CSUSB’s Undocumented Student Success Center (USSC) has created a space for its members under the name of the Migrant Writing Circle where participants can journal together.
The group created an original poem this Spring semester titled, “What It Means to Be Undocumented.” According to Dr. Paloma Villegas, an assistant professor in the department of sociology whose research focuses on undocumented migration, this was the first time members worked together on one collaborative piece. “We do take some risks to try new things and I think this was a successful attempt,” said Dr. Villegas.
The Migrant Writing Circle began in the Spring of 2019 by Dr. Villegas, who was prompted to start this program based on a women’s writing circle she took part in at her previous institution. “One of my big interests is to work with undocumented students at CSUSB because of my own experiences having been undocumented and a college student,” Dr. Villegas expressed.
She recommended the idea to the previous coordinator of the USSC, Maria Barragan, which was then approved and developed. Dr. Villegas has facilitated the Migrant Writing Circle for almost two years.
The Migrant Writing Circle receives help from USSC staff members such as Christian Espinoza, who works as the academic liaison and educational coach. He is currently on track to receive his master’s from the University of Redlands. Espinoza began working at the center in February 2019.
As of Fall 2020, there’s an estimated 723 undocumented students attending CSUSB. Among the undocumented students who take part in the writing circle is Diana, a transfer student from San Bernardino Valley College and a first generation college student. This is Diana’s first semester in the Migrant Writing Circle.
“Last semester, I started getting emails from the center inviting me to their Friday group,” Diana explained. She believes the group has helped her to not feel ashamed over being undocumented. She recalls how this was something she hadn’t shared with anyone in high school or community college.
Maribel, a senior at CSUSB, came across the Migrant Writing Circle through her second fellowship with USSC. “It’s been a great experience to join that group,” Maribel said. “I not only make a community with all the students that identify as undocumented. I love writing, it’s one of my passions I love to do in my free time.”
Usually Dr. Villegas will provide prompts for members, or the group will brainstorm prompts together. They’ll either use Dr. Villegas’ prompts or the ones they’ve created themselves for the day of the meeting. When it came to “What It Means to Be Undocumented”, Dr. Villegas asked members to fill out the prompt “Undocumented means having to,” and “Undocumented means getting to” and “Community means”.
From there, the poem was put together and Espinoza, Maribel, Diana, and other writing circle members contributed to organizing and revising it.
“It was a brand new experience,” said Diana. “The Migrant Writing Circle has given me that space to myself. Sometimes as undocumented we don’t feel free to share this.”
“It was a great experience and it was my first experience doing this addition,” Maribel agreed. “I really enjoyed it with how everyone was putting this together. After putting all the pieces together, it looked amazing. I think this experience is going to stay forever because I can use it in the future as well.”
Maribel considers the Migrant Writing Circle to be a safe space. “We learn from one to another and I feel that I’m in the right place at the right time,” said Maribel.
Espinoza uses what’s shared within the writing circle to advocate for more resources for the USSC. He doesn’t disclose any names or direct sources of the concerns, but he does generalize what he hears from the group so that he can ask for more funding and assistance from the administration.
“The center is underfunded and needs additional space,” said Dr. Villegas. “We know that the needs of undocumented students are unique and that takes a little bit of time. What we’re doing right now is calling on the university and other stakeholders to take that into account.”
The Migrant Writing Circle took a hiatus in Fall 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. They completed the Spring 2020 quarter as the campus transitioned from in-person to virtual learning. Prior to the shutdown, Dr. Villegas would bring food to the group as the USSC also provided doughnuts and coffee, and they were able to do activities with one another such as creating butterflies. They would gather around at a table in the middle of the center.
“In the future, I hope that we can return to making it in-person and that we can make it more interactive,” said Dr. Villegas.
“Due to the circumstances that we’re going through with the pandemic, I think that says a lot about the people still joining this community,” said Maribel.
“Ideally, we would love to share it far and wide,” said Dr. Villegas about “What It Means to Be Undocumented.”
Members of the writing circle meet every two weeks on Fridays for two hours. “What It Means to Be Undocumented” can be read below.