As immigration roils national politics -- from the White House to Congress and the Supreme Court, to states across the nation and even the presidential campaign -- the stories of six "undocumented" young people from the Palo Alto area will add personal depth and poignancy to the issue.
The stories will be told at a "Walk of DREAMers" free event 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, in the El Palo Alto Room of the Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto.
The event is sponsored by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center and the Palo Alto Library. It is part of a broader program funded by a $10,000 "Community Stories" grant from California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities (www.calhum.org). The grant also will cover a similar evening in partnership with the Redwood City Library on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
Elliot Margolies, who organizes "strategic initiatives" for the Media Center, said the June 29 event is a follow-up to earlier, smaller-scale story-sharing sessions held locally under a "Made Into America" theme.
The archive project, celebrating immigrant stories from every era of the United States' history, was launched by the Media Center in May 2014 and receives more than 5,000 visits per month, Margolies said.
A special-guest moderator for June 29 will be Francisco Jimenez, an award-winning author and humanities professor at Santa Clara University. He was born in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, in 1943 and spent much of his childhood working with his parents in California fields, with no permanent home or regular schooling. Yet he graduated from Santa Clara University, attended Harvard University and received both a master's degree and a doctorate from Columbia University. He became chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University, as well as director of the Division of Arts and Humanities there.
"He would have been a DREAMer if they had had the term back in the 1940s," Margolies said.
Jimenez's books include the award-winning "The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child," and a sequel, "Breaking Through." An illustrated book, "The Christmas Gift/El regalo de Navidad," explores sources of humanity and strength that can exist even in the face of poverty, according to its description in Jimenez's biography.
The June 29 presentations themselves will be "emotion-filled experiences threaded by hope, perseverance, fear, secrets, and dreams for their families and themselves," according a Media Center announcement. One speaker "will take us to the strawberry fields where he worked as a 10-year-old. Another will bring us on a flight to reunite with his mom for the first time since his infancy.
"One ventures far from anything familiar and finds a welcoming home during her college years in tiny Ripon, Wisconsin."
"DREAMers" is the term used to describe undocumented young people who fit the description of those who would have been covered under the "DREAM Act" (for "Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act") proposed by President Barack Obama's administration but defeated in Congress in December 2010.
In 2012, Obama gave limited coverage to the self-described "DREAMers" under an executive order known as DACA, for "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals." DACA should not be confused with DAPA, for "Deferred Action for Parents of Americans," a plan that raises different and broader issues, and opposition -- including from some immigrants who struggled through the convoluted and costly legal-immigration process.
Nearly 800,000 young people have benefited from DACA through the end of 2015, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates.
There is a special timing significance to the June 29 event. "This is not only going to be an event filled with poignant stories, but we may indeed hear from the Supreme Court that very day or week of the event regarding its decision on DAPA, allowing or prohibiting President Obama from extending temporary protections and the ability to legally hold jobs to the parents of the DREAMers as well as the DREAMers themselves," Margolies said.
The court is expected to rule on a challenge by multiple states to the DAPA proposal, which legal scholars say could have implications for the future of DACA -- not to mention the outcome of the presidential election in November.
The Made Into America program includes an archive of immigration stories, available at madeintoamerica.org. Here are three samples: Kim Le, a Vietnamese-American, at madeintoamerica.org/kim-le; Amber Stime, an Ethiopian-American, at madeintoamerica.org/ethiopian-orphan-nonprofit-director; and Roberto Munoz, a Mexican-American, at madeintoamerica.org/roberto-munoz.
Margolies said he came up with the idea to localize the DREAMer stories because five years ago he accepted a young undocumented man as an intern at the Media Center, at the request of an organization that linked DREAMers to internships.
"He was talented and smart and had worked as a Spanish teacher and for a media outlet, but lost both jobs because he had no Social Security number. He couldn't work and was living at home."
Then came DACA in 2012, which enabled him to get a driver's license and the internship.
That internship personalized the issue and inspired Margolies to organize two earlier local -- but lower-profile -- events at the Media Center in 2014 and 2015, funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Each presentation drew 60 to 80 people, and their success triggered planning for the June 29 event, Margolies said.
"We wanted to do a follow-up, because doing something with people is so electric," he said of such personal, direct contact.
Reservations for June 29 are requested for planning arrangements for seating and light refreshments, at madeintoamerica.org.
The immigration debate nationally will continue and certainly intensify during this year's already bitter presidential campaign. But putting local faces and voices to it adds depth and meaning to the national dialogue.