Dreaming Out Loud! Youth Activists Spoke About Their Fight for Education, Immigrant Rights and Justice Through Media and Art (Part Three)

The following is the third installment in a four part series on young activists who are using new media to rally behind the Dream Act. It was written by Arely Zimmerman and Sangita Shreshtova from the USC Civic Paths Project. This work was funded by the MacArthur Foundation. 

Coming Out/Pop Culture

The need to be active, to be connected to other

undocumented youth, and to strive collectively to make positive changes are key

motivators for all of the youth panelists. They are all extremely active online.

They create original media content. They blog. They share their stories and art

through Facebook and Twitter.  They

participate in public online conferences and symposia.  Yet, online visibility comes with its

own challenges and risks. As Nancy recounted, she was personally targeted in a

public campaign after a local conservative radio program called for her

deportation.  Because of her role

as the communications director of Dream Team Los Angeles and IDEAS at UCLA, she was an easily identifiable target.  The campaign got so vicious that she

eventually had to disconnect her phone. 

But, the risks of visibility have to be counter balanced with the

benefits, she concluded.  "Yes, it

is dangerous, there are risks that we face in being so publicly active, but it

is even more risky if they don't know we exist". 

Listen to Nancy

Meza speak on this topic here:


Driven by their urgent need to draw attention

to their plight, undocumented youth put themselves at risk of deportation and

arrest not only by participating in public civil disobedience but by also

publicly 'coming out' via social media platforms.  The coming out process, as Erick notes, is a deeply personal

one, shaped by each individual's own journey towards self-awareness and

identification.  But, this process

also has significant consequences on the movement because it is a first step in

embracing one's undocumented legal status and becoming politically

involved.  One of the common themes

in the 'coming out' stories of undocumented youth is asserting their belonging,

their 'Americannes', despite their undocumented legal status. Most Dream activism

youth were brought to the United States as young children, and the United

States is the only country they've ever known. It is their home. Fluent in

English, educated in the American school system, these youth defy the already

clearly inaccurate stereotypes of the 'illegal immigrant'. Mohammad of Dreamactivist.org, an online undocumented

youth advocacy network, shared one often cited "coming out" narrative.


Watch Mohammad's "I

am Mohammad and I am undocumented" video here:


The 'coming out'

narratives of Dreamer youth often draw on shared cultural references.  Erick, for instance, shared how he

formulated his identity from "Anime, heavy metal, and comic books"

which he says, " framed my outlook on life".  When he came out as undocumented for the first time, he says

he was inspired by a story arc in the popular comic Spiderman.  "When I mentioned my first name for the

first time- I compared it to a story arc of Spiderman- when Spiderman shares

his identity, I am also sharing my identity". Erick, and others, have also

drawn connections to Superman as being undocumented.


Thumbnail image for superman comic strip.jpg

source: yfrog.com/h314mmz


Sangita Shresthova is currently the Research Director of the Media Activism and Participatory Politics  (MAPP)  Project at USC. She is a Czech/Nepali international development specialist, filmmaker, media scholar, and dancer with extensive interdisciplinary qualitative research experience. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures, and a MSc. degree from MIT's Comparative Media Studies program where she focused on popular culture, new media and globalization. She also earned a MSc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While at LSE, her work focused on the educational communication components of international development interventions. Her scholarly writing has been published in several journals, and her work on global participatory aspects of Bollywood dance was recently released as a book by SAGE Publications.

Arely Zimmerman, a Melon Post-Doctorate Fellow at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity,  holds a doctorate in political science from UCLA. Her scholarship engages overlapping research areas of U.S. Latino/a studies, race and ethnicity, social movements, transnational, media, and feminist studies. Before joining PERE, she held a postdoctoral appointment at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she examined how new forms of social and digital media are reshaping modes of civic engagement amongst Latino, immigrant, and undocumented youth. As part of her ongoing concerns with issues of identity and citizenship in transnational contexts, Arely's manuscript in progress, "Contesting Citizenship across Borders: Central Americans in the United States" details Central American migrant communities' struggles for citizenship and inclusion across multiple nation-states through transnational social movement and community activism.