UNL’s Define American chapter advocates for immigrant community through education, conversation | Education


What once seemed like the end of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Define American chapter turned out to be an opportunity to redirect its focus.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic shut down college campuses across the country in 2020, the Define American national parent organization announced the collegiate chapters would be sunset.

“We had to put a hold on everything and a figure out what was next,” said Dulce Garcia, president of UNL’s Define American chapter.

Dulce Garcia, UNL's Define American President

Dulce Garcia

While their goal has always been to advocate for the immigrant community through education and conversation, they decided to focus more of their efforts on exploring the interconnectedness of immigrants and other minorities.

Erick Estrada, vice president of UNL’s Define American chapter, said the experiences of immigrants can vary widely depending on a person’s intersecting identities. That’s why recently they’ve focused on amplifying the narratives of transsexual immigrants, Black immigrants, refugees, those with temporary protected status and other marginalized groups.

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“As someone who identifies as queer, having other individuals in the organization who also identify as queer is something so powerful because you see those intersections that we talk about come to life,” Estrada said.

Erick Estrada, UNL's Define American Vice President

Erick Estrada

That’s just the latest focus of the UNL chapter that has been working to help immigrant communities in Nebraska since it was formed in 2016 by Valeria Rodriguez, an immigrant from Mexico and undergraduate student at the time.

The parent organization was started by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and other media professionals in 2011. They hoped to launch a campaign to bring U.S. citizen allies’ voices into the national conversation on immigration in order to fix a broken system.

But Vargas didn’t stop there.

He wanted to create a community where students could focus on educational success without having to worry about negative criticism. He also wanted to make sure conversations of immigration reform were being held on college campuses across the nation.

The first collegiate chapter was formed at Texas Tech University in 2015.

In 2016, students at the UNL chapter, along with former vice chancellor of student affairs Juan N. Franco, created the Juan N. Franco Legacy Scholarship to help undocumented students pursue higher education at UNL.

Shortly before the pandemic, Define American also started UndocuAlly training on campus, which helps all faculty and staff be better equipped to support students who are undocumented.

With pandemic restrictions decreasing, they’ve been able to get back into a sense of normalcy and hold events on campus.

Some of the events they hold each year are UNDOCU Week, fundraisers and their annual banquet that benefits the Juan N. Franco Legacy Scholarship.

Garcia believes that having organizations like Define American on campus sets the precedent that everyone is welcome at UNL.

“It’s something so powerful to walk into a room of people and talk about your immigrant parents and immigration story and not be pitied, but rather empowered to say that, ‘I’m a product of immigration.'”

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