My name is Robin Burnette, I am an ally and a member of DREAM Activist Ohio.
When I was 17 I started working at a local restaurant to make some extra money. That decision ended up being a life lesson that would affect almost every aspect of my life today.
I began working at the restaurant with 1 American manager and a few American co-workers. The rest of the 20 person staff were immigrants from Latin America. At 17, I had no idea what “undocumented” meant although my biological father was a Latin American immigrant, I had never met him nor was raised in the Latino culture.
I began a mentoring friendship with a young girl (we will call her “Ana”) and her mother who both worked at the restaurant and lived in my hometown. They taught me most of the Spanish I know today and made me feel like I was a part of their family. The more I got to know them I noticed that Ana always avoided talking to me about her getting her driver’s license or her aspirations for college when the topic came up. She had a 3.8 GPA and was fluent in English and Spanish and I saw all the potential in the world for her.
One night after a long shift at work, the restaurant was closed and Ana, her mother and I were cleaning for the next day. I asked her for the final time,
“Ana, when are you going to get your license? Do you want me to help you practice?”
She slowly looked up at me with tears in her eyes and shouted,
“Robin, no entiendes? No tenemos papeles, como crees que voy a sacar mi licencia?”
“Robin, don’t you understand? We don’t have papers, how could I possibly get my license?”
Her mother quickly responded in Spanish after seeing my shocked face,
“Ana! No le grites a Robin, no es su culpa de ella que no sabe sobre nosotros”
“Ana, don’t yell at Robin, it’s not her fault she doesn’t know about us.”
That was the moment when I was opened up to a new reality. The reality that all these people who became my close friends lived in the shadows.
I was ignorant to the reality of why they were scared to drive, why they lived in the worst housing in my town, and why it took so long for them to trust me with their status.
My name is Robin Burnette and I have no idea what it feels like to live as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.
This is the first step allies must know when working with the immigrant community.
We, as allies, need to work WITH the immigrant community, not simply FOR the immigrant community. We need to raise their voices up, not raise our privileged voices.
Allies are important parts of attaining rights for immigrants but we must know our place as well. We are oftentimes best when working behind the scenes and making cameo appearances to show our support. I am proud to say that I work with some of the most talented young people in Ohio and I will not rest until every one of them is able to get the same rights that I have.
To all the DREAMers reading this: Your voice is the most important, do not let “supposed” allies silence or marginalize you. Find those who raise you up and surround yourself with them.
I will end with this message for both allies and undocumented immigrants alike,
Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. – Cesar Chavez
This organization has been able to attain driver’s licenses and in-state tuition rates for DACA-approved in Ohio. We must defend this progress with more progress.