By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR
As a gay undocumented youth, Jesus Chavez understands well the challenges of living with secrets. He grew up in California’s Central Valley always aware of his immigration status but forbidden from speaking about it.
At 14, Chavez vividly recalls watching coverage of the 2006 immigration reform rallies in cities and towns across the country. It was then that he realized why his parents had gone to great lengths to ensure that he and his siblings kept their undocumented status quiet. The rallies were in response to an anti-immigrant measure passed in the House of Representatives that would have ramped up enforcement measures and deportations.
“It made me realize how dangerous it was to reveal this secret,” said Chavez. “The idea of family separation…I couldn’t live in the United States without my mom.”
This early introduction to activism impacted Chavez’s college and career decisions. He had always been a bright student in school. He excelled in academics and also exhibited athleticism, which he still credits with helping him stay disciplined.
When it came time to apply for college, he knew his status would pose financial difficulties, so he hustled to find the money he would need to attend. When he graduated from high school, Chavez had managed to win $14,000 in private scholarships to help fund his academic career at University of California, Berkeley. It was a remarkable feat that showcased his tenacious spirit.
In college Chavez got involved with the undocumented youth movement, serving as the co-chair of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education (RISE). When President Obama made his historic announcement on the creation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Chavez and RISE provided support to students who wanted to come out of the shadows. They worked with the law school’s immigration lawyer to help students through the application process.
Ironically, when it came time to apply for himself, Chavez realized he found greater joy in seeing others celebrate their deferred action. “At the time, I was working three jobs and wasn’t sure I would need DACA. I was happier for others because they realized they could now work legally, they could do study abroad programs,” he said. “Now that I am working for myself, having DACA has been amazing. I’ve been able to not just get jobs that I like, but also grow professionally. Having DACA is something I’m really thankful for.”
Jesus’s professional growth and activism has indeed gained him recognition in his young career. In 2013, he moved to Washington, DC, to intern with the National LGBTQ Task Force. Today, he works as the operations manager for PFLAG, another LGBT civil rights organization. He also held posts with the Latino GLBT History Project and attended the Union=Fuerza LGBT Latino conference.
Most recently, Chavez received the “Next Generation Award” by Washington’s LGBT magazine, Metro Weekly, for his commitment to improving the lives of all people. He admits to nearly rejecting the award because he didn’t think his experience warranted the honor. He ultimately changed his mind, but when speaking about the award, Chavez’s humility comes through.
“The Next Generation Award speaks to the undocuqueer movement and how they are using two identities to make themselves heard so we can reach equality,” said Chavez. “There are so many undocumented LGBT people who struggle, not only because they’re undocumented, but because they’re out and deal with lots of criticism. We need to keep fighting for what we think is right.”
Jesus’s story is certainly exceptional, and his accomplishments from college to now underscore the value of his contributions. The world is sorely in need of fighters like Chavez who are fiercely committed to advocating for what is right. Take DACA away and we lose a great talent. Chavez is an excellent example of why we must keep fighting for the president’s executive action on extended DACA and DAPA.