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‘UndocuNation’ helps undocumented young people find their voice on immigration

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Undocumented activists and allies gathered Wednesday at NoDa’s Neighborhood Theatre, using art to push back against anti-immigrant sentiments and racial profiling.

Between 150 and 200 people came for the event called “UndocuNation,” which transformed the theater into part-art gallery and part-concert hall, decorated with strings of lights and butterfly banners.

The goal was to merge art with activism, said Favianna Rodriguez, founder of CultureStrike, which helped present the event along with the Center for New Community.

“We’re bringing musicians and artists together to speak out for immigrant rights,” she said. “We want migrant rights to be a high priority in the Democratic ticket.”

She said the involvement of artists in President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign led her to get artists engaged with this initiative as well.

“Policy is in the brain space, but art and culture is in the heart space,” she said.

José Torres-Don, 24, was born in Mexico but grew up in Austin, Texas. He represented the N.C. DREAM Team, an organization of undocumented immigrant youth and their allies.

“We’re trying to organize to gain more access to education, stop deportation and things like that,” he said. “It’s about coming out of the shadows... creating a voice of the undocumented community.”

He said the moment he stepped forward as being undocumented was scary – but transformative.

“I was dressed in my cap and gown, and my dean was at the end of the stage to give me my diploma,” he said. There, he said, he paused, wondering what he would do with it when he had no papers. He asked his dean where he should go next.

“In his silence, I found my answer,” he said. “I had to figure it out on my own.”

He said events like UndocuNation inspire others to find their own answers.

“In the past, we were so afraid, so shielded, we would never come to a place like this,” he said.

Audience members filled the theater to applaud the first undocumented person to address a national political convention.

Together they watched immigrant Benita Veliz, who was born in Mexico but raised in San Antonio, address the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night. Veliz talked about the difficulties of growing up as an American in every way but on paper.

Posters all over the venue read “Migration is a human right” and “Obama: Stop the deportations.”

Before and after the watch party, performers took the stage, including hip-hop duo Los Rakas and local artists and musicians. An art gallery featured works from artists around the country.

McNeill: 704-358-5298
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