Because I’m an immigrant I know how hard it is to build a new life in another country. And because I was a legal immigrant, I’ve become sensitive to what it means to be undocumented, because from what I’ve learned over the years, their hardships dwarf what mine were. When I read in the Guardian Newspaper a story about illegal immigrants who turned to activism to help others who were undocumented, I had to pay attention. Their names are not famous, but their work speaks to the resilience and courage of the human spirit. There are people like Viri Hernandez and her mother Rita, Reyna Montoya and German Cadenas. Cadenas, for example, came to Maricopa County in Arizona at 15 to visit his father at Christmas and escape the destabilization of Venezuela. When his visa ran out he opted to stay with his father and earn money to send back to his family. He was undocumented for 9 years. Now a citizen he is also a professor of psychology at Lehigh University and has published quite a lot of research on what it means to be an undocumented immigrant. Actually several psychologists have documented the mental health issues of people who are undocumented, the anxiety, depression, PTSD and feeling of low-self-worth they experience. These issues stem from being discriminated against, hunted, detained and marginalized by the view people have of these immigrants. What Cadenas research found, was that something he called critical consciousness, helps people cope with the traumas they have to live with. In plain English he means that when they turn to social activism, their pursuit of social justice and their work to help others is what helps them cope with the hardships, and deal with the traumas.
Millions are living with these mental health issues and because of climate change and political upheavals the numbers are estimated to grow. I hope that the work of people like Cadenas will help increase understanding of the issues migrants face, and that that understanding will make us all a bit more better humans.