America has always offered the hope of a better life for immigrants. For many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who came here escaping violence, poverty and destruction in their countries of origin, America offered the chance to live, period. America meant survival, and the chance for even more.
And for many, the realities of the undocumented experience in America today rival the stressors that brought them here in the first place. Daily threats of detention, deportation and family separation have desensitized undocumented people to trauma. For us, there is no “safe” place – not even in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Consequently, undocumented Americans and our allies are beginning to understand the importance of creating safe spaces to protect our physical and mental well-being. Due to factors economic, logistical and cultural, mental health care has been an afterthought in many immigrant communities. Often, people’s mental health care needs go unaddressed.
At Define American, we encourage people to tell their stories because we know that it does not just raise awareness about the undocumented experience, but it is also a cathartic process for the individual. In that spirit, we recently launched a new campaign called #UndocuJoy, based on a poem by our artist-in-residence Yosimar Reyes, to provide a forum in which to celebrate the things in life that bring us joy and gratitude. Sharing our #UndocuJoy lets us tell the complete stories of who we are: We are not defined by our fear or immigration status. We are resilient. We are strong. We are human. These are the qualities that got us here – and they are the qualities that define American.
But we know that our communities need more. Recently, Define American co-hosted a national healing call with Informed Immigrant, the UndocuHealing Project, TheDream.US, and The Hope Center for Wellness to offer affirmations, breathing exercises, and provide a constructive space of positivity and calm. It doesn’t replace one-on-one or group counseling, or the personal oversight of a physician, but it’s a start in introducing some helpful concepts and tools to those of us who may benefit from it.
Our strength is in our communities, our connections to one another and documenting our existences – to “bear witness” to one another’s lives. We are all living a shared experience and should feel encouraged to be open with one another and offer support where we can. It is imperative that undocumented Americans have access to the tools and resources that will help ease the psychological stresses of living without papers in Trump’s America.