We laughed because the idea seemed absurd. Yet she quickly gathered her composure and looked us straight in the eyes.
She explained that she would be launching a hunger strike that week.
The DREAM Act, which would offer the possibility of permanent residency to the children of immigrants who came to the United States as minors, was up for a vote in Congress that year. She and two other undocumented young women decided to embark on a hunger strike outside Sen. Kay Hagan’s office.
I’ll never forget what Loida said next.
“This is the only choice I have.”
As we reflect today on the heroism of Martin Luther King Jr. and on the progress we have made as a nation, we must be careful not to view the civil rights movement as a relic of the past. And it’s crucial that we don’t assume, as allies or as advocates, that we know what’s best for someone else’s struggle.
In a recent issue of Guernica Magazine, journalist Ann Neumann explained hunger-striking as a tactic “used for centuries to demand rights, most often by those who have little other way, beyond sacrifice of their own body, to protest.”
Our precarious Western perspective doesn’t allow us to justify extreme tactics like hunger strikes in what we consider a free country. To our minds, hunger strikes exist hidden in third-world societies or in solitary confinement, where we can feel sympathetic, yet removed.
But for Loida and many of my friends, their reality is in essence a prison.
Her action to defend her human rights was deemed radical by alleged supporters, and petulant by pundits.
Too often we demand Dreamer narratives, drawn-out explanations and neat, clean labels to justify political action. But if we aspire to be true allies, we must listen to understand the complexity of a reality that isn’t ours.
So when three undocumented peers of mine decided to camp out and deny nourishment to their bodies during one of the hottest, most humid summers in North Carolina, I listened along with a slew of allies. We put our political ideologies and allegiances aside. The two-week strike came to a halt after Loida was hospitalized.
Sadly, the youth faced more critical opposition than they did support. And the DREAM ACT failed.
Today, while the words of Martin Luther King echo in our ears, we must realize that silently nodding our heads in agreement is not enough. Questioning and criticizing the nonviolent tactics of our neighbors, as we sit comfortably on the cushions of our privilege, is detrimental.
We must pay attention.
The NC DREAM Team, an undocumented (and unfunded) youth-led grassroots group is currently sharing a petition that encourages North Carolina to join 19 other states in offering in-state tuition to undocumented youth. It is a step in the right direction.
Let us be inspired by the words of James Baldwin, who critically analyzed our nation’s complex reality with racism and civil rights: “The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality.”
Victoria Bouloubasis is a freelance food journalist. Her topical interests include the cultural symbolism associated with food, the fight for fair food access and farmworker rights. She is a chief contributor to INDY Week and has been published in Modern Farmer and the American Prospect. Victoria is one of many allies working with the NC DREAM Team since 2010.