[Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to us from Giselle Sanchez Huerta and Spencer Tilger, Youth Arts Group interns at RMM. Giselle is a rising junior at Vassar College, where she majors in education and Latin American and Latino/a studies. Spencer just graduated from Vassar with a degree in geography. -gm]
This past year brought many new exciting opportunities for the Youth Arts Group. As young social justice warriors, they are continuously finding new ways to fight for the issues low-income communities of color and migrant communities face, seeking justice and creating art. Over the course of the year, YAG members have been very active in planning and participating in events. Highlights of this school year include putting together a successful fundraising dinner for their DREAM Act committee, participating in an overnight program at Vassar College, presenting at the New York Coalition of Radical Educator’s Conference, and hosting workshops for Farmworker Albany Day. And that doesn’t even include this summer!
What is even more impressive is that, for six of our members, this was their first year in the group! After being selected by their fellow students in the fall, our new members jumped right into the many adventures of YAG. Here’s what one student had to say about his first year:
“My first year with the Youth Arts Group has been more than a delight. I have done a variety of things I thought I could never do. I have gone to see a film that taught me about the reality of racial profiling that I would have never learned about in a regular day of school, or even thought of learning it. I got to travel to a conference in the Bronx called “NYCoRE” and meet many people who can help me learn things about being undocumented and see the perspective of minorities. I have also showed my passion for the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act through arts during the Farmworker Albany Day, where I also ran a workshop with two other YAG members. Even though these are very few highlights, my year has been filled with amazing opportunities that not everyone gets. I have also met some of the greatest people in YAG. They make me feel like I have a second family to go to when things get bad, and it has been a great pleasure working with all of them.”
-Mario Pineda, 14
To end the school year on an educational and fun note, the YAG Family (as they often call themselves) took a trip to Vermont for four days and three nights, where we camped on the shores of Lake Champlain and enjoyed the sunny weather. While in Vermont, we ate some yummy samples during the Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour, learned about the lives of dairy farmworkers with Migrant Justice (a farmworker advocacy group), explored the ECHO Aquarium, and learned new activist art techniques with the Bread and Puppet theater company. In order to make this trip possible, students had to fundraise $1000 from local businesses and supporters, representing YAG to strangers and explaining what we do. Perhaps most impressively, two students raised $440 just by themselves! The fundraising was well worth it, as one member of the Youth Arts Group had this to say about our time in Vermont:
“If you miss out on a trip or on any given opportunity, you miss out on what life truly has to offer. I’ve always believed that trips help you grow as a person. Trips bring the whole package…adventure, excitement, experience, and fun! So much like the Vermont trip I came back from. Vermont was an experience like no other. Within the four days, we camped and explored the beautiful city of Burlington, Vermont. I even learned how to build my own tent! Along with all the other fun things we did my favorite part would have to be the amazing connections I made with the many diverse people I came across. I came back with more confidence and comfort of speaking to others, something I’ve always had trouble with growing up. It now comes as natural as breathing, and I can honestly say I learned something about myself that I had not known: how much love I have for people, nature, and Thai food!”
-Mariel Lopez, 17
Even after the year has ended, the students are continuing to do great things throughout the summer. Five students are going to Seattle to build connections with other youth, artists, and activists on the West Coast. While there, they will be learning and performing spoken word poetry, conducting independent research projects, and connecting with people engaged in similar work to that of YAG. In particular, they will be learning about migrant struggles and stories in the Pacific Northwest, and the current activism surrounding the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. Another group of YAG-ers will also be heading out of state to Alabama, where three students will participate in a weeklong recreation of the 1961 Freedom Riders. There they will learn about the Civil Rights Movement and bring that information back to all the other students.
Back in the Hudson Valley, the DREAM Act committee is currently in the process of finishing a multi-summer project that is taking the form of a short documentary entitled The DREAMers Among Us. This film follows the stories of five different DREAMers and the struggles they have faced, unable to attend institutions of higher education because in-state tuition in New York is not available to undocumented students. They have decided to finish this short film by the end of the summer, after working on it for over a year, and use it as a tool to educate others. At our many residential editing days, the students have been learning how to cut bites, add music, make transitions, film and edit b-roll, and all the other magic needed to make a film. A couple of undocumented YAG students share their dreams in the movie as well. Here is what one student, who has been working on the project since the beginning and is in the film, has to say about the project:
“It’s just amazing to think in all the obstacles we have overcome while making this film. In fact, it’s been a long, challenging, hard, yet indescribable journey. Working in the Dreamers Among Us Documentary for the past year has been a remarkable life experience for me. Being part of this project has made me a feel like I have something to fight for; it has given me strength to stand for what I believe, and it has made me stronger. I truly believe this documentary is going to bring light to millions of undocumented students, not only in New York, but in the US. That’s what inspired me to overcome my fear and share my story. That is the only reason why I put my effort and passion in this project because I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for the future generations of DREAMERS to come.”
-Sandra Montoya, 20
To compliment the DREAMers Among Us project, YAG has also been hosting Wednesday movie nights for the month of July, where we have watched socially-conscious films and discussed them over food. Previous discussions have been about homelessness, Japanese internment during WWII, and the power of art in healing trauma Today, Wednesday, July 23, will be our final movie night, where we will be screening Cesar Chavez and discussing farmworker rights and the labor movement. The screenings are open to the public, and local teens are especially encouraged to attend. YAG has had a busy year and we look forward to the next one, which we can be sure will be full of even more challenges and successes.