Rising from Ashes

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Undocu-Success Support Center hosted the fourth annual Undocu-Conference throughout the week of April 12. San Jose Poet Yosimar Reyes gave a keynote speech on April 14 surrounding his work, the pandemic and inspiration. 

Reyes – who was born in Mexico and lives on the eastside of San Jose – gives a voice to undocumented and queer people through his activism and engaging creative works. Reyes began his keynote by showing a video of his abuela – Spanish for grandmother – and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected her, her community, as well as casting uncertainty into their lives through fears of deportation and concerns of income and paying bills.

“If you go onto Netflix and watch a documentary on undocumented people, it always shows what we lack,” Reyes said. “It shapes our lives that we don’t have access to things, that we’re constantly hitting these walls or limitations.”

Reyes hoped to showcase what “undocumented power,” look like in today’s society by highlighting examples of perservance and the joys of how Mexican and Mexican American people survive through his poetry and short-film on his abuela. Giving a narrative to undocumented folks allows for the diminishing of racial stereotypes and inequalities. 

Throughout the pandemic, people everywhere have had to social distance and maintain relationships via technology. During quarantine Reyes lost his grandfather and experienced his burial through FaceTime. The loss of a loved one with the restrictions of not physically being able to be present, Reyes sees commonalities through past times where undocumented people have said final goodbyes over the phone – knowing the true meaning of social distancing before it was mandatory or by choice. 

“I’m proud of my family,” Reyes said. “I’m proud of who they are, and I’m proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”

A graduate of San Francisco State, Reyes mentioned the reality of undocumented immigrants making more financially in their first year or two after graduating college than most of their parents have. Along with helping provide for their families in financial means, Reyes pointed out that most younger family members become the caretakers of their elders – something he believes the political system of the United States resents. 

“My method is how I can make my grandmother’s life less chaotic,” Reyes said. “How can we talk about the trauma she embodies, so she can have a peaceful and abundant life?”

In terms of writing, Reyes gave the audience helpful pointers to consider when brainstorming prompts. Recalling fond memories, thinking of an undocmented person that has made an impact in one’s life and defining one’s dreams are critical points to represent.

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