Why This Undocumented Latina Launched Coming Out of the Shadows Month

Why This Undocumented Latina Launched Coming Out of the Shadows Month

On March 10, 2010, Tania Unzueta stood at Chicago’s Federal Plaza and bravely told a crowd of about 600 people that she is undocumented.

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The mexicana was speaking at the first rally for Coming Out of the Shadows Month, which Unzueta co-created for undocumented people to publicly disclose their immigration status. Six years later, hundreds of young people like Unzueta have declared that they, too, are “undocumented and unafraid,” and many more will join her in the coming March weeks.

Unzueta spoke with Latina about Coming Out of the Shadows Month, why she helped create it, how the month-long rallies have changed over the years and what to expect this año.

What inspired you to start Coming Out of the Shadows Month in 2010?

Our first Coming Out of the Shadows Day, which ended up turning into a month-long observance, took place in Chicago in 2010. The Immigrant Youth Justice League (now called Organized Communities Against Deportations), which I’m a part of, organized it around the time one of our co-founders was facing deportation. Regardless of his activism and work around immigrants’ rights and justice, some turned their backs on him because there was something negative in his record. We wanted to challenge this. We wanted to share our own stories.

Why use the strategy of “coming out?”

“Coming out” is a tactic stemming from the gay liberation movement. It allowed people to use their own stories to fight against stereotypes. This is powerful. And we found that when we said we were undocumented, even in our own private spaces, it was also empowering to us as individuals. It connected us, created community and allowed us to organize in ways we hadn’t before.

Tell us about that first day on March 10, 2010 in Chicago.

It was planned, so there was a big turnout. Ten of us spoke, 600 people attended and we even got media coverage in the Chicago Tribune. The night before we were still preparing. We were painting and practicing our stories. I remember being nervous. It wasn’t that I was scared of being deported, but there was a risk, maybe for our families, so we had to be careful about the information we gave. I wasn’t sure if I should use my last name, though I ultimately did. It makes sense that it was this day that we coined “Undocumented and Unafraid” for the first time. Overall, it was really good. We were not as solid then as we are now. In many ways we were still talking about how “good” we were. But the talks and conversations were powerful. I still listen to the speeches that people gave, and they’re still really important. It felt really good. It was a key moment for how we understand undocumented people.

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