More than 100 community members gathered in front of the Baldwin Park police department on Tuesday to urge officers to be in full compliance with the TRUST Act. Mothers, fathers, and children listened to undocumented neighbors’ stories and experiences facing unjust checkpoints, impounds, and deportations. For several hours, supporters of human rights kept joining the rally and made it clear that they will not tolerate collaborations between the police and ICE, and encouraged everyone to celebrate March as the national Coming Out of The Shadows month.
The rally, led by the Immigrant Youth Coalition, started around 4:30 p.m. One of the attendees shared that he has been racially profiled by the police more than 12 times a year in Baldwin Park. Another high-profile case was that of young Salvadoran community member Sergio Flores, whose freedom was paused for an entire week after he was detained by Baldwin Park police and sent to ICE. After hearing these and other stories, families marched to the intersection of Ramona and Maine and that is when police officers faced a young undocumented woman and an undocumented LGBTQ youth who sat down in the middle of the street and let it be known that young people will not tolerate police officers targeting fellow community members in Baldwin Park, where over 1/3 of the population is undocumented.
Claudia Rueda, youth leader from Immigrant Youth Coalition, participated in this nonviolent direct action out of love for her family and communities. Claudia arrived to California when she was 5 years old.
“My family is undocumented. My parents have lived in California for 11 years. My father and my mother have worked really hard to support me and my sister. They could easily be caught up in one of these racist checkpoints. The absurd criminalization happening in Baldwin Park cannot go unchallenged. The dehumanization of undocumented family members must be stopped and we all can stop it together. I am glad to see the amount of people who showed up to support this family cause. Parents and youth keep being detained. People’s cars are being taken away. People are being treated as animals. That’s why I am here taking action and coming out of the shadows.”
Claudia, who is currently 19, used to be very shy in high school. Some of the activities she used to be involved in order to reduce her social anxiety consisted of playing volleyball and helping her peers with their resumes and college applications. But according to Claudia, nothing compares to the day that she got involved with Immigrant Youth Coalition. She recalls, “getting involved with IYC changed everything for me! IYC came to my high school and invited us to get involved. I liked IYC on Facebook and it led me to one of their meetings, which introduced me to so many undocuqueers, people who are so empowered to be part of both the immigrant and LGBTQ communities. It was an environment I have never been part of. I wanted to stay there all day long.”
Claudia used to be unaware of the policies targeting families like her own, “thanks to IYC I learned to let go of all my fears and stopped internalizing shame. I started traveling around California with IYC and am happy to say I know many young people who are undocumented and unafraid.” Claudia is currently in her first year of college and committed to active immigrant youth for positive change in our Golden State. Her family is supportive of her leadership development with IYC, “my mom gave me her blessing, like, five times, so nothing bad happens to me, and when I came back home my dad asked me, ‘Did you show them what you’re made of, mija?’ with a big smile on his face.” Although she describes her parents as being “the opposite,” Claudia says her family stands strong opposing “exploitation and keeping people in the shadows,” and this is why empowering migrant lives means so much to her.
During Tuesday’s Coming Out Of The Shadows action in Baldwin Park, Claudia was not the only woman involved. She remembers, “there were as many women as men; this one mother shared her story of how her son was deported; she was really determined to bring back her son. This mother’s hope was larger than borders and there were also a lot of little girls. For all of them, it was their first time chanting ‘Undocumented Unafraid!’ and ‘El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!’ (The people united will never be defeated!). Their unapologetic energy, courage, and unconditional love for their families made me very proud to be an undocumuxer.”
Luis Enrique, 22, is one of the undocuqueer youth that Claudia met during her first IYC meeting. Luis Enrique and Claudia united in friendship blocked the intersection of Ramona and Maine during Tuesday’s Coming Out Of The Shadows in Baldwin Park. Luis arrived in California in 2007 when he was 15 years old.
“I never got to fully share my queer childhood with my dad. My dad was murdered when I was 7 years old. I come from a single-parent household. Growing up, I have always admired and loved my mom’s strength and resiliency. She would work often from 8 am to 1 in the morning. And the situation was not the best for us, but she kept moving forward so we would have better opportunities than she did. We’ve gone through a lot, not only because of racism and our undocumented status, but also because of homophobia around us.”
Luis has been active in empowering youth since he arrived to California at the age of 15. The club Luis joined in high school prior to getting involved with IYC was “New Comers”, which provided information about resources for ESL students. In his own words, “I got involved with this ESL club to work with recent arrivals, especially undocumented youth. And I started high school a little late, but didn’t give up and graduated.” Although many folks did not see him as the perfect dreamer and discouraged him from graduating, “I started at 17 and got my diploma at 20.”
Being both undocumented and queer has been difficult for Luis Enrique. “There was a period in my life in which I used to go to sleep crying; for four months, I cried every single night, but feeling the support from my mom, my sister, my brother, my friends, my teachers, and all the IYC folks has empowered me to live with no fear and no shame to create change in our communities.” Luis Enrique came out to his family at the age of 16. “At first it was hard for my mom to let go of all the heterosexual expectations she had built for me,” he admits, “especially after my dad’s death, which put a lot of pressure on me to perform a type of macho role at home, as ‘el hombre de la casa’ (the man of the house).” But as the years passed by, he adds, “my mom, siblings, and I accepted that I can only be me and that is okay. Currently, my family knows exactly who I am and is proud of me. My little brother attends high school while my sister, mom, and I work at the same restaurant, and I work and go to school in addition to being part of the IYC,” he states. Luis is studying Social Work, “and this is why I stay involved in wanting to end the suffering of my communities, because I believe in freedom, healing, and do not want anybody to lose their parents because of collaborations between the police and ICE.”
Furthermore, Luis decided to take action this week in Baldwin Park inspired on what happened to his family two years ago outside their workplace and also alarmed by the horrible news that took place the weekend before Christmas in La Puenta as well as a few after last Christmas in Baldwin Park. He explains, “in 2012, when my mom and my sister were getting off from work, they faced a raid. It was late at night and I had no clue what was happening to them. They arrived home shaking nonstop. They don’t speak English, so my mom was very scared. But my sister wasn’t. My sister is the type of woman who doesn’t let men talk down at women or treat them as inferior. So, the police took their car away from them, which was paid with so much hard work.” He continues, “after having my family in this situation two years ago and having watched the video of what happened to families in Baldwin Park three days after Christmas last year, where 42 undocumented neighbors were arrested, and in La Puente the week before Christmas, where 56 undocumented people were detained, I could no longer remain silent about the abuse happening in this particular city.” Luis also mentions what happened on December 28th, 2013 frustrates him because “these poli-migra activities happened three days before Governor Brown signed the TRUST Act! Our communities are under attack and I refuse to feel powerless. No straight or LGBTQ family should ever have to be traumatized by the police. This is why I stay out of the shadows and stay out in action as a proud undocuqueer.”
Claudia and Luis Enrique agree that there is a lot of work to be done in Baldwin Park as well as statewide securing the implementation of the TRUST Act in order to make undocumented women, al parents, and families with LGBTQ youth feel safe. Claudia calls on people to continue questioning “why can’t Baldwin Park police be in full compliance with the TRUST Act?” After all, “it’s California law! When will Baldwin Park Police Department stop profiting from our pain?, she asks.
During Tuesday’s action against deportations, checkpoints, and impounds, Baldwin Park police said they would not arrest Claudia or Luis Enrique, but that was clearly not how police offices felt back in December when they targetted undocumented neighbors in a checkpoint or when they decided to block undocumented community member Sergio Flores from going to work, which ended up in having Sergio under the custody of ICE for six days.