Multigenerational Leadership—A Story from the Immigration Reform Movement

WiseUp!2011

(Cross-posted from CompassPoint Nonprofit Services’ Points of View blog)

The second in a 3-part blog series by Jeanne Bell of CompassPoint and Trish Tchume of YNPN 


Jeanne Bell and Trish Tchume
In co-designing our joint conference, Generations of Change: A Multigenerational Leadership Conference, YNPN and CompassPoint were committed to moving the generational differences conversation forward to how the generations can and are working together for progressive social change. One of our panelists was especially provocative on the topic.

Pedro Trujillo is 23 years old and has been organizing around immigration reform for 4 years, currently at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles(CHIRLA). He tells an important story of unintended consequences—of unintentionally pitting generations against one another in the national movement to pass the Dream Act.

The mainstream often expressed acceptance of the Dream Act because eligible young people were “not at fault” and were “brought here against their will.” He says this messaging came about in part through immigrant-youth-led discussions on what language would work best and be viable with mainstream America.
Youth activists from CHIRLA’s, Wise UP! program in Los Angeles
“Once young immigrant leaders began to incorporate these talking points into their story of self, many other students adopted it without question. Naturally, politicos jumped on this messaging too, as well as the media and everyone else. I say naturally because it is easier to stand next to and demand for an undocumented student to be considered ‘American’ if they are on their way to a degree, than to do the same for someone who is a household worker or fast-food restaurant employee and is also undocumented.

“A couple of years into defining and creating the frame of who a “Dreamer” is, immigrant rights activists have concluded that immigrant youth (including myself) have accidentally excluded and vilified all other immigrants who do not fit within this frame of being young, educated, and English-speaking.” Pedro laments, “It put us in the position of having blamed our parents, when in fact we are very grateful to them. We don’t want to criminalize our parents, just as we don’t want to be criminalized.”

Instead, he says, he would like people who were pushed out of high school and did not obtain their diplomas to take ownership of the fact that they too are Dreamers. “I want immigrant grandparents and families to step out and say, ‘We are Dreamers too!’”

With what he calls “the small but important victory of the Obama Administration’sdeferred action policy,” multigenerational leadership was essential. “The whole reason we won ‘deferred action’ is that all parts of the immigration reform movement started saying the same thing, not just the youth.”

And, Pedro reflects upon how his own parents and family have become politicized. “One of the things I have learned at CHIRLA is that young people need the backing of their family to be activists. My mom attends rallies with me now and is learning to speak out in her own way as part of our movement.”

We agree with Pedro that activists across the generations have more that unites them than distinguishes them; our work together is the only path to meaningful victories in the work for social equity.

By Jeanne Bell of CompassPoint and Trish Tchume of YNPN

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We thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Walter and Evelyn Haas, Jr. Fund for their investment in our collaborative national convening and this blog series it inspired.