say, you know, this is my situation, I felt that was admirable, and I felt-that’s, those were the kind of stories that pushed me to come out as well. And I feel like allies are an incredibly important part of the movement. I feel like they are the ones who have the vote, at the end of the day. Not that we depend on them, and I feel like undocumented stories are obviously the core of it, but I’ve definitely experienced some backlash from the undocumented community to the ally community, within the movement. That’s been one of my biggest struggles in working in immigration advocacy in North Carolina, that you have all these allies who’s been at it for years, and yes, they’re not undocumented, but it speaks so highly of them that they spend so much time and they are so passionate about the cause that they’re out there doing what they can, organizing, and so I’m all for allies. I’m all for any and all people who want to move this forward. Because at the end of the day there’s a goal, and I think scattering amongst the ranks isn’t really the way to move forward together, so yeah, I’m all for allies. A lot of my best friends have been my best supporters, and they’re not undocumented.
HL: Yeah, absolutely, and sorry, I kind of side tracked you from the original question, of the pieces of your identity affecting your role in advocacy in the state of North Carolina.
JS: Right, so, as a student [pause] I’ve tried to, and I mean SUIE together, we’ve tried to, at least for the tuition equity battle, we’ve tried to paint this and make this an education accessibility issue. Not really like a bipartisan, political, us versus them issue, but simply the issue of public education should be accessible. And we’ve gained many, many stakeholders and many supporters that way, the UNC Faculty Council was one great win supporter. They said, yeah, we agree, and these are the representatives of faculty on campus, and they said yeah, we believe UNC should be accessible to all students who get in. I mean, that’s the bottom line, that these undocumented students are smart enough, capable enough, they’re getting into these universities, but it’s an economic limitation implemented by policy that’s not permitting them to do that. So, as a student, I like to paint it as an education equity accessibility issue. As an undocumented person, it’s been an interesting kind of identity personally, because my family is not open about their situation, they’re not happy that I’m open about my situation, they worry about it every day, and I know that it’s the same for every other person that’s openly undocumented. I want to talk about my story, I want to tell my story, because I think, at the end of the day, that’s what people remember. You don’t remember stats, you don’t really remember, oh, this amount of kids don’t get to go to college every year that are undocumented. You remember, oh, this is so-and-so, she’s a whatever major, she’s gone here for so many years, she does this, she’s done undergraduate research, she’s in the honors program, boom-boom-boom. That’s what you remember. So it’s been interesting personally, balancing how public I am about my personal experience in a way that protects my family, but in a way that also pushes the cause forward. It’s been interesting, and I’m sure everyone in that situation is in that kind of dilemma.
HL: Is it different in different situations depending on sort of who you’re speaking with, so if you’re speaking with somebody that’s a state legislator versus someone who is maybe working from a different side of the issue? Do you have to be a different advocate when you work with different communities?
JS: Yeah, I think different stakeholders, usually it comes down to either the economic, factual, rational argument, or the humanitarian, emotional side. And those are the two roles that I think every advocate has to play, but personally I’ve found that when I’m speaking to members of the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees-not that they’re not there to cater to human rights and all of that, but they want to see the facts, they want to see the numbers, they want to-I wouldn’t sit there with them in a meeting and tell them, oh, you know, this is my story, this is my life dream to come to Carolina. And I mean, I could , and sometimes I do as part of an introduction, but the bulk of the conversation and the bulk of my pitch is going to be, this is the revenue that undocumented students could bring to the economy, were they to receive a diploma and be allowed to work. You know, undocumented students and immigrants pay taxes. Property taxes they don’t get to opt out of, and a lot of them pay income taxes as well, without receiving the benefits. And you know, a lot of these kinds of arguments, they don’t even know that. So usually that kind of rational, logistic argument works better with board members, politicians, something that when people on campus usually-like students groups , when we have events or even the Faculty Council was a great one, or when we pitched at the Campus Y, or for the DTH, those are more telling our stories because we’re relating to other students. And so students can relate to wanting to go to college, to wanting to have equal opportunity, to wanting to go to college. So yeah, on one I’m more the educated advocate and the student, and the other, I’m kind of more, my personal story and how much of an exception I am to the rule of most people who are not able to make it here.
