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Masavi Perea-Montes de Oca waited decades for his right to vote – years of anguish, fear and trauma due to his undocumented status.
“Only an undocumented person knows what it’s like to walk down the street and see a migra (ICE) vehicle,” said Perea-Montes, from Chihuahua, Mexico. “Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed many atrocities, such as seeing immigrants get into a truck after cashing their checks at money changers, or when they went to buy food in supermarkets. Latinos.”
On April 1, 2022, he became a naturalized citizen. On the same day, he registered to vote.
His testimony and the culmination of his two decades of living in Arizona as an undocumented person were exposed in a documentary entitled “Mi Voto, Mi Comunidad”, – which means “My vote, my community” – during a press screening Friday at The Garden in downtown Phoenix.
Produced by Mango Skies and directed by Pita Juarez, with photography by Matty Steinkamp, Chispa Arizona featured the film, along with a new campaign to get more Latino citizens registering to vote.
“Becoming a citizen gives me peace of mind, but it also gives me a responsibility and a privilege, which is to vote,” Perea-Montes told La Voz.
A story shared by many immigrants
It’s a story shared by millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Yet for many, obtaining legal residency still does not grant them the right to vote.
Voting is a key instrument that can change the lives of many people, Perea-Montes said.
“A lot of things that happen in the community are because people vote or don’t vote. Voting can change the lives of many people for better or for worse, that’s why it’s important to exercise our right,” said Perea-Montes, who currently serves as Chief Organizing Officer at Chispa. Arizona, a local organization that works for civic empowerment. Latino families and environmental justice advocate.
Now that he’s a citizen, Perea-Montes said his goal is to remain as civically active and educated about politicians running for office, urging them to focus their efforts on passing immigration reform, stopping police brutality and promoting environmental justice. He said he would not rule out running for political office in the future.
For Dulce Juarez, co-director of state at Chispa Arizona, the story of Perea Montes is that of many immigrants living in this country.
“At Chispa Arizona, we believe environmental justice must have a democracy that reflects our values and principles. And that can’t be achieved if people don’t have access to voting and with that elect politicians who represent us,” Juarez said.
Steinkamp, the film’s producer, said years ago he had heard negative stories about the immigrant community, but when he met Perea-Montes he discovered an entirely different narrative. – the one that many immigrants like him share.
According to figures from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (USCIS), over the past decade, the country has welcomed more than 7.3 million naturalized citizens.
“As a storyteller, I have a responsibility to empower people to tell their own stories,” Steinkamp said. “The story of Perea-Montes, in addition to being good, is inspiring.”
The virtual premiere of the publicly available documentary will take place on Wednesday, June 29 from 6-7 p.m. Those interested in accessing the link to the film should register here.
“Vote and Plant”: A Voter Registration Campaign
“Votando y plantando”, which translates to “vote and plant”, is the name of the voter registration campaign launched on Friday, in tandem with the media screening of the Perea-Montes documentary.
The campaign is led by “Dreamer” and activist Nicole Morales, director of civic engagement at Chispa Arizona. She is also the person who helped Perea-Montes become a registered voter.
“Involving young people in their community is like planting little seeds, and in the future – by paying attention to it, watering it and giving it sunshine – our little plant will grow and bring change to the community,” said said Morales.
As a DACA recipient, Morales cannot vote, but she said she gets enormous satisfaction from registering people so they can do so. For her, the people she helps register become that collective voice that represents her in elections.
“We know that when our people vote, they vote for their family, for their community,” she said.
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