Mariana Ramirez, a graduate student at UCLA and long-time teacher in Boyle Heights, interviews her former student, immigration activist, Claudia Rueda.

Mariana is a member of the Data for Democracy team

Mariana: The Data for Democracy project is a Centennial initiative of UCLA since the university turned a hundred years old. The goal is to get data into K through 12 classrooms so that teachers and students can have conversations about what’s happening in Los Angeles. Our first brief was on parks and the second brief is on immigration. Our goal in this brief is to create a context for conversations around immigration and for students and teachers to try to build some solidarity. At the end of the brief we always include a section on youth, civic participation and taking action. And this is why we wanted to interview you. So thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to do this.

Claudia: Yay. Thank you for thinking of me.

Mariana: Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, and what was your journey towards critical consciousness and getting involved in resistance movements?

Claudia: My name is Claudia Rueda. A little bit who I am. I’ve been doing organizing, youth organizing, since I was 17, since I was a junior in high school, with the immigrant rights movement. So I define myself as an organizer and activist, and also as someone who is for healing justice, and an abolitionist.

Mariana: How did you come to critical consciousness and arrive at these resistance movements?

Claudia: For me, I started getting involved young because growing up undocumented I saw my parents struggle with working, getting paid, being exploited. I saw the criminalization in my community with my father getting his cars taken because he didn’t have a driver’s license. And for me a as a youth just walking after 11pm and getting criminalized for …

Mariana: Curfew.

Claudia: Yeah curfew. So when I was in high school I got arrested for walking. It was actually by Roosevelt High School, by Forest Avenue. I was just was sick of seeing all of this around me and I wanted to do something about it and I wanted to know more about it. I just didn’t like what was happening. I didn’t think it was just so I decided to get involved with the immigrant rights movement and that’s where I was politicized. That’s where I learned about the systems of power, through other undocumented and queer folks and other youth, who were a part of the movement. That’s how I came to know more about the systems of power but also about people power.

Mariana: And what were some of the examples of the ways that you were involved as a high school student? Was there any campaigns or actions?

Claudia: I started going to the meetings with the Immigrant Youth Coalition in LA and I rememberorganizing a conference for youth. It was a youth empowerment conference and it was about empowering undocumented youth to go to higher education and to know your rights. I was part of building those spaces up. I think one of the first actions I actually was part of “coming out of the shadows.” This idea also comes out of the queer rights movement, where people come out as queer. So the immigrant rights movement and undocu-queer youth use that for the immigrant rights movement to come out as undocumented because, some people feel afraid to come out as undocumented.

Claudia: So that was one of the first things I did, which was to share my story of being undocumented and coming out as undocumented to my community. When people know more who you are there’s a bigger supportive network and it’s more like we are in this together rather than doing it on my own, as an undocumented person. So those were some of those first things I was involved with. At 17, I actually participated in civil disobedience in downtown LA. I was part of the campaign to stop the sheriff, who was deporting more people in Maricopa County—that’s in Arizona—where they had that law where if you’re Brown, they could stop you. SB 1070, I believe.

Claudia: So at that time I was part of that action to stop the sheriff here — I think his name was Lee Baca. It was a campaign to make people aware that they were deporting more people in LA County than Maricopa County where they have SB 1070. I was part of a civil disobedience action, to shine a light on that. Those were some of the things I was involved in that the beginning of my journey.

Mariana: Do you think it’s important for youth to be involved in immigrant rights movements? If so, what are some recommendations you have for youth who want to get involved?

Claudia: Yeah, I think it’s important to be involved in the immigrant rights movement. And I think also, the immigrant rights movement is also connected to race and the sexuality, and all these issues that marginalized communities go through. So it is important not just if you are an immigrant or if you come from the immigrant community. It is important to be part of it because you become more aware about how the systems of power affect the daily life of immigrants, affect the daily life of our community. It is important that you know what to do if something happens. It’s important to know and be aware. And also to not to not feel alone, but also to be empowered, right. That as people, we are going fight back and that our people power is important too.

Mariana: What do you recommend if youth want to be involved around immigration issues? How should they get started?

Claudia: Honestly, if there’s an organization or there’s a club that they’re interested, they should reach out to organizations. For example, we had MEChA. Most high schools have some sort of club. And if there isn’t a club and if you want to learn about something, feel free to create your own club. Consciousness is just having the curiosity to know what’s happening and trying to be aware of what’s going on. I think it’s maybe reaching out to teachers, especially from the history department, who can be your sponsor to create a club, who could be your supporter. Or reaching out to organizations that are already doing this work.

Claudia: One that I could think of for immigration is the California Youth Justice Alliance and there’s others, right? So I recommend just start where you are. There’s no right or wrong. Join a club, create your own club, or search things on the internet. Nowadays, our youth are even becoming politicized because of the internet. There’s great, great information out there too. And yeah, create community. So, I recommend just reaching out and being curious and asking questions. For me it was: Why are my parents getting paid a little bit? Why did I get arrested if I wasn’t doing anything, I was just walking in my own neighborhood? Asking why? As people we have have that right to live a life that is dignified.