HL: Talking about your family’s concerns, so, looking at the immigrant community as a stakeholder group, do you feel like you have to do advocacy work sort of within the community as well, in terms of getting people to be involved, to share their stories, to want to do to do this kind of a thing? What is that like, working with the people that this affects?
JS: So, what I’ve found is that coming out, you know, we call it coming out, there isn’t anything else to call it, is a very, very personal thing. And so there really isn’t an advocacy space out there to advocate for other people to come out with their stories, because if they come out when they’re not ready, it’ll be really, really difficult for them to deal with. You have to be ready for the backlash from your family, you have to be ready for all the people looking at you like you’re a martian. You have to be ready for what that entails, and if you’re not ready, it won’t work. So, it’s a very personal decision to do that. But working with the immigrant community, unfortunately, there’s still a lot of fear, and getting–I remember, last semester, we did a DACA seminar. So, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a policy that just passed, well not just passed, I guess it’s been a year and a half now, but this was kind of a temporary asylum from deportation for undocumented students ages fifteen to thirty. It was an Executive Order, kind of like Obama’s relief because of all the pressure he had been getting for any sort of immigration reform, which, you know, an actual immigration reform bill didn’t go anywhere in the House. So there were a lot of technicalities involved with this process, and it was available to a lot of undocumented immigrants out there, and so we wanted to have a seminar with attorneys present, to invite the community, and show them how this had to be done because you needed to submit so much documentation, proving your residence, proving that you’re a good person and everything, and then you also had to pay a $475 fee, which is a lot of money to some people, especially undocumented immigrants. So we had this seminar with all of the resources, and we barely had a show of the immigrant community. And it was a two day event, and on the first day, we kept asking people that did come, and we said, why-because we advertised broadly, in different churches, in safe spaces, and we were like, why are you here, why aren’t people coming? And they kept saying, well, you brought an attorney. You know, you brought an attorney, we thought there were going to be cops, we thought–there’s just a lot of fear with any help offered. There’s not really a trust relationship. So I think the work that needs to be done within the immigrant community is showing them, you know, there’s really nothing to fear, especially when it’s resources, but there’s a lot of fear around working with this issue. The next day we had more people show up, because you know, we were like, it’s just us! So it’s really cool and you know, they were having legal counseling for free, which a lot of them wouldn’t even know how to go about finding those resources, so, we had a lot more come the next day, so that was good. So, yeah, a lot of fear in the immigrant community, especially to push them to work in advocacy, I think it’s-we have a long way to go in that.
HL: What do you think it will take to get more people to be willing to be involved, not even to the extent of coming out if they’re undocumented, but just wanting to be involved and wanting to participate in that way, in North Carolina in particular, and what you’ve seen?
JS: Yeah, I think it’s a big generational gap, first of all. So you have the parents, who are exposed to discrimination in the workplace, who, I mean, are paid awful salaries, it’s really difficult to envision them having hope for the situation, based on their day-to-day lives. So I think the tightening of policies in North Carolina is what has pushed this new generation, because it’s a younger generation, of undocumented immigrants that are advocating openly and rallying and having “undocugraduations” at the General Assembly and things like that. It’s the new generation that’s saying you know what, we’re fed up, we deserve better, and right now we can’t drive, we can’t work, we can’t do anything, and you claim we’re not members, we’re not involved in the economic society, and we can’t take part as Americans, but you’re literally not letting us do anything. We’d like to, but we can’t. So, I’m not saying that tightening the policies was a good thing, that making them worse was a good thing, but it is what has pushed a response. In fact, when DACA came out, under DACA, it was required to give licenses to undocumented people as a part of DACA. And North Carolina was the only state that refused to do so. And that was one of the biggest unanimous pushes that North Carolina ever saw from the undocumented community. And this was everyone, because, it’s fifteen to thirty, so it also included some adults, parents, and they were like, absolutely not. And their allies rose, and there were rallies, there were protests, and finally North Carolina said ok, fine, we’ll do it, but we’ll give you a fuchsia mark on your licenses, so that everyone knows you’re undocumented. And then that was even worse, that pissed off not only undocumented people, not only their allies, but anyone who’s ever been a minority, who was like you know, that’s like the new Star of David. That’s what people were calling it. They were infuriated. And that’s really what hit a chord with every minority in North Carolina, and fortunately that ended up not happening. They ended up giving licenses – it still says on there, legal presence, no lawful status, but it at least it doesn’t have a huge fuchsia mark that says, you know, your expiration date of being in the country or something like that. It was ridiculous. So–I think that people are fed up, and I think that it’s escalating. I think there was a really big momentum when the immigration reform bill was in the House, was in the Senate, that’s when most things started kind of appearing all across the country, most movements. But to be honest, what I think it’s going to take is a unifying leader under this movement. When you think of any movement that was ever successful, especially nationally with, rights related, human rights related, you really need a leader or a group of leaders, and the immigration movement has been very scattered, not only in North Carolina but across the country, because there is no-not one person or not one group of people that is willing to come out there and say, you know, we’re out here standing for this cause, and everyone–today’s going to be national undocumented immigrant day, let’s boycott. No-no one’s working on the farms today, things like that. It’s just a lot of risk, that there’s too much fear to take right now.
