‘Dreamers’ Show Their Power by Activating Voters

Jesús López, one of the Dreamers active in Catalina Cruz’s campaign for a seat in the Assembly. (Photo via El Diario)

Primary elections will be held on Sept. 13. Even though Jesús López cannot vote due to his immigration status, the 22-year-old did not want to stand idly by.

Somewhat frustrated because he still has not been able to make his dream of becoming an NYPD officer come true because of his status, the DACA beneficiary – who has lived in New York ever since he crossed the desert in his mother’s arms when he was 1 year old – wants to prove that so-called “Dreamers” have power too.

Jesús has been knocking on doors in the Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Corona for months to invite everyone eligible to vote to exercise their right in the upcoming election, and while he is at it, recruit sympathizers to the struggle of immigrants.

“I wanted to find something new to do and got interested in political issues, so I came to this campaign and joined as a volunteer because I know that we need new options. Even though I can’t vote, I know that I have a voice, so I am using it,” said the Mexico native. He is one of the 15 Dreamers actively working in the campaign of Colombian-born candidate Catalina Cruz, who is running for the District 39 Assembly seat. (…)

Born in Tlaxcala, Jesús admitted that the experience to work directly on political issues has been quite a challenge.

“The first day was tough. I thought about it many times before knocking on the first door. Fortunately, there was no one home,” he said with a shy smile. Every day, he religiously performs his duties between 9 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon before going to work at a Manhattan restaurant. “The second time, a young woman opened the door, listened to us for a few minutes and let us go. Since then, I have knocked on over 50 doors, and people have shown interest. Only five times did anyone close the door in our face. They have told me to get lost or ‘I’m busy,’ but that is part of the job.”

Jesús said that, if his candidate wins, it will feel as if he had voted symbolically, adding that he identifies with Cruz because she is a community leader who, like him, arrived in the Big Apple as a child and was undocumented for 13 years.

“Being able to vote is a dream to me and although I know that it will not come true tomorrow or next week or next month, knowing that there are people out there whom I convinced to cast their ballot is a victory to me,” said the young man, proudly.

Ecuador native Verónica Piedra is another one of the Dreamers who sees working in politics as a way of having a say in the state and the country’s future.

“I had DACA and since last year, I have been a resident. While I cannot vote yet, I got involved with this campaign because I think this is another way to feel part of the community in which I grew up since I was 13,” said the 32-year-old, who is pregnant with her second child. She has helped build plans of action for Cruz’s campaign. (…)

“We have visited over 2,000 places, but others are doing work through social media,” said Dreamer Mónica Sibri, 25. “This is a whole movement, and what keeps us together under our candidate is that we all know what it is like to be undocumented, and we want our stories to help create laws that benefit the community instead of seeing how they use our life stories to exploit us.”

“This is about our lives”

Catalina Cruz, the leader of the Queens-based group, said that having Dreamers involved with her political work has been crucial to show that “a piece of paper” does not define the power of people. Early on, since the time when her campaign set out to collect signatures, Cruz created a strategy to have a Dreamer go out alongside a registered Democratic voter, seeking to empower youths.

“They are the mirror image of what I used to be, and that is why I feel a great responsibility to get to Albany and not disappoint not just them, but also their parents, who are the original dreamers,” said the candidate. “They are the fuel of our campaign and, when I see them so young and so committed, I remember that all of us who were or are still undocumented are forced to grow up before our time, and that such wounds give us the strength to tell those who say we are not the right ones to represent the community because we were not born here that they are wrong.”

Mexican-born Yatziri Tovar, who lives in Queens, is another one of the Dreamers who has become a political activist. (…)

“We cannot vote, but we got into politics because it is something we need to learn to do. This is about our lives,” she said. “Our challenge is to organize the community and unify the people who are on our side because we may not be able to vote, but we do have power.”

Javier Valdés, co-executive director of the organization Make the Road New York, said that the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has fed the desire of more Dreamers to become active in politics.

“Dreamers are a large part of our community. Even though they do not enjoy the privilege of voting, they know how powerful voting is, and that is why they are urging their families, friends and community to get out and vote,” said the activist. (…)

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