GANGSTA, WANKSTA, RIDA: Allies in the Undocumented Youth Movement

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Allies in the Undocumented Youth Movement

The Undocumented Youth Movement has been able to transform itself over and over in the past three years. I remember the very first sit in in John McCain’s office,  asking to support the Federal Dream Act. I remember it because I remember editing some of the testimonials of the youth. Being undocumented my self, I initially refused to edit the videos: I did not want to facilitate anyone’s deportation, even if they had chosen to it themselves. My rationale was that, I supported them and wanted to get the DREAM Act passed, (Mind you, I was undocumented until I was 18) but I was unsupportive of their decision to get arrested. Except, my opinion didn’t matter, they were going to do the action regardless of my assistance or not. I was being a Wanksta.

Wanksta: Someone who says they are down, talk the talk, but when it comes down to doing the hard work and actually supporting a movement or group of people, they bail or are too busy or don’t actually do anything.

As undocumented youth I was being a bad ally.


Trying to navigate a space of undocumented youth as someone who has their green card means having to acknowledge the fact that my privilege comes at their expense. That the only reason that I have more access to resources is because of my status. To be an ally to anyone means you have privileges that they don’t. This is probably the hardest thing for allies to understand. The very fact that we have status and that the people that allow us to work with them don’t, mean we participate and accept a system that allows for exclusion based on citizenship. Whether we like it or not, we benefit from undocumented people’s suffering. Wanting to “help” or working with them does not make an ally a better person. It is literally the least you could. Unless you are a Gangsta.

Gangsta: Someone who is in a “movement” in order to make gains (usually money) for themselves.

We see this all the time with nonprofits who stand to benefit from the suffering of undocumented people. It is in their best interest for immigration reform, the DREAM Act, or any sort of beneficial bill to undocumented communities, not to pass so that they can continue asking for the same type of funding year after year. Hey, these folks have to eat, remember! This is what is called the Nonprofit Industrial Complex. (Think of it as the Military Industrial Complex, minus the guns and more feelings.) The nonprofit sometimes goes out of their way to advocate against bills, like the DREAM Act in 2010, that result in failed legislation and the continued oppression of undocumented youth. Many nonprofits are tied to politicians, and will try to shame  undocumented youth who speak out out against the politicians unwilling to fully support them. Politicians are ultimately trying to get re-elected, and organizations are looking for funding. Sometimes these go hand in hand.

But then you have your Ridaz, who are allies who genuinely care and love.

Rida: Someone who is literally willing to take a bullet for the people they serve. They practice a praxis of cariño and love in all aspects of work.

Becoming a Rida is one of the most difficult things that someone can do to be involved. Being a Rida means that you put in work, when it is most inconvenient, when it hurts the most. It means loving the people that you work with, it means carrying out a praxis of cariño, that involves doing painful work: realizing your privileges, and then using them to other’s advantages, being very careful to not overstep boundaries, or feel that you are some sort of savior.. It means being a servant to the population you align yourself with. Ridaz genuinely care if people are unhappy with their work, and when are called out, do not take it as an offence, but as an opportunity to grow. It means belonging and living with the community you claim to work for.


Eventually, I understood my role, and edited the videos. I was being asked to do this, I was given the privilege to do this. They weren’t asking for my permission to do anything. And this is something that as someone who is now an ally, must struggle with every time I am in a space for undocumented people. To work with undocumented people is a privilege. They are allowing me to be in that space. They are choosing to work me. And at any moment they can choose to not continue working with me. No matter how much I care about immigrant rights, no matter how much work I put in (or don’t put in) no matter how long I have been doing this type of work or how many laws I’ve helped pass, none of that matters if undocumented youth don’t want me to be in their spaces, then that’s it.

It is necessary for us, as allies, to recognize that the only reason we are allies is because undocumented people are oppressed. As allies, we must work to change. Sometimes, undocumented people will not like our work. Sometimes they will ask us to take a step back. Sometimes this will hurt our feelings, but it isn’t about our feelings. It about doing what a directly impacted group of people think is best, even if we disagree with it. Sometimes, undocumented people will not need or want us.

The opinions expressed in this blog post belong to the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the DREAM Team at NYU as an organization.

17581_10151428554799631_127281133_n Marco Galaviz is a Film & Television student at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He is a Core Member of  the Dream Team at NYU and a Core-in-training at the New York State Youth Leadership Council.



One thought on “GANGSTA, WANKSTA, RIDA: Allies in the Undocumented Youth Movement

  1. Pingback: Power, Privilege, and Responsibility: Fostering the Spirit of Activism at NYU | DREAM Team @ NYU

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