Local youth promote change, social justice

By Kitsey E. Burns kburns@civitasmedia.com

May 8, 2014

YADKINVILLE — A local grassroots organization with a mission to promote immigrant and minority rights gathered Monday in Yadkinville to celebrate some recent victories and plan additional events to keep the momentum of their movement going.

The group El Cambio, which means change in Spanish, came together in 2010 in support of national legislation The Dream Act that aimed to provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who completed college or two years in the military. Though the legislation failed, the group has stayed together and works tirelessly to organize events and push for new legation that will protect the rights of not only immigrants, but another marginalized minority group, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ).

“All the different groups focusing on [The Dream Act] and it getting so close to passing is really what stirred the beginnings of El Cambio,” said Wooten Gough, leader of the Yadkin County contingent of the group. The group continued to grow and began to hold training sessions and other community events to promote their cause.

In recent months, El Cambio has created a “We Can’t Wait” resolution aimed at asking the President to stop deportations until the immigration laws are reformed. The resolution already has been adopted by several counties at their Democrat party meetings and El Cambio plans to present it at the meeting of the 5th Congressional District Democrats on May 17.

The legislation states that “current immigration laws are outdated and in need of reform” and light of the failed attempts to pass Comprehensive Immigration Policy Reform there have been “two million unjust deportations” which have “resulted in the separation of thousands of families resulting in a climate of insecurity and fear among immigrant communities.”

The resolution asks that President Barack Obama “exercise his executive authority to stop the unfair separation of families by our broken immigration system and grant administrative relief to those immigrants who would otherwise benefit from legislative action on immigration.”

El Cambio members from both Yadkin and Davie counties were pleased that their resolution had been so well received in their local Democrat party meetings and had high hopes that the resolution also will be passed in the 5th District meeting. Their resolution has inspired organizers in other states, said Tim Eakins, with the United We Dream organization who joined El Cambio at their meeting on Monday to offer his support and advice for the group.

Though initially founded as an organization centered around immigrant rights, in 2012 when the state of North Carolina proposed to amend its constitution to prevent the marriage of gay and lesbian couples, Gough said the group’s mission began to expand. While he said there was not a coordinated effort from El Cambio to fight against amendment one, individual members of the group were doing what they could to oppose the amendment and that lead to a two-fold mission for the group.

In addition to promoting and educating the community about changes to immigration laws, El Cambio now also seeks to promote the rights of LGBTQ persons, particularly youth in schools.

At the recent candidate forum held at the Yadkin County Courthouse, El Cambio members came to hear more about those running for local offices and to ask questions. They were disappointed that some of their questions were edited, therefore changing the original meaning and intent.

One question posed to candidates running for school board was “do teachers go through any type of special training to prevent bullying against LGBTQ or minority, particularly Latino and undocumented, students.” The question was changed when read to the candidates to a more general question about bullying overall and how it should be handled.

“I think the editing of the question is pretty reflective of exactly what we are trying to fight against which is basically that there is no visibility here in the region. People see the letters LGBTQ and they get freaked out and they want to not discuss it and that silence is what is actually contributing to so much of the bullying and the harassment and the pain and suffering that’s happening in the region,” said El Cambio member Bradley Hardy. “When they can’t even say those letters in that combination at a candidates forum, it certainly is implying that they are not going to actively pursue any sort of policy to protect those youth.”

“When you think of bullying, you think of kids getting beat up, but it’s more than that,” said Silvia Rodriguez, “It’s the people who are depressed. They can’t be themselves. They can’t come out as what they are because they’re afraid that they’re not protected in any way.”

Gough said that within the El Cambio group there is a connection and an understanding of the struggles facing both the immigrant and the LGBTQ community, but in their interactions within the larger community they often interact with some who don’t see eye to eye with the group’s mission.

An important way they can connect with those who don’t directly identify with their cause is by simply sharing their stories.

“That’s been powerful,” Gough said.

El Cambio spent much of their meeting on Monday discussing upcoming actions they would be taking to continue spreading the word in the community about their important cause. Members of the group said they also wanted the community at large to know they are here to help those who feel alone.

“El Cambio is made up of a lot of issues,” Rodriguez said. “Anybody that has an issue, that has a problem, that feels alone, we are very open to them. We definitely do everything we can to help.”

Gough added that “people who are not out, whether it be the closet or the shadows, I would like them to know we are with them.”

For more information about El Cambio and upcoming events promoting immigrant and LGBTQ rights, visit www.facebook.com/elcambioyc.

Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.