I recently sat down with Jesus, an alumnus of Youth Era's Clackamas Drop, to talk about their experiences growing up undocumented, the impacts of systemic racism, and Oregon's white supremacist history.
Growing up, Jesus’ family often had doors closed on them due to their undocumented status. Their father worked in construction to help support the family, but they were unable to access government assistance due to their citizenship status (despite paying taxes).
When Jesus was still young, they moved to Oregon from a Latin community in Arizona. Jesus explained that they experienced more microaggressions and blatant racism after moving to Oregon. The truth is Oregon claims to be this progressive utopia when in actuality, the state was built on white supremacy. Oregon has a long history of benefiting from the exploitation of people of color by those in privilege. Click here for more information.
Jesus explained how living as a Mexican-American [AMAB person] in the United States shaped them as a person.
They also shared that they experienced feelings of displacement daily, particularly when in gentrified areas.
Jesus told me that for a while, they struggled to find belonging in a community that punished them for their identity. They explained how the system we live in pushes communities of color into self-fulfilling prophecies.
Jesus told me that their resilience and sense of self-worth are what’s kept them from losing hope.
Jesus noted that one of the ways individuals fight oppression is by staying true to their identity and authentic self. Jesus rocks a huge beard, and although they’ve faced discrimination due in part to their appearance, they swear that they will never shave or compromise their Mexican heritage.
In a society that constantly polices those who do not fit a prescribed image, I feel Jesus’s words are so incredibly important for youth to hear. We need to fight against societal policing and discrimination, particularly against communities of color. Jesus’s final note of advice echoes this sentiment, they say:
About The Author
Mia Prohaska is a former Program Manager at the Youth Era Clackamas Drop Center. Mia is a Fulbright scholar who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Masters in Social Work and certification in Global Human Rights. Mia is deeply passionate about advocating for refugee, asylee, and immigrant communities.
About Youth Era
Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.