Angy Rivera, a formerly undocumented immigrant, knew which words she wanted to let out when she was invited to take the stage at Flushing Town Hall last month.
In her original poem, “Community Not Condominiums,” the 23-year-old Flushing resident describes in detail the communities of Jackson Heights, Flushing and Corona through following a food vendor named “Doña María.”
Doña María is up before the sun rises
Moon shining on her face she gets ready for the morning commute
It’s her job to feed others
Moon shining on her face ella empieza a cocinar arepas, tamales, café y chocolate
Arepas made with corn and cheese
They start to melt as soon as they touch your mouth.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh wait, what if someone doesn’t understand that,” Rivera said about writing the poem in both Spanish and English. “But that’s how it is here in Queens.”
The college junior, who is studying culture and deviance with a minor in human services at John Jay College, said she felt pride when writing the poem for being part of “such a beautiful community” and remembering all the great details of each neighborhood. Yet, she said she also felt sadness when thinking about the idea of growing up and facing changes.
How will Doña María sell her tamales, arepas, café y chocolate
When the streets becomes businesses she cannot pronounce
Will her café con leche compete with Starbucks?
These signs of a cleaner and safer Queens erase the resiliency already here
We weren’t dirty to begin with
Will her house stand untouched during gentrification?
“That’s what I wanted to make sure came across, as much as it’s a celebration of Queens, on the flipside it’s about things we can lose,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time Rivera’s words reached a much larger audience. In 2009 she joined the nonprofit New York State Youth Leadership Council, the first volunteer undocumented youth and membership led organization started in 2007, as an intern.
The Colombian-native, who was undocumented for 19 years and has recently obtained a visa, went on to create a national undocumented youth advice column in 2010 called “Ask Angy.”
“It was the first time I met with other immigrant young people that wanted to change things that they saw unjust,” said Rivera, who immigrated with her family to the United States just one week shy of her fourth birthday. “Through them I grew as a person.”
Now as a core member of the organization, she helps out in the media/outreach and arts/self-expression programs. Through her weekly column, she said she gets people writing to her from all around the nation about different subjects undocumented youths face, such as driving without a license and deferred action.
Although she said it is tricky at times because she doesn’t always have answers, especially when it comes to legal topics, she said the column has helped her learn different laws depending on states.
“Being involved helped me become more open about a lot of things and helped me learn a lot of new stuff,” she said. “It’s been very healing to meet other people in the same situation as you. It’s always been nice to have a group to understand.”
Continuing her involvement in activism, Rivera has also become part of Queens Neighborhoods United, a coalition created to build power and develop leadership in Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. The group recently has gone around cleaning the streets down Roosevelt Avenue.
Rivera now plans to recite “Community Not Condominiums” at a new quarterly series called “Queens Documented,” which launches on July 20 at Terraza 7 located at 40-19 Gleane St. in Elmhurst and features stories and music from people who migrated to Queens.
To read Rivera’s full poem, click here.
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