My name is Fatima Flores Lagunas, I was born in Mexico, but raised in the USA. If I had to identify myself, I would say that I am an aunt, a daughter, and an activist searching to find equality beyond the stigma that we [Latinos] have now. A person trying to make a positive change in the world and leave it a little different that when I came in.
[I am young] And had you asked me [What does Fatima do for fun?] years ago, my answer would have been totally different. But beyond my activist work and working full time, I find a lot of pleasure in just going home at the end of the day, watching Netflix, a glass of wine, spending time with my family, carne asada during the summer, taking walks, doing photography, rocking out in my car when I'm driving. I take pleasure in the little things in life.
I'm a part of a non-profit the Heartland Workers Center and the Young Nebraskans in Action which is a group of motivated individuals that really want a positive change for the youth in Omaha. So those two are my main objectives right now; social work has always been part of my upbringing.
How did I become involved with these organizations I am in, you may ask? When I was younger, I used to think, "I'm a fifteen-year-old girl that really doesn’t know what to do with her life amongst many other things, so how can I make a change? How can I make something positive with so many obstacles around me?" Fast forward ten years, and that's completely different; I'm a leader, I'm just a person that cares. I became involved with the Heartland Workers Center through my own volition; I realized that I didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions that were being made for the youth here in Nebraska, and I was tired of living in this society that I was not welcomed in.
My entire life I felt prosecuted because I was an undocumented immigrant, it was a choice made by my parents to improve our way of life, and I don’t think is fair that because of a decision that another person makes we should be judged harshly. So my involvement began last year in October, I held an event at House of Loom that focused on the importance of voting, awareness for Dreamers, and the impact made when you vote. It was right before our state election time so I realized that we could change the governor that we had, we could change a lot of the senators that were in office because it wasn’t fair that because of their decisions my life was impacted. So I hosted the event at the House of Loom, we had a lot of key speakers that shared their input about how these issues affected them. We had Justice for Our Neighbors, they're a legal advocate group here in Omaha that are pro-bono for their clients; the Heartland Workers Center; the Democratic State candidate David Domina who is pro-Dreamers, and unfortunately he did not get elected, but it was amazing to hear he was willing to make changes; we had a lot of DACA recipients, and a lot of supporters and allies who gave their two cents in how these issues affected them. From that event I met the Heartland Workers Center, and I just jumped on board with them because since the legislative session was going to begin on January, we wanted to introduce a bill that would change the law at the time.
Jeremy Nordquist, the state senator at the time, really took the bill (LB623 to authorize younger Dreamers and DACA recipients in the state of Nebraska to obtain drivers licenses) and ran with it because he was very supportive of the youth; he took time to sit down and listen to our stories which I feel a lot of people don't realize how important that is because you know the issue but once you put a face to it, it becomes something that you care about, so the fact that all these kids came to him asking for help, he was like ABSOLUTELY. We introduced the bill, and from there it took flight; we weren't expecting the amount of support that we got, but the mayor of Omaha jumped on board, the Omaha, Nebraska, and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce; the Nebraska Cattlemen Association, and many other institutions showed their support. It was such a empowering time because all my life I was told that I was wrong, that I was not supposed to be here, that I am a criminal, that I cheat the system, and that I am taking away the State benefits. I've known different because of the support from my parents; they’ve always said they're doing what's best for me, we are here to stay, we're not here to take advantage from anybody. My parents worked three or four jobs when I was growing up, so it wasn't like we were out to look for the easy way; their support protected me from believing what those people said.
When I shared my story with the senators, they told me I am just as Nebraskan as they are; Spanish is my first language, but there was a time when English began dominating because it was [part of] my daily life. I grew up with the American ideals, but also respecting my Mexican culture; in their eyes I am as American as they are, only difference is that I unfortunately wasn’t born here, but we shouldn’t be prosecuted because of it.
After that, we sat down with a lot of senators, and they got to know us as people which I think is really powerful because they actually believed in us. A lot of them didn’t know what DACA was, they had no idea what a Dreamer was, and it's not like they didn't know, but it just didn’t affect them; you know, they grew up in a different life, they weren't aware of the people in the community. So I guess education and involvement are the biggest key in this project.
I got to speak at the Capitol, and I gave my testimony which made me feel validated because I was looking at the people making a decision for my life, and the fact that I look at them and I told them "YOU'RE STABBING ME ON THE BACK, YOU'RE FORCING ME OUT OF MY HOME. SOMETHING I HAVE DONE ONCE, AND I DON'T FEEL LIKE DOING AGAIN." If you want to change the way the system is currently running, it is up to you. We had overwhelming support; we had, I believe the total of three opponents in a room of over 200 people, and I think the committee really took that seriously. It was beyond just a few kids getting together presenting this bill; it was a population showing their support. It wasn't surprising that the governor vetoed it, we knew that he wasn't supportive of Dreamers, but we had enough votes to overcome it, so the effort and time put into this project and winning, it was empowering, a sense of victory that I've never felt before. It was the first time in my life that actively stood up and presented myself.
[Today] I'm making it my career for the person that doesn’t know yet, or the person that's afraid to. Coming out of the shadows is not easy; I remember when I gave my first news interview, I was a ball of nerves because I hadn't even told my friends about my status; they found out through the news because I was that afraid that they wouldn’t want to be my friends, that they would look at me as a criminal, that they were going to think I'm a bad person; but I had to throw caution to the wind and not only speak for myself, but for all the other kids in this country. Personally, I'm going to finish my degree, I'm a Political Science and Psychology major, and my long time goal is to become a State senator in the State of the Nebraska which is more down the road, but everything I am doing now is leading me to that position. I feel like a State senator you really have a key role in changing the way the State works.
Who inspires me to keep going? I'd say the leaders that I met through my work. Ruth Marimo, an LGBTQ and Immigration activist. The women and men from the Heartland Workers Center very involved in social changes, selfless people that don't like to see others suffer. The Dreamers and DACA, although they may not be as active (in the project) as I am, they still have the same needs.
But if I had to say the person I admire the most would be my mom because she came to this country with the clothes on her back, the ambition in her heart, the sweat, blood and tears that a hard-worker has. She is my rock, if anything, she is the person I aspire to be; she is very loving and accepting, she's very hopeful. She always has a positive outlook.
[Lastly] I want people to know that hope should always remain. As an undocumented immigrant and as a queer woman, I felt like giving up, but I want you to know that I won't. One way or the other we will make a positive change for you. At the end of the day, everything I do, is for the people that are affected by these issues. If you need someone to talk to, I have a few people I can put you in contact with, but please don’t lose hope. Like the saying goes, IT DOES GET BETTER!
If you want to actively volunteer to make changes in the community:
Heartland Workers Center
Young Nebraskans in Action
And for legal (free) advice:
Justice for our Neighbors
ACLU of Nebraska for legal advice.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
She's an awesome (and busy) human being you would love to sit down and talk to.