Mariana: Earlier you said something about healing justice. What are some other things that youth can gain by being involved in organizing? Aside from learning the systems of oppression that you were talking about, what are some other gains that you have gotten from being involved?

Claudia: I started being curious about healing justice because I saw my family and people in the immigrant rights movement, and we work and we work and I don’t think it’s sustainable to live on a mindset of just working. I think for me healing justice came at a time when I was really involved. And I think now more people are starting to see the importance of healing justice in movements. I actually started doing this on my own. I started going to curanderismo classes back in 2014. Just being my curious self.

Mariana: What can you gain from being in an organizing space and taking action, especially around issues of immigration?

Claudia: I think immigration movements they could get support. For example, with my family I learned how to stop a deportation. We get support around how to stop a deportation, knowing your rights, what to do when ICE comes to your house, when you’re in your car, when you’re walking, what to do. I also gained confidence, right? Because I was a really shy person and I didn’t know how to speak up as much and I learned slowly that my voice is important. So I got more confidence. I made a lot of networks throughout California. I met a lot of professors. I met a lot of teachers. I met a lot of other undocumented folks, a lot of organizations, I went to conferences. It also exposed me to the world. I travelled to San Francisco for an action or to Oakland for a conference.

Claudia: And it expanded my world because my world was only Boyle Heights. Expanding my world, not just geographically, but also in ideas, and myself too, as in my confidence. Learning how to lead a workshop, how to lead a whole conference, how to do youth curriculum, how to speak to different types of groups like adults or youth or teachers, partner organizations. So I gained a lot of my skills from organizing. But most importantly for me, I gained a lot of friendships and lot of relationships. Relationship building, having community there for you, I gained a lot of people who are down for me. I was in deportation proceedings, and the reason that I’m able to speak to you is because of the people that I met through my organizing. So, I gained a lot of personal development and friends as well. A lot of friends.

Mariana: Those are really important ideas because often people think of civic action as just questioning things and questioning the status quo, which are really important. But also, there’s so much more that you gain from organizing like the human connection and the leadership skills. I feel sometimes you learn more academic skills by organizing.

Claudia: Yeah. You know what my friends say? “ I learned four years of college in one year of organizing.”

Mariana: Just to close up, do you want to share any campaigns or efforts that are happening right now that, that youth should know about?

Claudia: There’s my campaign that’s still open, “Free Claudia.” I’m in deportation proceedings. So if they want to look into to that. It’s about stopping my deportation. And also, I’m suing the Department of Homeland Security. That’s my campaign. “Free Claudia!”

Mariana: For people who don’t know about your campaign, can you give us a little bit of a background on that?

Claudia: Yes. So my campaign is a campaign that started off fighting for my mom’s campaign, which began because of CBP and sheriff collaboration coming out of Boyle Heights and criminalizing communities of color. My mom was in deportation proceedings just because she was in a place with a lot of police involvement. So, I decided along with my friends to do a campaign to free my mom because she was taken by border patrol. So, after my mom was freed because of community involvement, I was put in deportation proceedings for speaking out. So my campaign is about freeing me from deportation proceedings and also demanding that the state stop the criminalization of immigrant organizers. That’s what my campaign is about, freeing me from deportation proceedings and to stop the criminalization of activists from communities of color. And it is also about my mom; my mom’s still deportation proceedings. So if you follow me, you’ll also be hearing some stuff about my mom.

Mariana: Yeah, of course. Are there any other campaigns that you think youth should know about or efforts?

Claudia: Yeah, there have been a lot of immigration activists that have been in deportation proceedings because that’s what the state tries to do to silence people. There is another campaign, “Keep Ale Free!” This is another organizer who was targeted by the Department of Homeland Security for their activism. And youth should know about the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

Claudia: They’re really good with supporting people who are in deportation proceedings. They are now working on a campaign. They actually helped pass this law that shuts down all the private prisons and it’s going to be implemented sometime this year. So what this new law does is that it’s going to end all the contracts with the private detention centers. There’s going to be no new contracts. They’re just going to phase out. That’s why Trump is hating on California because of that law. If people want to follow me @CLAUDIARISING. I’m going to post more stuff about my campaign and also about more healing justice and state violence.

Mariana: Awesome. Thank you so much. Do you want to say any last words to the youth out there that are feeling that state violence in their school, in their community?

Claudia: For me what has helped me is just being surrounded with friends and community and thinking about the people that have come before me. So, my ancestors. Thinking about all the activists organizing ancestors too. There has been people fighting this fight for years. It could get hard, but we can do it together. When so much is happening, don’t forget to take in the moments of joy because fighting for humanization is also fighting to be present in our lives. So, to be surrounded by community. To not forget the ancestors and to embrace those moments of joy.

Mariana: Thank you so much, Claudia. I really appreciate you.

Patricia Gándara: Supporting Immigrant Youth in Schools
UCLA Historian Caroline Luce on the history of anti-fascist protest in 1930s Boyle Heights