Cristina Jiménez

Co-Founder & Executive Director, United We Dream

How old is your organization? UWD was founded in 2008
What sector do you work in? Nonprofit
How long have you been working in this sector? Over 10 years
How long have you been with your current organization? I’m one of the co-founders of UWD. The organization was founded in 2008. I have been with the organization for the last 11 years as a co-founder and board member and have served as the first Executive Director since 2011.

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
I had the opportunity to work with CRE when I was part of the leadership of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC). Walter Barrientos, my partner, and I, along with other undocumented youth, co-founded the NYSYLC to fight for the rights of undocumented youth and families in the state. The NYSYLC was the first undocumented immigrant youth-led organization in the state and CRE supported us with training and tools to lead a new start-up organization. Consultants from CRE provided us with trainings and facilitated various retreats where our team was able to navigate questions of structure, membership, and programs, and how to make it all work effectively. The support of CRE and its team ensured that young undocumented people who had not run nonprofits before had the tools needed to build an organization as an effective and sustainable vehicle to grow community power and win change.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
The advocacy sector is just now experiencing a new awakening of shared fate and shared strength. We know that the people who profit off of the detention of immigrants are the same people who profit off the incarceration of Black and brown people. The same people who are separating children from their parents at the border are the same who want to limit access to reproductive healthcare. The injustices faced by our communities are intertwined and there is a new coming together to overcome them.

For example, after Trump was elected, one of the first people to reach out to me was Cecile Richards, from Planned Parenthood Federation of America saying that she and her organization will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrants as we face down the Trump threat, joining together in power to combat shared threats.

Describe a key event that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
After over 30 years, without a single advance in immigrant rights at the national level, immigrant youth and allies fought for and won deportation protections for over 800,000 young people. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program grants qualifying undocumented young people temporary relief from deportation, a work permit, and an opportunity to pursue career and educational opportunities they didn’t have access to before.

On a larger scale, the hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who have come out of the shadows, shared their stories, and used their time and voices to advocate and organize for change, have shown the nation the power that young people can have to force change at the highest levels of politics.

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?
The single greatest challenge we face as a movement is underestimating and losing hope in the impact of the collective power of our communities. Under the Trump administration, our communities have faced unprecedented attacks. We’ve seen attacks on immigrants and refugees, women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and more. At times, it feels like the victories are few and far between. It’s harder and harder for people to feel hope or feel like they have the ability to enact change, which is exactly the desired result. Our opponents want to break us. This is a challenge we must constantly overcome, because our opponents know that when we use our collective power, we win.

I saw this just a few weeks ago in Oklahoma where hundreds of people came together to protest the planned detention of over 1,500 migrant children at Fort Sill. During World War II, Japanese Americans were interned at Fort Sill. Fort Sill was also used to detain and force re-education of Native Americans. A broad coalition of Immigrants, Blacks, Japanese Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, and others all came together and said “No!” They used their collective power, and days later it was reported that the plans to house migrant children had been stalled. At a time when ICE is getting more and more financial resources, and the Trump administration is detaining and deporting more and more people, we were able to achieve victory through our collective power.

How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
United We Dream (UWD) members are young people from all walks of life. They come to UWD seeking a place where they’re able to explore all aspects of their identities and experiences; a place where they can build community. Part of our commitment is empowering these young people through leadership development. Our Summer of Dreams program is one key way this plays out in our work. Summer of Dreams is a program led by organizers throughout the country that takes teenagers and trains them on grassroots organizing and advocacy, and communication and digital strategy, while providing a safe space to learn about themselves. Summer of Dreams is one of the ways UWD is able to expose new young people to our work, and to build our leadership development pipeline to ensure we’re continuing to grow our movement for the future. Through our focus on empowerment and leadership development we are affecting generation-sized changes. Therefore, sustaining those changes requires supporting the leaders of tomorrow.

Why did you join this sector?
My parents Ligia and Fausto sacrificed a lot for my brother and me to have a better life. They left their families behind in Ecuador and risked it all to come to the U.S. Their courage to flee poverty to come to this country inspired me share my story publicly for the first time and fight for our family and millions like mine.

I saw my parents experience racial discrimination and exploitation as undocumented immigrants and people of color and that’s part of why I do this work — to ensure that other families don’t experience the same. My hope is for my family and all people of color in this country, including immigrants, are able to live without fear and with full dignity. This is the vision that fuels my work every day.

I’m proud that thousands of young people and families get to share in my experience of transformation in UWD—shedding fear, finding our voices, and taking action together to achieve justice and dignity for our communities. This is the magic that UWD holds for me and thousands of youth and families — a place where our stories are power, where we can be our true authentic selves, and where we can develop strategies and take action to achieve victories like DACA.

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United We Dream

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