We’re the Writers We’ve Been Waiting For
At United We Dream we know that the stories of immigrant youth and our loved ones have been at the heart of transformative change for our communities and our homes.
In our day to day, we live in a world that frequently silences, shames and erases immigrants and people of color. When we are seen, we are often characterized as criminals or doctors, with no room for our lived experiences and our unique strengths, flaws, passions, and joys.
Time and time again, we have seen firsthand that the people closest to the pain are the closest to the breakthroughs and solutions in both policy and pop culture. As the immigrant justice movement continues to grow and organize against white supremacy, we know we need all the creativity and courage that our leaders have to offer in order to spark pride in ourselves and embrace the joyous rebellion needed to heal, fight and change the world.
After a pilot collaboration with the Writers Guild Initiative in 2018–19, we launched our inaugural Writers Room Program in December 2019 to give undocumented and first-generation youth the opportunity to build a community of creatives and deepen their storytelling and writing skills with the mentorship of poets, playwrights, screenwriters, authors and comedians who are members of the Writers Guild.
This year, we selected a cohort of 20 writers from across the country, including youth from California, Connecticut, New Mexico, Missouri and more. Writers attended two Helen Deutsch Writing Workshops with the Writers Guild Initiative in New York City and stayed connected each week, sharing new work or updated drafts of a longer compilation.
The UWD Writers Room cohort will continue to work on new pieces throughout 2020. We are excited to share the first five pieces of writing created by writers in this year’s cohort.
Sucking on Sugar Cane
Papi’s always said the only anxiety he’s ever felt
is when things were going a little too well.
Said it made him feel like Cinderella; like all the good in his life
was only there per fleeting spell.
I wished he could sense the permanence of the magic
in our hands and in our hair,
in the way our feet never fail to make love to the dirt when we dance,
kneading the ground;
in the way the sun poured into us so much
that our skin browned
made us darker even than herself
because she yearned for us to be as sweet as the azúcar mascabado
sitting atop ‘buelita’s kitchen shelf.
I wished Papi would calm
would trace the lines that run the length of his palm
— the color of soil, hardened by toil, looking as though it had survived an awful storm, and maybe we had, but do you still call it that when a storm becomes your norm? —
for they will always lead directly to me
and in the way my nose crinkles when I laugh, the way my eyes are a replica of his mamá’s,
they will always help him see
that good things can happen to us, too — that we can be joyous and carefree,
that we are not rendered transient for our joy, and not for being at ease;
that we are deserving of and overdue reprieve,
that our constant state shall not be one of grief.
He claims to have been a poet in his youth,
and if that is true, I’ll urge him to write about the lyricality
we carry in our veins
the beauty in our everydays,
the way our tall tales help relieve our short bodies of pain,
the way storytelling helps us remain,
helps us persist in abundance,
helps us forge and adorn a domain,
think up a future so sweet he would think he’s been transported
back to a time when the only skyscrapers he knew were palm trees
and he was so rich in hours he could spend them endlessly under the sun,
sucking on sugar cane.
Ayling Zulema Dominguez is a poet, creative and Bronx native with an abolitionist mindset. In her words, “When you’re the product of a subversive family, a border-crossing one like mine, home becomes an ongoing project; your parents’ roots are elsewhere and though you try to plant yours and bloom where you stand, some never stop trying to uproot you, claiming that you do not belong. My writing is a message to all that we belong.”
It has to be you.
I don’t mean to put this on you, but it has to be you. It has to be you. It has to be you who plants the seeds and speaks the dreams. It has to be you who questions everything, who fights everything, who’s always angry, who’s always fucking sad, who’s always goddamn tired. It has to be you. It has to be you who is stubborn. It has to be you who is firm. It has to be you who carries the weight of things that are not your own. It has to be you who pulls people through the stream. It has to be you who rows the damn boat. It has to be you who crosses the desert, who paints images on the wall. It has to be you who digs through the memories, who keeps the record and heals the wounds. It has to be you. And I know it’s not fair, and I know it’s fucking hard. But it has to be you. It has to be you, because no one else is coming, and you’re already here.
Rubén Garza is a writer, artist, and activist from Edinburg, TX. They’ve worked as a community organizer, youth mentor, and advocate for reproductive justice, immigration reform, and education equity in communities across the Rio Grande Valley. They are currently the Art & Community Strategist for Las Imaginistas, a socially engaged art collective in Brownsville, Texas.
