An Evening with Yosimar Reyes

Yadira Alonso, Contributing Writer

Yosimar Reyes is an undocumented immigrant, poet and activist, who was born in Guerrero, Mexico. However, he was raised in East San Jose, California, and has lived there for almost 30 years. He attended San Francisco State University and serves as a voice that brings awareness on issues affecting queer immigrants in the U.S. and throughout the world. Yosimar does public speaking for a living by going to different universities to perform his poetry and bring awareness about what it means to be undocumented.

During his visit to Chicago in April, Yosimar came as a guest speaker to Northeastern Illinois University where he performed his poetry which depict his experience as an undocumented immigrant and as a queer person.

I personally felt a connection with Yosimar as one of his main poems is titled “We Never Needed Papers to Thrive.” It expresses the many struggles undocumented people have to overcome, yet they still find the motivation to succeed.

For example, my family immigrated from Mexico to the U.S.. They struggled being in a place where they did not know the language, nor have the same privileges as those who were documented citizens. However, my mom and dad have always taught me to have resilience and never give up.

They both found ways to make a living and provide for our family. They faced many struggles such as working at very low paying jobs, yet they continued to work many hours during the week just to survive. I once asked “ pa’ por qué no les dices te paguen al mínimo wage, eso no está bien?” (dad, why don’t you tell them to pay you at least the minimum wage, that’s not right?).

And he responded “mija, me dijeron que si tomaba el trabajo, o si no, van a buscar alguien que si quiera trabajar. Yo sí quiero trabajar entonces lo tuve que tomar. Además, ellos saben que uno no los va reportar con Recursos Human por que cuando eres indocumentado no tienes ningun derecho aqui.” (daughter, they told me that either I take the job or they would hire someone who actually wants to work. I do want to work, so I took it. And they know we won’t report them to HR because being undocumented means that you have no rights in this country). When my dad told me this, I began to tear up and I realized that I have a dad who carries resilience and has a lot of “ganas” (desire) to survive.

During the Q&A session, Yosimar was asked why he does this type of work. He answered passionately:

“I love my undocumented people because we have constantly had to prove our humanity and we have constantly done it beautifully because to stay human under these conditions you have had to have an understanding of beauty. I love us even when our stories are manipulated and exploited. I love us because at the end of the day somehow we always manage to make something but of nothing. There is nothing beautiful about being undocumented, nothing at all but you all help me know that no matter how this country breaks I know strength and strive.” (Yosimar, April 17, 2018).

“Dio aprieta pero no ahorca” (God squeezes but does not strangle)

Hearing Yosimar say these words, made me teary-eyed and emotional. Even those around me seemed to have felt a connection to his words and struggles. I have learned to love and appreciate all the support I have received from students, faculty, and staff here at NEIU. I feel privileged for having access to a higher education that my parents never got to enjoy.
I dedicate all my success and accomplishments to all my undocumented folks because they have to work two times harder to achieve what being US Citizens. I could also see a lot of my peers tearing as Yosimar talked about the many struggles he has overcome because of his legal status. I am thankful for all the resources myself and my peers have access to here at NEIU. This university has empowered and supported many of us to keep going and never give on our dreams.

As we currently live in an uncertain political climate, Yosimar served as a motivator to many students here at Northeastern Illinois University. Currently, NEIU is known to be the most welcoming campus to undocumented students. Bringing speakers like Yosimar Reyes proves that NEIU serves as a home to many undocumented and first-generation college students where they hear stories that they can relate to. Many of the stories they hear have an impact because they provide motivation and encouragement for higher education.