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Yosimar Reyes clarifies, reflects on the misperceptions of immigrants

| Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Saint Mary’s Diversity and Leadership Conference — which aims to promote attitudes of inclusion and dispel stereotypes about marginalized populations — kicked off in Carroll Auditorium on Monday night with a speech from Yosimar Reyes, a poet and activist who discussed his desire to amplify the often-muted voices of undocumented individuals.

Those who quickly cast judgment and make assumptions about immigrants often struggle to cope with their own insecurities and fears, Reyes said.

“I can only be myself,” Reyes said. “If you don’t like me based on the fact that I don’t have a social security number, then there’s a deeper investigation that you need to do within your own anxiety and your own healing.”

Reyes said writing grants him the opportunity to relay and disseminate the lesser-known narratives of the undocumented community, which he said society often views strictly in terms of the labor, taxes and educational achievements they contribute.

“One of the things that we do within this country is we have a really great analysis on race relations — we talk about racism very openly — but one of the things we really don’t have conversations about is class,” he said. “Wage inequality is something that is very real and something that really affects a lot of communities.”

Americans often direct anger about unsatisfactory social or economic conditions toward immigrants, Reyes said, misplacing their frustrations and propagating harmful stereotypes.

“People started saying undocumented people are stealing resources,” he said. “The reality is that most undocumented people are living below the poverty line, so they’re relying on whatever they can to make a living.”

His grandparents, who sustained his household by selling recyclable bottle and cans, serve as a prime example of this phenomenon, he said.

“For the longest time, I had a really hard time talking about how we managed to survive in this country, but now I’m more open about it because I realize that there are more people who understand poverty at a different level,” Reyes said. “One of the beautiful things is that now as a writer, I tell these stories and using the quote that ‘My grandparents took the trash this country gave them and recycled it and we made it into art.’”

Reyes said the adversity undocumented immigrants face may seem especially pertinent now, as they have garnered a noteworthy media presence, but their struggles have historical roots.

“In 1994, Prop. 187 — which is a proposition also known as Save Our State Law — was an initiative … to establish a state-run citizen screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using non-emergency healthcare, public education and other services in the state of California,” Reyes said. “Prop. 187 was something I was really aware of as a kid because around this time I was in the third grade, and my grandma is taking me to Safeway, and I see a bunch of people protesting this. … It actually passed, but it went to court, and it never really went into effect.”

Proposition 187 propelled citizens to view undocumented people in terms of dissimilarity, Reyes said, and this sentiment pervades modern culture decades later.

“It’s interesting because this is proposed by Pete Wilson, and if you go look back … at videos that were promoting this, it’s the same talking points that we heard when Trump was coming into office,” he said. “It’s the same images of undocumented immigrants jumping the border.”

His writing aims to re-envision the master narrative of undocumented individuals and grant them the deserved agency to define themselves, which will hopefully enable people to form connections and learn from one another.

“One of the things that I’m trying to do … is to create work that gives undocumented people a mental break,” Reyes said. “I want to also create stories that make people laugh or remind them of something else or remind them how funny this predicament is. I think right now what we need is, ‘If you have some access to a network, how do you become a mentor to an undocumented person in your industry?’”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha