Nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment is a recurring theme in American history. With today’s political climate under anti-immigration president Donald Trump, apprehension and anxiety regarding immigrants is higher than ever. With many students belonging to immigrant as well as undocumented backgrounds, the University of California felt it prudent to create organizations and events meant to resolve issues brought up by those affected.
Immigration Awareness Week is the brainchild of UCSB’s Undocumented Student Service. At Undocumented Student Services, coordinator Diana Valdivia explained, “we do program services and events, and as part of our events and part of building community.” Immigration Awareness Week is one such example of a community building program, and a chance to provide insight into some of the day-to-day operations of the office.
According to Valdivia, Immigration Awareness Week’s genesis came long before news of Trump’s victory. There have been prior Immigration Awareness Weeks, she explained, saying that this is actually the third time that UCSB has hosted Immigration Awareness Week.
In order to help pull off Immigration Awareness Week and get their message across, the Undocumented Student Services has partnered with such groups like Improving Dreams, Access, Equality, and Success (IDEAS), UCSB Reads, the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and the Multicultural Center to help host the event. Many teachers and faculty also worked tirelessly to help with the dissemination of information, according to Valdivia.
Immigration Awareness Week seeks to protect against fear and ignorance with an arsenal of knowledge. A panel on Wednesday, hosted by several professors here at UCSB, explained the complexity of the United States’ attitudes towards immigrants, and how patterns of paranoia and mistrust contrast sharply with the idea that the United States is a land of openness and reinvention.
Another way in which Immigration Awareness Week seeks to aid immigrants was through a legal seminar presented by Vivek Mittal, the University of California representative for undocumented students at the UC Los Angeles and Santa Barbara campuses. Mittal’s seminar took a look at some of Trump’s nebulous new laws regarding deportation and offered advice for immigrants on how to best fully utilize their legal rights to protect against federal predation.
Valdivia also said that she wanted the focus of this year’s Immigration Awareness Week to be on the very human aspect of immigrants. “This week has been focused on stories,” she said, “and a lot of the positive impact that art and stories can make.”
This was exemplified through many of Immigrant Awareness Week’s events, such as displaying the art of immigrant Favianna Rodriguez, which displays her response to the changing society around her by addressing “migration, economic inequality, gender justice, and ecology.” Into the Beautiful North, hosted by UCSB Reads and reviewed by The Bottom Line, chronicles the struggles of immigrants coming to the United States through prose.
When asked if Undocumented Students Services or Immigration Awareness Week had met any significant challenges, Valdivia said there was a lot of uncertainty regarding issues of immigration, which further solidified in her mind the need for a strong awareness campaign.
She was happy to report, however, that there had been no campus-based opposition to either her office or the program and she was pleased by the support she has received in spreading awareness.
Of course, the struggle for immigrant issues does not end with Immigration Awareness Week. Valdivia stressed the importance of remaining ever-vigilant and ever-ready in meeting the needs of undocumented students, as well as an intersectional approach towards a government hostile to interests such as climate change and LGBTQ issues.
When asked about the futures of the Undocumented Student Service and Immigration Awareness Week, Valdivia was undaunted and firm in her desire to move the program forward, citing UC President Janet Napolitano’s pledge to stand by its undocumented students.
“These programs are bringing a lot of folks in and, whether they are undocumented or not, there has been a lot of dialogue around these issues,” Valdivia said.