May 15th, 2020 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passing of UCLA alumnae Cinthya Felix Perez (‘07) and Tam Tran (‘06), pioneers of the undocumented immigrant youth movement.
Tam and Cynthia Made lasting impacts on U.S Immigration Policy. Their stories continue to inspire student activists across the nation years after their tragic death. While at UCLA, Felix was a founding member of Improving Dreams, Equity, Access and Success (IDEAS), a student organization that brings attention to the issues facing immigrant youth on campus. In 2007, Tran testified before the House immigration subcommittee in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would have given undocumented students who grew up in the U.S. a pathway to pursue higher education and legal status. Furthermore, Tran and Felix were among the first group of undocumented students to graduate from a university and enter graduate school. Tran was a filmmaker and doctoral student at Brown University and Felix was the first undocumented student to attend Columbia School of Public Health. Both fearlessly shared their struggles publicly as undocumented students, encouraging others to come forward and fight for immigrant justice along the way.
To commemorate Tran and Felix, labor studies students, enrolled in Labor Studies 156B: Research of Immigrant Rights, Labor, and Higher Education initiated a website project titled, Paving the Way: Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, which launched on Friday, May 15. The website includes a compilation of stories, videos, and photos of the pair, a timeline of movements and legislations inspired by their work, and resources for undocumented immigrants.
Rosie Hernandez, second year labor studies and Chicanx studies double major, and Andy Cha, fourth year sociology major with a minor in labor studies, were among the first students to contribute to the project. Both students recall UCLA Labor Center director and labor studies professor Kent Wong delivering a guest speaker presentation to share Tran’s and Felix’s stories in the class.
Hernandez remembers feeling immediately connected with Tran and Felix. “They paved the way for every other immigrant student who wants to pursue higher education. I feel like a common problem that humans have [is that they] only think about themselves,” explained Hernandez, “they want to think about improving their lives yet they forget about the community, they forget about the family, they forget about the friends – but Tam and Cinthya didn’t. They didn’t forget about the world when the world forgot about them.” Surprised that she and many others haven’t heard about Tran’s and Felix’s stories until Professor Wong’s presentation, she later participated in the website project to help raise awareness and continue the pairs’ legacy.
Students from LBR STD M173: Nonviolence and Social Movements were also invited to contribute. Students in the course, led by Reverend James Lawson and Professor Kent Wong, learned about how the principles of nonviolence impacted social movements such as immigrant youth organizing. “Now taking this class on nonviolence, I’m starting to realize that creating this website was an act of direct action in the non-violent labor movement. I think it is very important for us to put this out there, so everyone, especially the undocumented community, knows that there are resources for them and also that there are people like Tram Tran and Cinthya Felix who stood up for them,” says Cha.
Reflecting on his experience, Cha mentions that the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspect of participating in the project was learning how to become an ally. “I didn’t want to overstep as an ally… also [I learned] how to communicate and listen to vulnerable communities without having to shape their voice for them, because that is not what I want to do.” In interviewing Gregory Cendana, classmate of Tran and Felix and ally to the undocumented student population, Cha learned that it was important that the website be relevant to both undocumented and documented communities: “Even if you are not part of the [undocumented] community,” explained Cha, “you can contribute and you don’t need to create a voice, you can stand behind and support.”
Herndanez believes that she found the most fulfillment from the project through learning about individuals who made lasting changes while working with others who are also passionate about organizing. “Aside from bringing awareness and sharing Tran and Cinthya’s story. I also hope that this website will encourage other people to join us in this movement and try to push for immigration reform, even if you don’t identify as an immigrant or you don’t have immigrant family members. We still need support, and numbers matter. If we all collectively come together and push for change, I strongly believe that we could do this,” shared Hernandez.
All are invited to visit their website here: http://bit.ly/immigrantyouthleaders