University of Florida student organization CHISPAS, hosted a “Day of Action” Monday in an effort to tackle issues surrounding the various executive orders, hate speech and discriminatory acts making recent headlines, both across the country and on campus.
CHISPAS, which literally translates to “sparks” in Spanish, aims to be that spark in the community by using education and awareness to address the needs and issues of the immigrant community. The theme of the event centered around spreading knowledge about the issues this community faces and sharing resources.
Jonathan Vargas, CHISPAS fundraising director, said he hoped that publicly sharing these issues would increase empathy.
“There’s a lot of people that perhaps take it for granted that they live in a country that has such an abundance of resources, and I just wish that people saw that we have always been a country of immigrants,” Vargas said. “I wish people understood that they’re just trying to better themselves and not trying to hurt anyone.”
The first event during Monday’s Day of Action was a “Moment of Action,” held at Turlington Plaza on UF’s campus.
Speakers representing the Latino, Muslim and LGBTQ communities shared their stories in front of a crowd of about 15 to 20 people.
After the speeches, the crowd was invited to write on two white boards answering the question: How should UF be held accountable to its underrepresented students?
“I think today’s event was necessary for UF’s campus because of what’s been going on in our country and based on how that’s been trickling into our campus environment,” said Nahal Khamisani, an event speaker who represented Islam on Campus.
“I, along with other marginalized communities, don’t feel as welcome[d] here on this campus anymore,” Khamisani said.
Vargas agreed that he sometimes feels alienated on campus but said that UF fosters progressive thought, and he appreciated that people took time out of their schedules to listen.
“It was nice to see people out there and being really receptive to our message, and it just seemed like it hit home for some people,” he said.
The Day of Action concluded with CHISPAS’ Night of Action event. The organization made its general body meeting an open event.
Before the meeting, Rana Al-Nahhas, who founded the Students Organize for Syria club on campus, said she hoped to see a diverse group of people in attendance.
“It’s not only the Latino and Muslim community that is targeted,” she said. “These are our friends, our family, our colleagues, our professors, and I think everybody needs to be there in order to understand these safety measures to take.”
At the meeting, about 20 people gathered to hear a presentation centered on knowing your rights and creating a safety plan.
“The key is not to create fear but to inform yourself,” said Marisol Silva, a third-year law student who works in the UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs office.
The idea behind the safety plan is to prepare immigrants for an encounter with immigration services. It is a worst case scenario, Silva said.
Safety planning originated as a way to remove women experiencing domestic violence from abusive situations and has since been adopted into an immigration context.
Meeting attendees received a safety planning checklist that listed 10 steps to create a plan, along with local resources, such as contact information for immigration attorneys and immigrant advocacy groups. Some of the 10 steps listed included keeping a file of important documents, starting an emergency fund and creating a contact list in case of detention or another emergency.
Silva said that safety plans are meant to reduce the stress of the unexpected and are based on the idea that it is better to be prepared.
“You hopefully never have to use this,” she said.
Vargas hopes that teaching people how to create safety plans can help alleviate anxiety.
“It’s no substitution for solving the complex immigration laws in this country, but it’s a solution that we can do,” he said.
Christa Koppezha, a student who attended the meeting, said the meeting taught her that having this plan is important, and as a child of immigrants, these issues hit close to home.
“I think that this is a responsibility that falls on all students, not only students that are undocumented or immigrant students,” she said. “Definitely in this new political climate, it’s important that we can see at UF to just be knowledgeable about whatever resources we have and spread that to as many people as possible.”
CHISPAS also drafted a prewritten letter addressed to five state legislators. The letter urged legislators to “do everything in [their] power to work in Congress against the hateful and discriminatory agenda of President Donald J. Trump.” Copies were distributed to the crowd, and CHISPAS encouraged signing and adding to the letters, which they intend to mail to each legislator.
Silva said it is important that people know they are not powerless even in the midst of xenophobia.
Although the Day of Action is over, she still wants people to know that immigration is a deeply personal struggle.
“It’s not something you talk about openly,” Silva said. “If you are a person who is lucky enough to be a U.S. citizen by birth, let your friends know that you’re an ally to them…reach out to your loved ones and make sure everyone’s okay.”