Advocating for citizenship: Four Red Wing students visit Capitol Hill
To four Red Wing High School students, a recent trip to Washington, D.C., was more than a chance to see the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. For them, the trip was personal.
"We went to advocate for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and to talk to representatives from the House of Representatives and Senate," student Oscar Machado said.
Machado, along with classmates Oscar Hernandez, William Ortiz and Deisy Miranda Rivera, visited the Capitol March 4 through March 8 to attend the 2013 National Latino Advocacy Days.
The event was put on the National Council of La Raza and brought about 400 people from across the county to Washington to help make legislators aware of issues affecting Hispanic Americans.
The Red Wing students were invited on the trip by Hispanic Outreach Executive Director Lucy Richardson.
"They really want to see changes," Richardson said. "They were brought to this community as little kids, without being asked. For them, this is home. They don't even remember their own culture and they feel more comfortable speaking English."
Richardson and the students traveled to Washington with about 40 other youths and community leaders from southern Minnesota cities, including Owatonna and Rochester.
When the group arrived in Washington, students first attended workshops and training about leadership and immigration reform. It was all in preparation for their visit to Capitol Hill March 7.
"We had to be ready to speak to our senators and representatives ... for once to have a feeling of security in this country, which I've begun to think of as my own," Ortiz said. "We touched on themes like how to get a secure path to citizenship, what problems people without a legal status suffer and how to resolve them."
But actually getting their voices heard proved more difficult than the students had anticipated. Many legislators -- including Minnesota U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. John Kline -- were not in their offices that day, and the students couldn't speak with them in person.
But the students still made the best use of their time in Washington.
"We talked to their assistants and told them how important this is for us as a community," Hernandez said.
Now that Ortiz, Hernandez, Machado and Rivera are back in Minnesota, the things that they learned on the trip are not falling to the wayside.
"I didn't want to just go to Washington, take these students and that's it," Richardson said. "I wanted them to get experiences. I wanted them to feel how powerful they could be.
"And I got it," Richardson continued. "They are so excited. They are so motivated."
All four students who went on the trip have joined Pa'Delante Youth Action Network, an Owatonna-based student leadership group for young Latinos, Richardson said. The students will continue to work to make positive changes in both their communities and the state.
"We are not just asking, we're demanding a safe road to citizenship that is not covered with obstacles like high prices on fees and fines and family separation due to deportation of non-criminals," Ortiz said.
"This trip also showed me new ways of leadership; it showed me how to speak out for myself and for others that are facing the same problem that I am facing," Machado said.