There is nothing immediately remarkable about Alejandra Perez. As she walks into a meeting room in the Activities and Recreation Center at the UW Bothell, she looks a lot like the other students at the center, feverishly preparing for the final stretch of spring quarter.
Her fellow students might never guess that the graduating senior is an undocumented immigrant, or that she has dedicated much of her time throughout her undergraduate career to advocate for undocumented students in Washington state and beyond.
Even with graduation around the corner and capstone projects to attend to, Pérez — who is graduating with two Bachelors degrees in Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior, and American and Ethnics Studies — found time to participate in the Decolonize UW demonstration. There she joined hundreds of students demanding that the university address systemic racism and divest money from the private prison industry.
What inspired you to become an undocumented student activist?
As an undocumented woman of color it was really challenging to go to higher ed…. When I was applying to school there wasn’t access to financial aid for undocumented students in Washington state. Looking at the lack of access of equitable resources for undocumented students in the state really started to drive my work locally. So, I started doing a lot of education advocacy work in Washington state including also helping pass the Washington State Dream Act in order for undocumented students to get financial aid.
How you were able to balance your studies and your activist work?
It’s been challenging. I wouldn’t say it was difficult or hard but it definitely has been challenging. One of the things that’s hardest is saying ‘no.’ Knowing your limits is really hard because you are so passionate about what you do that of course you want to continue to serve your community in every way that you can and look for ways on how to liberate them, you know?
So how has it been while being in school? It’s been hard because not only do I do my activist work, but I also work and I’m also a full time student. I’ve been able to sort of handle it by scheduling stuff. I schedule a lot on my calendar. It’s a little ridiculous because there’s back to back meetings. Even right now there’s back-to-back meetings.
During the Decolonize UW walkout, there was a banner that read, “Undocumented & Unafraid in solidarity w/ Black Lives Matter.” Can you explain the intersectionality between these causes?
It is important to understand that there are undocumented black people… I think a lot of people don’t understand that there’s 500,000 undocumented black folks in the country.
I think where the intersection came is that, you know, the university is currently investing in not only state prisons, but also private prisons. And the private prisons are the ones who affect undocumented folks the most. And we know that any undocumented person who’s there could be of any race.
Is there any advice you would give to undocumented youth?
Yes. I call it the “Undocumented Timeline of Engagement.” And my very first advice is, ‘Learn about your undocumented-ness, empower yourself through it, and share your story.’
The reason why I say that is because we have been often socialized to not share who we are. To not share our struggles. And in order for us to heal I think we need to do that. So I think that’s my very first thing: share your story. Then from there start building community with other undocumented folks and gain power with each other and stay updated. And join the movement and continue to fight and advocate for our communities. And ask questions. I think that’s one thing that we all need to do.
This post was produced as part of the Globalist Youth Apprenticeship program. The program is funded in part by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Community Technology Fund.