Check Your Allyship

“La mojada, la mujer indocumentada, is doubly threatened in this country.”—Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera

Ruben: My U.S. citizenship grants me privileges. It allows me to travel from the United States to El Salvador with relative ease. I have to pay $10 for a tourist card, because although I travel there every two years and and have dozens of relatives in the country, it’s not considered my “legal” home. When I visit my Abuela Carmen, whose home sits between tropical trees and gleaming green leaves, I tell her that I’ll see her soon. And because international mobility is not treated as the human right it should be, telling Abuela that I’ll see her again is a privilege.

Last week, I bought a book of poetry by Javier Zamora, a Salvadoran-American poet who crossed the Mexico-U.S. border at nine years old. In the opening poem, Letter to Abuelita Nelli, he writes, “I can’t go back and return. There’s no path to papers. I’ve got nothing left but dreams.” The ability to cross borders is a privilege afforded by the trivial circumstances of my birth.

Zoe: I was once told that people usually become involved in the immigrant rights movement because of some personal connection. If they aren’t undocumented themselves, they have a parent, a sibling, a close friend, a bond formed in blood that inspired the call to action, the resolve to fight. Most citizens never experience that call. Instead they exist in a bubble of ignorant privilege—or, worse, they stand on a platform of bigotry where their privilege is the snake woven through every word that seeks to strip others of their humanity.

Some people straddle these extremes, neither completely bigoted nor ignorant. These citizens’ use a definition of allyship that includes the constant reassurance that the world sees them as being a “good” person for going “out of their way” to help those who are “more vulnerable” than them. They sleep well with the knowledge their conscious is squeaky-clean, and, at organizing meetings, they can be heard with a voice that never stops to listen to the very people it supposedly serves. I strive to never be that type of “ally,” which so many people fail to see themselves becoming.

R: Undocumented students—who’ve made their lives here, who’ve fled violence, whose parents have been exploited, whose human rights have been violated—want allies. But to be an ally means more than simply saying you support them, or DACA, or rhetoric that humanizes them while criminalizing their parents. It means using your privileges, those granted by a piece of paper or a gold and blue booklet, to defend them.


Imagine a future when things get even more dire and ICE comes knocking in Cambridge. La migra targets Harvard—maybe for its name, perhaps to make a point—and looks to arrest members of our community. Undocumented students and their families take refuge in Memorial Church, which has promised to be a sanctuary, but ICE insists on discarding people’s humanity to make a political point.

If they try knocking those doors down and forcibly ripping people from the country that is their home, those of us with privilege, with papers and passports, must take action. We have to be willing to get arrested protecting our peers. Wield the privilege we’ve done nothing substantial to deserve to protect the undocumented Americans around us.

Allyship is not simply about hollow promises, Facebook statuses, or newspaper articles. It’s about putting your bodies on the frontlines, getting convicted, serving time, all while knowing that you will be treated with a level of dignity. You will not be forced to leave the only land that has ever felt like home. Allies are cowards if they aren’t willing to risk just a sliver of what undocumented activists risk everyday to defend their humanity.

Z: It is wrong that some of my closest friends live with a constant underlying stress and anxiety rooted in an uncertainty of the future. Numbers have nothing on the power of their voices projecting across the Yard, across the nation. Their narratives are what so many people can’t even begin to fathom. Being an ally means putting yourself out there, not because you want to have a clean conscience or be able to say that you dabbled in advocacy as an undergrad, but because it’s the right thing to do.

There are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, guilty of nothing more than wanting to achieve the American Dream that Congress continues to prevent from being their reality. They exist and persevere against a government that never allows them to forget their status. It’s time for citizens to wake up and realize the privilege that citizenship and being in a family of citizens provides. It’s time to act, because undocumented immigrants don’t deserve to be in the shadows ever again.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Tuesdays.


Recommended Articles