Tag Archives: New York State Youth Leadership Council

Flushing woman shares story in new immigration documentary


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of No Le Digas A Nadie Film

Since she was a young child, Angy Rivera has been told to keep quiet about many things in her life. But now she is sharing her story, hoping others can step out of the shadows.

Rivera is a 23-year-old college student from Flushing who was formerly an undocumented immigrant for 19 years and whose experiences for the past two years are the subject behind a new documentary called “No Le Digas A Nadie,” translated to “Don’t Tell Anyone.”

The film’s director, Mikaela Shwer, said she first read about the Colombian native, who in 2010 started the first national undocumented online youth advice column called “Ask Angy,”  in New York Magazine.

Interested in her story, Shwer met with Rivera and began building a relationship that led to Shwer filming the 23-year-old’s story in her debut as an independent film director.

“I know what the story is about and the ending, but it’s different watching it,” Rivera said about being in the film. “It was a healing process for me, opening up about things, exploring feelings that I have hidden away. It’s a different form of therapy.”

The film follows Rivera, the oldest of four children, through her everyday life hanging out with friends and her family. It focuses on the relationship she has with her mother, who immigrated to the United States with her.

The cameras also follow Rivera through her life as an undocumented immigrant and activist, as she applies for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) and obtains a visa.

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“The strength they all have as a community makes you reevaluate all the privileges that we have,” said Shwer about having shared time with Rivera and others in the immigrant community. “It makes you really appreciate things and also be frustrated. People really need to be frustrated in order for things to change.”

Although Rivera has opened up through her advice column and the activist work she has done as a core member of the nonprofit New York State Youth Leadership Council, the first volunteer undocumented youth and membership led organization, she is nervous about how some people will react to her story.

“[The film] is way different and a lot more personal,” Rivera said. “That’s always good but it’s also bad because it opens to judgment.”

Along with the issue of being an undocumented immigrant, the film also surrounds Rivera’s opening up of being a victim of sexual assault. The title of the film comes from a poem Rivera wrote called “Rusty Chains”  in which she describes how since she was a young girl, she has been told not to tell anyone about what was going on in her life.

“It’s the same thing like our immigration status, for a long time many of us felt alone, similarly when you’re assaulted you feel alone. It’s a life of silence,” Rivera said. “I hope this film will start a new conversation.”

Both Shwer and Rivera hope the documentary will help others who are in the same situations to step out and share their stories. They also hope the film will continue to bring up a lot more questions, bring community members together and inspire others to get involved.

“I hope people can see that we are a family, they are everything to me,” Rivera said. “Remove immigration status – it’s a real family. Maybe this will put a human face to this issue.”

“No Le Digas A Nadie” is in the post-production phase and is expected to be finished by the end of this year. It is also in the process of finding a medium in which to be shown, with hopes of being featured in a spring or summer film festival in 2015.

For more information visit www.nodigasfilm.com.

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Flushing woman uses experience in advice column for undocumented youth


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Angy Rivera

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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Woodside mother and daughter granted stay


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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Nadia Habib has been granted the greatest birthday gift of all – the gift of time.

The 20-year-old Woodside resident and her mother, Nazmin, were facing deportation to Bangladesh on September 29, one day before Nadia’s birthday, but the pair was granted a last-minute reprieve, allowing them to remain in the country – for now.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) temporarily prevented the deportation after meeting with the family for over an hour. The mother and daughter were placed under an order of supervision, which meant they were forced to surrender their passports, were not allowed leave the state and had to regularly report to ICE until a final decision was made.

“I wanted to stay strong for my family.” said Nadia, who has described this year as the hardest of her life. “I knew I couldn’t break down. It’s scary, because I can’t get my driver’s license and I can’t work. I’m stuck in a bubble. All I can do is focus on school, so if they take that away from me I don’t know what I would do.”

Dozens gathered outside the meeting during a rally organized by the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an undocumented youth-led organization that works on improving access to education and creating equal opportunities for immigrant youth. The group has come to the aid of Nadia and Nazmin by collecting over 6,000 signed petitions and providing the family with an attorney at no cost.

One day after the reprieve, on Nadia’s 20th birthday, the Habib family finally received news they could celebrate. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Director Christopher Shannan granted Nadia and Nazmin a stay of removal, allowing them to remain in the country for 12 months and cancelling the order of supervision.

“There is a huge sense of relief that I am able to stay for now,” Nadia said. “This is the biggest present I could have gotten – to be able to continue living my life the way I have been living it.”

Despite the positive development, the Habib’s attorney, Aygul Charles, warns that the battle against deportation is far from complete.

“The stay of removal is not a permanent relief and there still remain many hurdles to overcome before they can say they are permanent U.S. residents,” said Charles. “There is still a big chance that Nadia and her mother will be deemed deportable after the expiration of the stay of removal. Also, the stay of removal can be lifted by ICE at any moment.”

Nadia, who is majoring in psychology at Stony Brook University, arrived in America with her mother when she was just 20 months old, making New York the only home she has ever known. Deportation would tear her away from her father, who holds a Green Card, and three younger siblings, all born in the U.S.

“I was too scared about my daughter and my wife,” said Jawad Habib, Nadia’s father. “I cannot explain how scared I was on September 29. I have never broken a law here and have always paid my taxes. My daughter should be allowed to be here and study here. Her life here is bright. We don’t have anything in Bangladesh. If they are sent to Bangladesh, my life will break down.”

Nadia and her mother entered the country with a three-month tourist visa and applied for political asylum once the visa expired. On the day of their asylum hearing, Nazmin became severely ill and was taken to the emergency room. According to Nadia, their lawyer was supposed to attend the hearing in their stead, but did not. Nazmin’s doctor sent an explanatory letter to the court, but due to a clerical error regarding the doctor’s medical license number, the judge was unable to verify the letter’s authenticity and denied asylum.

In the decade since their hearing, the Habib family has awaited the fateful letter that spelled the end to their American Dream. On September 16, the notification arrived, informing Nadia and her mother that they had to report to 26 Federal Plaza to be deported on September 29 with no more than one suitcase each to hold their possessions – 50 pounds of space to pack a life in. If the pair is ultimately deported to Bangladesh, they will face a similar situation one year from now.

President Barack Obama took a step towards easing the minds of all undocumented residents on August 18, when the White House announced a policy shift that will focus federal resources on deporting convicted criminals and those who pose a threat to public or national safety. The change spares undocumented students and other law-abiding immigrants facing deportation by allowing them to apply for work permits.

Nadia hopes for a day when the Dream Act will pass, and undocumented residents will no longer live in fear and be subjected to discrimination. She also urges immigrants to unite and make their voices heard.

“You don’t know what to do when you are undocumented,” she said. “You are treated like you are not human; like you are an animal who is not supposed to be here. The government should see every case as a person; a human being with a life and a family. There is no such thing as illegal. We are all human. Everyone who qualifies for the Dream Act should speak up. I feel like the more out there you are, the safer you are. I want everyone who is undocumented to stay strong and keep their hopes up.”