HL: Can you talk about over the past couple of years, in North Carolina specifically, some of this tightening that has happened, things that you’ve seen, how has it changed interactions and relationships within the advocacy community? Are there different groups of people that you work with more, are there different groups of people that care about different issues? How is it – how has sort of the political change, I guess, in North Carolina affected what it means to do advocacy?
JS: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So I would say when we first started we worked more, as I said, very, very locally. Within campus, we worked with the Chancellor, we worked with other student groups, we worked with local Chapel Hill-Carrboro groups, thinking that the change could come from the inside out. There was no hope policy-wise at the time. You know, three years ago, it was kind of like the lowest of the low. As far as policy goes. And you know, we were thinking, if we could get one powerful voice to be public about this, it’s going to have to-as I said, some sort of leader is going to have to spring other people that already support this issue, and we found that really these kind of public figures, such as the Chancellor, or even the Board of Trustees, were mostly just that, public figures, and actually they couldn’t make policy change on campus as far as tuition equity. Now, it’s become more of a lobbying issue. Which is not my favorite part of advocacy-I find politics enraging. But now it’s become more about finding Democrat and Republican supporters, you know, representatives that support this issue, drafting a bill together. We’re in the process of doing that, and, I mean, so many bills have been drafted, so many bills have been introduced, but now it’s more about getting representative support in North Carolina so that we can get a big enough group to introduce some sort of bill, to have some sort of compromise, and starting from anywhere, you know, I believe we’re okay with providing tuition equity only for DACA recipients at first, and then trying to expand that, and then trying to expand that. I mean, the policy history in North Carolina has just been from bad to worse for undocumented students since I’ve lived here. It’s just increasingly just gotten worse. And that, I mean, that just pushed us to look elsewhere and do more grassroots and stuff, and then, with the levels of deportations that are happening, now it’s become more of a lobbying, representatives, behind the scenes work. To try and actually get some solid policy change.
HL: How would you say that that your interactions with sort of the people involved with policy change have shifted over the past couple years, or shifted in response to things that are happening on the national level, if they have? Or if it’s kind of felt the same for the past couple of years.
JS: Well, I would say DACA was a big game-changer. Even though it’s not a temporary-I mean, it’s not a permanent policy, there were a lot of different things that we considered because of DACA. We talked to a lot of attorneys, we talked to a lot of professors, and kind of seeing how that would affect, as far as the tuition equity issue-and the thing is that it comes down to all these technicalities, but because a DACA recipient is federally recognized as a resident, legally, there could be certain things that could be pushed for that. So, but apparently, it’s also–they’re not recognized as domicile holders within the state, and so then it’s kind of like, they’re pushing but–within the community college system, it’s been-they’ve actually allowed DACA students to have in-state tuition, which is awesome. And so DACA was a new kind of thing where we started trying to see what legal path we could take now that they have some sort of legal presence. And that was kind of a new technique that we’re using. It’s about to be renewed, the renewal kind of logistics and steps just came out, and it’s very obscure how they’re going to renew this, and in very fine print they say that you have to renew it four months before it expires, which a lot of people will not know about, and there has to be a big publicity push about it. So the only groundbreaking federal policy–because North Carolina has not done anything policy related to help–but was DACA, federally. So we catered to that, we paid a lot of attention to that, and we tried to make sure that as many people as we knew, or as many people as we could reach, applied, received it. And because of DACA a lot of people have been able to go to community college, and kind of start that way, so that was a big thing that we were hoping. And now I think the main goal is to maintain DACA, because after President Obama is out of office, it could or it could not stay. It’s up to the next presidents, because it’s an executive issue, to keep it or get rid of it. So now the big push is kind of getting voters, and getting awareness out that this is being removed in the election next year, but now, how to keep it alive.
