Under One Roof: Immigrant and Refugee Resource Fair
by Noah Liedtke
Over 100 students and their families gathered at Mather High School in the West Ridge neighborhood on Saturday, Oct. 28, in order to attend the Under One Roof: Immigrant and Refugee Resource Fair. The involvement of Mather students was evident by their bright yellow volunteer shirts, as they welcomed attendees to the fair and answered any questions.
The event kicked off a bit late, but, after about 20 minutes, the staff members were ready to begin with a presentation in the auditorium and a quick welcome from Mather music teacher Mr. Chris Smith. Smith quickly passed the mic over to principal Mr. Peter Auffant, who gave a little background information on the school. Auffant stated that Mather is the most diverse public high school in Chicago, with a student body of about 1,500 students. Students have backgrounds tracing to 140 countries where over 60 languages are spoken. Auffant talked about his past experience with the students, and, when he asked the students what they liked the most about the school, they said that it is the uniqueness. Auffant said, “What makes Mather strong is the differences we have.” Because of this, Mather not only prepares students for real-world diversity, but it also has a responsibility to take care of its disadvantaged students and to make resources available for them. Auffant quoted Mather’s mission statement: “Mather High School is a global family in a neighborhood community,” which is part of the motivation behind the fair. He said that kids need a place to belong in order to find identity, build trust, and build positive relationships, and Mather should be that place for them.
He then passed the mic over to a Northern Illinois University alumna. She told her story of being a Mexican immigrant in the U.S. She prefaced her story by saying that she is not unique, as about 12 million other children go through what she did. She talked about the first time she spoke in public, where she shared her immigration story at a scholarship competition. She was then asked by a judge if she had papers. Her parents always told her to keep this information a secret, but she told the judge anyway. This judge ended up helping her go to Washington, D.C. in order to join protests to fight for the passage of the DREAM act, even though she was ineligible herself. This, combined with her friends’ support, pushed her into activism for immigrants and the undocumented.
She said that, as she was applying to colleges, she wasn’t able to get any of the scholarships that would allow her to attend a desired university. Her only option was to go to community college or work, so she chose both. However, she said that she overextended herself and ended up failing her classes, which gave her perspective on her situation as an immigrant in America. Despite the fact that she got to talk to senators in D.C. and create change, her family was still struggling. She said that she was still poor, her dad was still uninsured, her brother was still on drugs, and her sister was still a single mom. She sought out help from a counselor, and managed to get her life back on the track she wanted it to be on in high school. She was able to transfer to Northern Illinois University, and changed her major from education to community and civic action, allowing her to become even more involved in immigrant rights. On June 12, 2007, DACA was passed, and Maria finally received a social security number and work permit. However, she said, not everything was suddenly okay. She still experienced racism, including a comment from an NIU professor telling her to “go back to Mexico.” She then updated the crowd on what she is currently doing, which includes being a national field worker for organizations that support low wage workers and working at the DREAM Action group at NIU. She ended her speech with one comment on the current state of affairs under the Trump administration “You can either stay home and cry, or go out and fight.”
Following Maria’s speech, attendees were dismissed in order to enjoy the rest of the fair. There were multiple events going on throughout the day, which included a “Know Your Rights” presentation, a disability rights presentation, and a mental health service presentation. There were also two “community circles,” where participants could talk in small groups about current issues, moderated by a Mather student volunteer. There were over 24 service providers present at the fair, including colleges, religious organizations, and ethnic organizations. They were all there in order to support the community around them who may not have known that said resources were available.