A Day Without Immigrants

“I think something happens when you’re called ‘illegal’ for most of your life. There’s no escaping it.”

On February 16, 2017, immigrants nationwide skipped work to demonstrate their value to local businesses, culture, and communities.

In this video essay, we enter the experience of our undocumented neighbor Aline Mello and stand with protesters who call for freedom from fear and hatred in their new home.

Voiceover kindly provided by our close friend Aline Mello.

Camera Operators: Tim Rhodes, Ian North
Soundtrack and Mastering: Tim Rhodes
Edited, Directed, and Produced by Tim Rhodes

Full text:
I think something happens when you’re called “illegal” for most of your life. There’s no escaping it. They’re not saying letting your documents expire or sneaking over the border yeas ago was an illegal act. They’re saying you—when you stand there, when you wake up to go to work in the morning, when you make dinner for your friends, when you go grocery shopping or go to church or go to the gym—you’re illegal. There’s no turning it off.
When I talk about immigration, I’m not being political. I’m being self-aware. I’m not talking about theories. I’m talking about my life. Walking away from this topic isn’t a choice. If I turn away from this issue, from this community, I am turning away from myself and my story.

For some of us, it’s easy to blend in. Especially being Brazilian, we often stay away from Latino communities. But when the campaigns started in 2015 I knew I couldn’t escape anymore. After living in this country for 20 years, I never imagined we’d be going backwards.

We went from being called illegal aliens. To illegal immigrants. To undocumented immigrants. To criminal aliens. It’s disheartening. I’m tired. And I admit I’m not “unafraid” as my peers will sometimes chant. But though exhaustion and fear will sometimes make me take some steps back to recharge and heal, they are not enough to take me out.

It’s work that requires extra listening and extra grace, not just because immigrants come from all over the world and when we are so different from each other, it’s harder to come together. But also because this isn’t just an immigrant struggle we’re supposed to figure out ourselves. It’s an American one. We all need to come together to address it the way we can—voting for the right people who will take immigration reform seriously, speaking up in our own communities, doing whatever we can. If this country wants to keep standing on the principles it claims to have, then we must do the work.