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Since its inception in 2018, UndocuCarolina’s half-day Ally Trainings have featured the storytelling of young people–UNC and nearby community college students–whose lives have been touched by undocumentation. Student leaders have been central to designing and implementing the Ally Trainings, with a few of us regularly sharing our stories with would-be allies. Our [student] interventions have proved to be a crucial component for educating the Carolina community about the intersectional consequences of restrictive citizenship and immigration policies. They have helped UndocuCarolina build a network of nearly 500 Allies at UNC. 

In 2021 we students identified a need to begin organizing not only among allies but among affected students directly touched by undocumentation. Separate from but parallel to UndocuCarolina’s work, we are working on a new initiative to build a student network. This initiative is started by and for (un)documented student storytellers, many of whom are first-time orators, for the purpose of forging bonds through shared experiences, empowering each other, and sharing and providing resources. Our goals further include: 1) identifying with and supporting one another; 2) holding UndocuCarolina and UNC accountable to our needs; and 3) building a more robust and diverse pool of storytellers to speak up about our own lived experiences (at UndocuCarolina Ally Trainings and beyond). 

Why Storytelling?

Stephanie Elizondo Griest, a journalist from the Texas-Mexico borderlands who teaches creative nonfiction in the ECL department at UNC, says: “If a borderline is a carving, a story is a suture. Literature incites the narratives that unite us all.” Storytelling is a primordial form of outreach and communication, a way of learning, understanding the experiences of others, and building empathy. Telling stories is also a way to speak back to the legal and social structures that disenfranchise us, resisting and building resilience. For these reasons, we believe that learning to tell our own stories is crucial for addressing the many challenges facing immigrants, undocumented persons, and our communities today. UNC alum Dr. Sarah McNamara similarly writes in an interview with Viridiana Martínez that “Viridiana’s story provides a unique glimpse into the personal life of an undocumented youth, while revealing national demographic changes […] It invokes debate about a heated national issue […] but most importantly shows the personal side of a topic many American citizens find impersonal.” This piece shows– just as we also hope to– the value of effectively mediating and leveraging our experiences. 

The rights of the (un)documented person are frequently spoken for, and storytelling is a method of empowerment to know, speak up, and protect those rights. (Un)documented students are regularly in the position of coaching faculty, staff, and administration in matters pertaining to undocumentation. While UndocuCarolina’s objective is to alleviate some of that burden, students are still on the hook to be knowledgeable and aware of any threats to their personhood. Often, too, students fear sharing their stories because of the legal repercussions they might face, and not knowing what protections they do have. We not only want to help students to tell their stories, we also want to connect them in a solidarity network where they can feel empowered to hold institutions and staff accountable.

Our goal is to build a student/storyteller network that is representative of our communities, with people working together and learning from one another about how our lives have been touched by the themes of citizenship and undocumentation. This includes not only students who are undocumented, but those with precarious immigration statuses (DACA, TPS, U-, T-, and other visa holders) asylees, refugees, and US citizens who form part of mixed-status families and communities.

If you would like to get involved, email undocucarolina@unc.edu