The Woman’s Voice and Activism; The Importance of Women Getting Involved – Women’s History Month

Women have the power to create a change, which is something that has not always been granted. Due to the courage that women have had in the past, we have the opportunity to freely pursue our dreams, and to not be perceived as any less because of our gender. The contributions of other women who have made a difference inspires me to relentlessly work hard.

Though significant changes have already occurred, it feels as if being a Latina takes away all of the rights that women have fought for. Being a minority somehow excludes me from having my voice heard, which pushes me to not be silenced. As we look at our history, we can see that – activism creates change.

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My future aspiration is to become an immigration attorney, as this will allow me to assist individuals in the pursuit of obtaining their own American Dream. Most individuals come to this country to chase the possibility for a better life, wouldn’t you do the same? Running for political office is also something that interests me – our current underrepresentation pushes me to be one more voice for the Latino community. Becoming the best version of myself and continuously educating will not only bring me personal fulfillment, but will also allow me to use the skills attained to help others in my community.

There was always a perception in my head that made me believe the only way I would be able to create change was until I graduated from law school. A few months ago I thought to myself, “How can I possibly help create a positive change at only 19 years old?” Until the 2016 Presidential Election happened, it was no longer about me questioning whether I could make a difference, I knew that it was now my responsibility to do so.

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This is when HOPE (Helping Others Prepare and Excel) was created. During my first semester of college, a friend and I made the decision to create an organization to help undocumented students. There were many students at our university who were living in fear, and there wasn’t a resource that they could turn to for support. Our mission is to address the inequalities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth through inclusion and access. We believe that by empowering immigrant youth through our stories, we can advance their academic success. We strive to maintain a positive perception of students regardless of their legal status, therefore providing resources. This can be accomplished through personal guidance, awareness and support throughout our community.

As our organization was slowly growing, suddenly a lot of changes began to occur. My friend and co-founder was a senior, and after a semester of continuously working with her, I was left to act as President of HOPE. As a freshman at the time, I felt incapable of fulfilling this role. Though I am a founder and I had been there from the beginning, I was not confident in my abilities. Then, September 5th happened – the day that everything changed. President Trump made an announcement that he would be ending the DACA program by March 5th, and gave Congress a few months to make a new proposal that he would agree upon.

That was one of the lowest moments of my entire life. Students began telling me that they were thinking of dropping out of school or moving back to their home country, as they felt there wasn’t a greater purpose of staying in the United States anymore. These are right individuals who work harder than any other students because they are not treated the same as others. They are some of the most passionate and determined students, who excel academically and often work two jobs to pay for their tuition, due to there not being any financial assistance they can apply to because of their status. These are students who could be the ones that find a cure to cancer, or help create something innovative and new. It hurt me to see that students were beginning to let go of their dreams because many ignorant individuals in this country cannot see their worth. Though I am not a DACA recipient and I am not directly impacted, I know that their dreams and sacrifices are worth the same as mine.

Trump’s decision ate me alive. I left my hobbies, lost a significant amount of weight and never slept. I began to feel helpless, as my thoughts and worries took over my life. How was I going to be President of this organization if I didn’t know how to offer support to students? After carefully analyzing the situation, I knew that activism was the best way by which I could support DACA students.

That was exactly what we did. The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement and United Farm Workers inspired me to not give up. It made me realize that if individuals could do it and have a great outcome, so could we. Our priority this semester has been to advocate for the undocumented youth, and to fight for the DREAM Act. Through participating in various rallies, writing over 150 letters to Congressman Roskam, creating a video to advocate for what we believe in, and being featured on Univision Chicago twice, we are getting the word out about how important passing this legislation is. We have spoken to students and parents about our stories, to allow these to serve as inspiration as well. We have also collaborated with other organizations in Aurora to present an Ordinance to City Hall, which will protect undocumented individuals in our community. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit DC and attend the LULAC Emerge Conference, which allowed me to visit Capitol Hill and speak with members of Congress about the importance of protecting Dreamers. Our wish is that individuals will change their perspective about DACA recipients, and will pass legislation that will allow them to feel included

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Fighting for this cause warms my heart and makes me feel alive. It is surreal that I almost gave up because of my own fears. Though I am aware that there is a lot to get done, my community is aware of the issue. We are not silenced anymore, we are fighting for what we believe in. Last month, I attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute Conference in Chicago. An individual who is a member of HOPE came to me and said, “Thank you for everything you are doing, it means a lot to DACA students.” My eyes watered hearing those words. Knowing that I am a 19 year old Latina, and I am somehow impacting someone’s life in a positive manner, reminded me as to why I am devoting my life to this. The beauty of this is that you can also make a difference.

I encourage you to let your voice be heard, and contextualize that the small things you are doing everyday will lead to a greater purpose. Listen to the stories that individuals have, I assure you that it will push you to fight for what is deserved. Let my story be an example as to why you shouldn’t give up, because your actions could change someone’s life. The power to change the world is in your hands.

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Though my organization has accomplished a lot so far, we are not done. This is just the beginning – HOPE gives students hope.

Don’t give up,

Andrea Vallejo

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