HL: As a-sort of wearing your student advocate, I guess, your student advocate hat, what is your goal for this work? What are you pushing it for? Is it to raise awareness, is it to change policy, is it to help people access resources, and has that changed at all?
JS: I would say, like, the journey, when I started, I was not very knowledgeable about what was going on, and really it wasn’t–there wasn’t much policy-wise going on. So when I started my goal was advocacy, because if it meant that if I can change someone’s mind about their opinion about this issue, they’re likely to go talk to someone else about it, and they’re likely to go talk to someone else about it, and that’s-that’s how you change people’s minds.
HL: So raising awareness advocacy.
JS: Right, that was the beginning of it. When we had the hope that through DACA there could be tuition equity, it was more of a policy-you know, equity was what we worked towards. So it has definitely changed. My goal now, I would say, would be to find new leadership for SUIE to continue, I think they do the best work that they can, with the scholarship, the SUIE scholarship, you know, we’ve had a student go to NC State, and a student go to UNC Greensboro. And at the end of the day, with how grim policy looks, changing one person’s lives is like, the best we could do, and the most rewarding. So the scholarship has been a big thing. We’re currently working with UNC faculty to establish an institutional scholarship, one that’s fully funded, yearly, so, at the end of the day I think the immediate goal right now is to get undocumented students to Carolina. To make Carolina accessible for students. Because at the end of the day, these are the students that are going to be public policy minors, or majors, poli sci majors that come out and work in the legislature, and make the change, but they’re the ones who’s stories matter. Dually working with representatives and doing what we can there, but I can personally make more change within my time with one student at a time, two students at a time, and it really-it’s what makes all the difference, I think.
HL: Are there relationships that you have had as a student advocate, or partnerships, that you think student advocates can have that are really important, and are there ones that you think that are missing to do the kind of work that you all want to do?
JS: Can you specify relationships? What do you mean?
HL: People that you would work with, so like, as allies or in terms of relationships with people at the university, in the legislature, students in other states, I don’t know.
JS: Yeah.
HL: So other stakeholders broadly that you think it’s been really important that you work with, or that you didn’t work with, and that you wish you did.
JS: I think it’s been really important to work with-obviously, campus stakeholders, because we’ve been pushing so much for accessibility here on this campus. And since-especially since we went really broad with awareness, broader with policy, and then we’ve ended up just coming right back home, and make–focusing, at least making this tiny world of Carolina accessible and knowledgeable about immigration in general. Working with campus stakeholders has been really important, working with other undocumented student organizations across the state that can kind of bring that knowledge here, or vice versa, has been incredibly important. I’ve learned so much from them. And, yeah, really thankful for them, and working with attorneys, immigration attorneys that do amazing work for, essentially free, working deportation cases where they know they will get no money, but they do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do. They’ve been great because it’s become such a–I never knew I’d be so involved in the ins and outs of policies, and kind of understanding what that’s going to mean, so they were huge in advocacy. Really to be informed in every facet is the most important thing. I’d say the thing that–what’s missed, what’s been missing for me, has been probably interconnectedness across the state and across other states. It would have been great to have been coordinating through larger spaces of–larger groups of people, and outside of the state and say, in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina today, this is going to happen at the same time. So not really enough leaders out there that are public, and contact us, kind of networking throughout. But that’s kind of getting started now through the One State, One Rate campaign, we have a few other campuses that have joined, but definitely branching out if it’s such a big cause–and it’s the same in any advocacy, you don’t – you want to coordinate with other people. It makes it more powerful that way.
HL: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve talked about some of the different challenges in doing this work. Were there any that were really unexpected, you know, if you could give yourself several years ago a heads up when you started doing this that, hey, this is going to be really hard or this is going to be really difficult, what-what would you say?
