Alumna Claudette Monroy ‘10 made Washington Post front-page news on Feb. 9, sharing her story among the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are waiting and watching as President Donald Trump acts upon campaign promises of stiffening immigration policies.
A photo of Monroy walking on a street past a “Si se puede” [Yes, we can] sign attracted attention from the EMU community, as did a video in which she tells the story of how she came to Virginia, became “really, really attached to this country,” and decided to become undocumented to continue her education.
The article featured the stories of five residents in the Washington D.C. area.
Among those in Washington who could be affected — and who spoke to The Post despite fears of repercussions — are a chef who worked his way up from a dishwasher, a transgender woman who fears death if she is deported, a laborer who spends his days off at the library, a father of two American-born children and Monroy, who works at a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants and women and who knows what’s at stake beyond her own life.
Monroy, who double-majored in economics and peace, justice and conflict studies, says she’s received mostly positive response to the article. She told herself she wouldn’t look at reader comments: “It would only make me sad,” she said.
For some friends, the article, and accompanying video, has enabled them to “engage in dialogue with family members who oppose immigration or are Trump supporters. And I have received notes, emails and messages from strangers who say they have been inspired by my story…”
Monroy, 30, was born in Mexico. Her father died when she was 10. By 12, her mother could no longer afford to send her to school and needed her to provide care for a younger sibling. At 15, she came to Virginia on a visitor’s visa to stay with her older sister and never left. By that time, she had missed out on three years of formal schooling and struggled to learn English.
She began sharing her story as a senior in high school, but only in safe spaces. She is now a “dreamer,” one of approximately 700,000 children brought to the United States by their parents who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
After graduating from Harrisonburg High School, Monroy attended EMU on a scholarship and with financial help from the local community. She graduated with Cords of Distinction honors.
“Last year, especially with the negative rhetoric towards immigrants during election season, I decided to be more public with my story,” she said. “I feel a lot of responsibility to be a voice for the immigrant/DREAMer community and to stand against the injustice we are currently living in.”
Monroy urges undocumented students like her to continue with their education, “the most important that we have to defend ourselves and fight for change,” and to develop a strong support system of people “who know you and will walk with you in good and hard times.”
Isabel Castillo ’07 continues advocacy
Claudette Monroy isn’t the only EMU alumnus to speak out about immigrant rights. Isabel Castillo ’07, a DREAM Act advocate, is currently a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. She has led local, regional and national activism. Castillo was named one of 21 brave thinkers of 2011 by The Atlantic.
Castillo was featured in a Feb. 20, 2011, New York Times article, “Dream Act Advocate Turns Failure into Hope.” This publicity led Jesuit-run University of San Francisco to invite her to be its commencement speaker and to offer her an honorary doctorate. Read more about her 2012 activism and the 2013 Young Alumni Award.