Last month, after recovering from the initial shock of Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Presidential election, undocumented students attending Armstrong State University (ASU) moved forward with plans to host an event they called “Coming Out of the Shadows”.
Staged on the plaza outside the ASU Student Union Building, the event had the air of a fiesta as balloons and banners framed the speaker's platform where several of the students shared personal stories with attendees.
Since 2003, Savannah's Armstrong State University (ASU) has actively recruited Hispanic high school students through the HOLA (Hispanic Outreach and Leadership at Armstrong) program. Since its inception, Latino enrollment on campus has increased over 200% and last fall there were 513 Hispanic students enrolled in academic studies at ASU.
Organized by the Savannah Undocumented Youth Alliance (SUYA) in collaboration with Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., the event was designed to raise awareness of the issues facing undocumented students attending the school.
“We are not defined by our legal status,” said Daniela Rodriguez, a senior from Brunswick, Georgia and one of the event organizers. “But we want all the other students who see us in class everyday, those who have no knowledge of the struggles we face, to understand that we are the people who have been vilified by Donald Trump's words. Most of us have spent the majority of our lives here in Georgia and the U.S. but, because of our legal status, we are forced to pay out-of-state tuition three times higher than our fellow Georgia classmates. We work hard to achieve academic success so we can live out our dreams. We are not the rapists and criminals that Mr. Trump declared us to be when he began running for office.”
Rodriguez admitted to feeling very depressed following the election of President-elect Trump.
“This election has been very polarizing,” she said. “It's been hard to read posts on facebook from old friends I attended high school with in Brunswick who were repeating the horrible lies that immigrants like me are lazy criminals. These are people I sat next to in honors classes, many of them the same people I competed against for the highest grades on tests. To see Mr. Trump to win this election was very hard.”
But Rodriguez said she has been encouraged by other people who have voiced support for undocumented students.
“After the shock wore off, I began to notice many statements from people in the community and across the country, not just the undocumented, who wanted us to continue our struggle,” Rodriguez said. “ And I realized we have come too far to go back into the shadows now. ”
Rodriguez said another goal of the event was to bring hope to undocumented high school students and encourage them to hold on to their dreams for the future.
“ Giving up is not an option,” she said. “I remember how afraid and uncertain I was in high school. College seemed like something I could never achieve. But Armstrong is a great school and we have many, many programs and campus support groups for students who are just like me. I refuse to abandon my dreams just because my candidate lost.”
SUYA is a grassroots collective composed of undocumented youth who live in the Savannah area as well as local business and professional leaders who support their call for immigration reform. For more information, please send an email to: email@example.com
Photo cutline: (Izq. A Der.) Diego Garcia, Chris Lopez, Karen Sanchez, Marisol Estrada, Daniela Rodriguez, Miguel Arroyo, Alejandra Gonzalez , Angel Lopez-Akiyama.