The Park by the Brownsville Border
Delicate lines running up,
away from tension.
Worried waves crashing
against brown land.
Barbwires protecting the trapped.
Rocks sitting against fences made of nature.
Bells off in the distance
singing to Nuestra Madre.
I breathe in…
Bridges running thin
extending over both sides.
Fragile gust of winds
to the right side of history.
I sit by the palm tree.
I breathe out…
No tear is leaving today
because I am numb.
No heartache comes
to my already broken body.
No more life can be stolen.
The river runs silently backward
to find the forgotten feelings she lost.
The dead grass waves one last time
to my agony
and the birds sing adieu.
They know I’m leaving unafraid,
I leave the fear.
I grab the flashbacks
of a teenage boy with sunburns,
I put away the unimaginable things
that happened there,
I put it in my pocket.
I celebrate the magic Mother Earth has created.
We are exactly where we are supposed to be.
Alex Martínez is an undocuPoet living in Kansas City, Missouri. Some of Alex’s pieces have appeared in the Harbor-Review, New City Community Press, Hawaii Review, Semillas Publishing, and About A Place Journal. Alex published their first book Disclosure: Confessions of a Queer in Crisis in April of 2018.
De Aquí y De Aya
Home is where my “all in all” lives.
It’s where my past, present, and future sit together by the fire to conspire and prepare to face unafraid the plans that they make.
My home is filled with Mexican values my parents made sure became part of my blueprint and are complemented by the Texas culture that was bestowed to me by geographic destiny.
My home is where Selena Quintanilla and Elvis Presley come together to perform a playlist that is not limited to language or sex. It is where no song is too feminine for a man to sing, nor too masculine for a woman to perform.
Mi casa still houses my mother’s tradition of cleaning every Saturday morning with my tradition of putting off the load of dishes sitting in the sink for as long as possible.
In my home we speak Spanish, English, Navajo, queer, and chihuahua terrier. Here, it’s okay to be who you are, no matter the intersectionality.
It is a home filled with memories of oppression, racism, and poverty. It is a home filled with accomplishments of progression, equality, and prosperity.
My home is both “de aquí y de aya.” The longing for those I’ve left and memories of places I’ve loved can attest to that.
My home is the oleada I live on and the experiences and memories I make along the way. For those who are part of it know that “Mi casa, es su casa”.
Flaviano Graciano was born in Dallas, Texas and is the son of immigrants who migrated from Durango, Mexico. He started his career as a Spanish news reporter and quickly made the transition into the non-profit communications world, currently serving as Director for the New Mexico Dream Team’s Communications and UndocuQueer departments. Flaviano’s writing focuses on highlighting the experiences that come from living the intersectionalities of being queer, immigrant, and a man of color.
White snow caresses the ground so gently
Trees carry winter on their branches
The day floats like wispy clouds
The silence of the night creates new doubts
The air is warm like the last sip of morning coffee
Fragrant, delicate flowers captivate admirers
Newborns bless the land with their innocence and smiles
This is the season for a revival, but I feel trapped in my survival
The sun’s warmth feels like a mother’s embrace
A clear blue sky and a gentle ocean breeze ignite a daydream
Dancing on a summer night makes my spirit gleam
Until it thunders and I’m absorbed back to reality
The cool wind plays with my hair like a restless child
Fiery sunsets illuminate the landscape like they’ve caught on fire
I jump on the crisp leaves and for a moment I’m a kid
But I quickly feel shame pressing down even on my eyelids
When the palm trees are swaying, I’m hibernating
When the butterflies fly South, I’m trapped in my own cocoon
But like a sunflower, I try to remind myself to face the Sun
The Sun will always attract the Night
And I’ll learn to find comfort in my own moonlight
Lucy Galarza, born in Barcelona, Spain to Ecuadorian parents, follows a musical legacy six generations strong. She is a songwriter, poet, and composer. She completed her undergraduate studies at The City College of New York in 2017 with support from the Sphinx MPower Artist Grant and a scholarship in honor of National Heritage Fellow, Ilias Kementzidis. She currently lives in the calm shores of Norwalk, Connecticut.