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I searched for a line to stand in / We define ourselves

My name is Alaa Mukahhal. I’m undocumented.

I’m Palestinian, born in Kuwait, a citizen of Jordan, and raised in Chicago. We came on a visa that expired when I was 7 years old.

18 years we’ve lived in fear and shame. 18 years beating down on me with a list of cants. Cant work, cant travel, cant get financial aid. The threat of deportation has always been more real to me than the concrete I walk on. 18 years later I’m still here.

I searched for a line to stand in. I applied for asylum, and was placed in deportation proceedings, and only then I was able to get a work permit. When I reached out to my community for help, people didn’t know what to do. But of course people didn’t know what to do. We’re too focused on being assimilated; to be considered “American” some of us forget that we’re immigrants too.

But why? What are we trying to prove? And to who? To be unapologetic is to never apologize for the racism, bigotry and oppression of minds, laws and policies. To declare that we define ourselves is to say that we will not allow anyone to determine who we can and can’t be.

Yes, I’m proud to be Muslim, proud to be Palestinian, proud to be a Chicagoan, I’m unapologetic in who consider myself to be and no, I’m not waiting for anyone’s approval. We define ourselves.

And I can’t cut myself up into different pieces and issues. My struggle as an undocumented person is intertwined with who I am as a Palestinian, which is intertwined with who I am as Muslim. The reason I am undocumented today is directly connected with what happened in 1948. The struggles, though not the same, intersect and intertwine.

I’m here because I’m a human being with a dignity that demands justice. 400,000 deportations a year and even this administration knows the system is deeply flawed, knows that families are torn. Those families are called “collateral damage.”

My life is not collateral damage. I am not collateral damage, and my dignity will not allow anyone to dismiss it as such. Not here, not in Palestine, not anywhere.

And so yes, we’ll oppose any law policy or system that degrades any human. Because the struggles intertwine.

But its not enough. Solidarity is not enough.

And I’m tired of empty words and promises. I’m tired of organizations that say they support undocumented youth but won’t hire us because they can’t “risk it.” That hurts more than any anti-immigrant policy.

Preach on from your pulpits but words mean nothing, nothing to me without action, without risk.  You say you feel bad, you want to do more, but really, how far will emotions take you if the only risk you’re taking is the one in your head. Feelings of pity, remorse and regret don’t help. We need to step up.

If your hope is in the law and the system, you are wrong. If your hope is in politicians and administrations, you are wrong.  Let go of false hopes and promises, the only real hope is right here, in you, in me and in our ability to organize.

The only hope lies in the risks we’re willing to take, in the boundaries we’re willing to push, so stand up straight, without any fear or apologies. Tell me, what are you willing to risk?

Every year, since 2010, a group of undocumented people, despite the fear, take a risk and declare themselves undocumented and unafraid right here in front of hundreds of people. Today, at 2:00 pm, in Daley Plaza, a group of undocumented people did just that, and we witnessed it happen.  [Another group will come out in DuPage County, next Friday March 16th]. They will put their entire lives on display and will share their stories, their struggles, their hopes and their dreams. They will risk their lives.

I ask you to join me in supporting this group, in supporting undocumented people all over the country.

My name is Alaa, and I’m undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.

Alaa is an organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League, the person behind most of our political art, and in general, pretty cool. Photo by Sara Ji. 

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