A new wave of young and diverse Immigrant protesters risk serious consequences to call for change.
"People say that we are not only the shit stirrers, but that we created the shit," said Lemus. "And that's not fair. The way I see it is that most immigrants are here because of a lot of actions the US has taken in Latin America; military interventions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela. You know we don't even have a currency in El Salvador anymore? We have dollars."
Lemus doesn't consider himself a DREAMer, a word used to describe students brought here as children who would receive protection from deportation under the federal DREAM Act, were it signed into law. He was born in El Salvador and remembers it well, in stark contrast to the DREAMers — and doesn't know if he would even want to become a US citizen should the opportunity present itself, since he says he's witnessed too much injustice at the institutional level.
What he won't stop fighting for is what he calls, "not civil rights, but human rights. It would be unfair for us to want civil rights right now, because we need to get human rights first."
For Lemus, that distinction is about valuing our basic humanity more than our citizenship.
"I don't think a lot of people realize the amount of risk it takes to come here," he said. "We leave everything behind in the process, and a lot of times we don't get it back. We just want a better life." (RN)
SITI "PUTRI" RAHMAPUTRI
Siti Rahmaputri, who goes by Putri, was 19 when she risked arrest by joining a handful of classmates in disrupting a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents.
A petite, soft-spoken UC Berkeley student, she hardly comes across as an agitator. Yet she joined the July protest to voice anger about the selection of Janet Napolitano, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, as head of the UC system. For undocumented students like Rahmaputri, Napolitano is synonymous with deportations due to her former post as head of the agency that oversees ICE.
When they got word of Napolitano's appointment, Rahmaputri and fellow activist Ju Hong joined with some students from UC Irvine and UC San Diego to call attention to the secretary's role in deportations.
"We started chanting, 'undocumented unafraid,' 'education not deportation,' 'no to Napolitano.' Unfortunately, two of my friends got hurt — they were tackled down by the UC police. And at the end, the four of us stood there and really linked arms. We were screaming and screaming," she recalls. In a matter of minutes, "everyone left except for us, the media, and the UC police. The UC Regents were just outside the door."
She was charged with two misdemeanors, placed in handcuffs for several hours, and then released. But the whole time, Rahmaputri said she felt encouraged by supporters from ASPIRE and others.
"I heard people chanting from the outside: Let them go. Let them go. I didn't want to seem scared, I wanted to seem confident, like here I am, getting arrested, so what?" she says. "I'm just standing for the things that I feel is right."
Originally from Indonesia, Rahmaputri attended middle school and high school in San Francisco after coming to the United States with her parents at age 11. Not long ago, she and her parents narrowly averted deportation.
"They never really told me exactly that I was undocumented, but they gave me hints," she says of her upbringing.
A couple years ago, not long after she'd enrolled in Diablo Valley College, her parents were notified — six months late, due to an incorrect address — that their green card applications had been denied.
"I lost a lot of hope. I didn't really know what to do," she remembers. "I talked to my counselor and asked, 'should I keep going in school or should I start working instead to save money to go back to Indonesia?'"