“Sit with the pain, discomfort, and injustice that often comes along with the truth, and do something worthwhile with what you have found.”
Nohelya Zambrano is a 19-year-old student of Mt. Holyoke College who flew to the Bay Area this summer for an internship, and in the midst of it, became part of the Solidaridad con los Niños direct action group.
Nohelya is also DACA, a dreamer, a group that has received types of protection that many other immigrants sadly have not.
This summer, she stood, singing, just a few feet away as Liz and Jesse were arrested as we peacefully tired to deliver toys to immigrant children in Fairfield.
Nohelya designed this lovely flier for an event she ran at UPB.
A few weeks later, she DJed at a peaceful protest outside of the Pleasant Hill facility where two teenaged girls were being held away from their parents, striving to play music that would make the girls feel at home.
Nohelya also hosted a storytelling session for immigrants at University Press Books in Berkeley, an event that led to other beautiful collaborations.
On top of all of this, Nohelya worked an internship at ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice, directly helping underprivileged women access healthcare and she picked up a job at Elite Fashion Exchange on Shattuck, where she could be found on many afternoons helping Mo in his losing battle against clutter.
This talented artist, activist, and scholar brought so much wealth to our community just by going herself, and by listening and also pushing us to listen. She flew back to Mt. Holyoke at the end of the summer, and it was sad to see her go.
Right now, dark clouds are gathering to the south. As the rights of immigrants are rapidly being eroded, we now have concentration camps on the ground in the United States, and as of September 2018, over 12,000 children are being forcibly held in them.
Below is a speech that Nohelya delivered in Berkeley just a few days before she flew back to begin her Sophomore year at Mt. Holyoke. We hope that it give you heart in the months to come:
Good Evening everyone. Again, my name is Nohelya and I am so honored to be here tonight in this space to talk and listen and share community.
My journey with Solidaridad con los Ninos is one that I would like to share honestly and completely because it has helped me to understand myself, to fight even when I am scared, and to build connections with people I will have for the rest of my life.
While my journey with Solidaridad didn’t begin at their very first meeting in a backyard–and I’m getting on a plane back to the east coast in less than two weeks, so I don’t know where my story with them will end–my story began when I had been in the Bay for about a week.
I am in the Bay Area this summer interning at ACCESS Women’s Health Justice. We help low income, folx of color access reproductive justice. And for as long as I could remember, I have always been an advocate for those around me. I lead my life with empathy and kindness, uplifting and fighting for those–who like myself–have had our voices and our lives pushed down.
When the news cycle with traumatizing videos of children crying and parents desperately pleading came about, a chord was struck inside of me, like I’m sure everyone here tonight experienced as well. But specifically, I was terrified for myself, para mis hermanos y hermanas.
Alone on the West Coast at the age of 19, 3000 miles away from everything I think of as “home”, with my Green Card in my wallet, I went to a Solidaridad con los Ninos meeting.
Growing up undocumented, it meant closing my mouth and blending in when talks about immigration began. I never wanted to out myself. And when we did finally get our greencards when I was ten, I continued playing the exhausting “good immigrant” narrative for me and my family’s safety.
But still I came to BFUU that day, carrying my green card with me– like we are forced to or else face a fine of up to $100 or be jailed for up to 30 days. I met Hayley, Liz, Karma, Margaret, Virginia… amazing women who were bold and loud against the inhumane injustices happening in this country. We went to Fairfield, we sang our lullabies, and attempted gifting the toys and comfort items.
The cops showed up almost immediately. It was clear they had no empathy or care for what we wanted to do for these children. I was carrying a basket of toys moments before Liz and Jessie got arrested.
I knew I couldn’t get arrested, but I knew I had to be there.
I stood behind Margaret and began singing louder. The cops hand cuffed Jessie and moments later they had done the same to Liz.
The week that followed was a blur of media and viral videos and comments.
I, once again, was faced with the decision of living in fear but safety, or living loudly and proudly. I chose the latter.
Since that day in June, I have been with Solidaridad. When we headed over to Pleasant Hill a couple of weeks ago, I made sure to be authentic to myself and made a playlist with Shakira, Selena, Juanes and other classics and blasted music that may feel like home to some of the young people being held inside. We held signs for passing traffic to make them aware of what is happening in their neighborhoods. It has been a crazy experience I think for everyone involved, and for myself, it has been surprisingly healing to be involved in this kind of activism.
One of my favorite sayings is “el que busca, encuentra” meaning “He who searches, finds.”
I have always been too afraid to search. Until one day I got over that fear. What I found by actively engaging with the news and with Solidaridad has been what I have always subconsciously known but avoided because of fear. My entire life, these cruelties, these abuses of power, stemming from racism and fear, have been happening.
After searching, and having all that we have found… it is important to keep fighting. Using our privileges to uplift, create space, and get justice for others.
Last night, I got news that my citizenship has finally been approved. I will soon no longer be a green card holder.
Tonight, I want to thank you all for showing up and listening which is always the first step. But I also want to encourage us all, after having searched, to sit with the pain, discomfort, and injustice that often comes along with the truth, and do something worthwhile with what you have found.
~ ~ ~
Nohelya was sworn in as a U.S. Citizen on September 14th 2018.