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Undocumented Asian Americans Step On Stage to Share Stories

"Letters From UndocuAsians" 27 Barrows St, New York City, August 13th, 2014

Jeffrey Louie shares his story about being an undocumented queer youth whose mother wanted him to marry a girl for citizenship, as part of the "Letters from UndocuAsians" performance in New York, in August 2014. Sahra Vang Nguyen

A group of undocumented Asian-Americans stepped into the spotlight in New York this month to share their personal stories -- not for political points, or for a public service announcement, but for a play.

The performance, “Letters From UndocuAsians,” was written, produced and performed by members of RAISE (Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast), the first pan-Asian, undocumented, youth-led group on the East Coast.

"A lot of times our stories are pushed down or silenced," said co-organizer and RAISE member Neriel David Ponce. "Our community makes it scary to tell our stories because it puts our family in danger."

"Letters From UndocuAsians" 27 Barrows St, New York City, August 13th, 2014
RAISE Youth (L-R: Jefferey Louie, Maritza L., Sulgi Cho (Behind), Neriel Ponce, Razeen Zaman) perform a skit expressing the alienation they feel when others discover their undocumented status, as part of the "Letters From UndocuAsians" performance. Sahra Vang Nguyen

The play highlighted the intersecting oppressions and micro-aggressions undocumented Asian American youth experience in their everyday lives, with acts like “10 Things You Don’t Say To An UndocuAsian," and a reading of personal “Letters From UndocuAsians.”

“We want our audience to understand our struggles. We want them to be aware, go on our website, take a position and take action,” said Ponce.

The performance included interactive segments such as rally chants, a donation collection, and a Twitter Town Hall where the hosts urged everyone to pull out their phones and Tweet directly to President Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

An estimated 1.3 million undocumented people in the United States are from Asia.

“One of the biggest challenges of being an undocumented Asian American is the 'Model Minority Myth,'” said the play’s host, Rhustie Valdizno. “People always think that since we’re Asian, we are doing well.”

Audience at "Letters From UndocuAsians"
Audience members stand to participate in rally chants during an interactive portion of the play. Sahra Vang Nguyen

Without legal status, the performers expressed frustration that all their hard work feels fruitless since they can’t apply for financial aid, they can’t afford a college tuition, and they can’t accept full-time jobs after graduation.

Despite their fears about speaking publicly, the performers said they believed the only way that change would come was by showing the world the faces, voices, and stories behind the numbers.

“We’re not just random invisible people," said co-organizer and RAISE member Hong Mei Pang. "We are workers, students, family members…working together to get out of this global crisis.”

"Letters From UndocuAsians" 27 Barrows St, New York City, August 13th, 2014
RAISE youth (Floor: L-R: Hong Mei Pang, Sulgi Cho, Jeffrey Louie) perform a skit showing the importance of having a safe space for pan-Asian undocumented youth to support and empower each other. Sahra Vang Nguyen