JS: Unfortunately, some of the most unexpected issues in advocacy became egos within the larger groups. There’s a lot of wonderful groups that do a lot of wonderful work across the state, and you know, some people have been at it way longer than others, and because of that some people felt entitled to certain things than others. You know, when some event gets more media than another event and you’re coordinating with groups across the state, it was real-a very unexpected kind of struggle that I personally have never wanted to deal with. And yeah, that was really unexpected, so I think to my early self, be more diplomatic, be more-coordinate well, and really don’t pay mind to people who aren’t in it for the cause, but who are in it for other reasons.
HL: Do you see that from any particular kind–do you see it from students, do you see it from people who work in non-profits, do you see it from everyone?
JS: I mean, I haven’t really seen it from students. [pause] Yeah, I mean, it was a little bit of–it was a little bit of everything, I mean, in different instances it was different people. I mean, there were non-profits, just general statewide organizations that work with this, and then, we were kind of like the little campus group that was doing work and so [pause] yeah, I mean, I really believe that any and any, all and any events are things that are bringing attention to this issue in North Carolina under the right light deserve all the praises. It’s not really about a person or a name. And that was one thing that I wasn’t–you know, the politics. People are involved in advocacy and people will not always think alike as to how things have to be done, so I really thought it was just like, everyone was one hundred–my naïve self thought it was cool, on the same page, moving forward on the same road. And it’s not really, you know, with bad intentions, when there are misunderstandings, but I didn’t think much about the group aspect of working outside of my own little campus group. We’re kind of like a little family, we’ve always been working fine and great, but yeah.
HL: What do you think, having done this for a while and sort of graduating now, and leaving SUIE to other people, what will you tell them about their role? What do you think is the role that student advocates should be playing in the space of immigrant advocacy in North Carolina?
JS: I think advocacy and raising awareness is always going to continue, it’s always going to be a main thing, and that’s always something that they should focus on. I–we actually just chose our new co-chairs for next year, which is exciting, and they’re both first-year and second year, and these students-neither of them are immigrants even, not that you need to be, but, they’re so passionate, so into the work. All I’m going to tell them is keep raising awareness, you know, every person that you talk to and change their minds about this issue is a win for the day. And working with the people that are involved in the issue that are undocumented is incredibly important. Learning. I just think, when I got into this, I knew nothing. I knew negative of nothing. And not that I know enough now, but I learned as I went along, you just go, and you jump in, and you delve in, and you ask the questions, even if you don’t know anything about it, you learn from the people that you meet. And there’s a lot of great people out there doing work, but don’t-don’t be afraid to just ask, and get to know, get to know how to do a better job, and learn, stay open, yeah. Working in a group is always-you just have to be transparent, and–especially with immigration advocacy, there’s so much controversy, you know, some people are calling it the new civil rights movement, and it’s neck in neck with marriage equality and all of that and both issues, you know, even finding a way to link both issues and help each other move forward, although I think probably immigration is-has way more to go, a longer way to go than marriage equality. Marriage equality is getting a little wind, which is exciting. But, but yeah. The future will tell, I don’t know.
HL: My last question, what are you going to do now, now that you’re leaving university? How do you stay involved, how do you think your involvement in advocacy is going to stay the same or change?
JS: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, actually. Because my, you know, what I study is completely unrelated. You know, a biology major is nothing to do with immigration. And the thing is, immigration advocacy and work has never been something that I did for a degree or for money, obviously. So I don’t think it will be difficult to find ways to stay involved. And the friendships that I’ve made and the people that I’ve met that are incredibly passionate about this issue, I will never lose. So, I think probably right after graduation, I should focus on my career for a little bit, but you know, if they ever need me for anything, I’ll be right in, or if I ever–you know, policy changes, and things need to be done, I’ll jump right in. There’s always organizing to be done, there’s always new things happening in advocacy, that’s just how it is. And I think once you meet the people that are involved, you’re always in the loop, so, I would like to stay involved-I’ve never been [pause], yeah, I’ve never been passionate about something this way. So I hope I stay involved and do the work that I can. And who knows, I mean, I would not be opposed to working in lobbying. I’ve never taken a class in that, but if it helps the issue moving forward, and especially-I mean, not especially but it personally affects me. I’m really curious as to how my future is going to fold out. I would like to stay in the United States of America [pause] beautiful place, so I’ll have to see how all that pans out. There’s never a certainty in–in this issue. Yeah.
HL: Cool. Thanks so much for taking the time.
JS: Thank you.