Sept. 15 marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month — or, as it is known in Spanish, Mes de la Herencia Hispana — a time when the United States pays tribute to the history, culture and contributions of past and present Hispanic Americans.
According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million Americans identify as Hispanic — and that number is growing. Immigration has long been a part of America’s national history, and the role that immigrants have played — and still play — in building this country is one of the reasons “the American dream” is still shared around the world today. America is a place where new beginnings and new lives are possible.
Over the next month, msnbc.com will be profiling outstanding Hispanic activists who are making a difference in the fight for immigration reform and who are providing critical support services to undocumented communities.
Name: Carmen Lima
City, State: San Diego, California
Occupation/Organization: High school student
How did you get involved with immigration advocacy?
The first time I got involved in immigration advocacy was on May 1st, 2001 when my mom took me to a DREAMERs protest in Barrio Logan. We got involved because we needed a way to get my sisters into college even though they did not have a Social Security number. Then we got heavily involved when my father was detained by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] even though he still had a valid visa.
Give us a sense of what your day looks like:
Most people without documents would say that they live in fear, but really I don’t live that fear. We tend to hide ourselves because we know that we do not belong in this country, but what if this is the only country you’ve ever known? What if you’ve never been outside these borders? Then you forget about these fears because you feel you belong. That is how I live day to day.
What is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented immigrants?
It may sound terrible. But some people genuinely believe that because you are an undocumented immigrant then you are less of a person. We must remember that the term “alien” is not what we are.
What is your expectation of President Obama and Congress in regard to the border crisis?
Congress and [President] Obama, when talking about illegal immigration, tend to focus on just reinforcing the border. Yet they forget that reinforcing the border isn’t going to help the people on the inside of the border. Yes they do have to do something about the border but we have to do something for the 11.7 million people on the inside of the border.
What type of help is most needed on the ground and how can one get involved?
The most important thing you can do is educate yourself. You could go to every protest and meet up with every senator and representative (which you should also do) but if you do not know what you are talking about then it’s not helpful. It’s pointless. So before you try to organize a protest or a meet up with a senator, do a little research.
Was there ever an instance when you felt defeated? What made you keep going?
A time I felt a bit down was when I met [Speaker of the House] John Boehner. He said he would try to move immigration reform forward, yet a few hours later he said that he wasn’t going to do anything about it. It was a bit hard to take in, but when I thought about it I thought, “Well I’m just going to have to try harder. I can’t just stop now. People are counting on us.”
(Responses were edited for clarity)
Take a look at the profile on Fernando Lopez: ICE detainee perseveres and continues activism in New Orleans