Voices of Dreamers A Panel Presentation


When I first arrived to the University of Florida (UF) as an undocumented student, most faculty and staff were unaware of how my status could impact or potentially stop my education. Throughout my time in this institution, I have witness several steps taken to ensure the support of our immigrant community. However, these initiatives are often the work of our own undocumented students. For too long our undocumented youth took it upon ourselves to educate our community and our university. This often put a large burden on our own students and Voices of Dreamers aims to lift that weight from their shoulders. This project provides a voice to those who are often overlooked and utilizes these recordings to train staff at UF through a training called Undocupeers. This training will provide staff under Student Affairs with stories about undocumented students who they serve, the challenges they face and what can they do better to assist them during their time at the UF.

I believe that oral history can often contribute to social justice movements by uplifting the voices of those who are often overlooked by mainstream media, white-filled history books and even our government. Time and again, the stories about undocumented students that are showcased in the media are about the “ideal immigrant,” the one who became valedictorian and got accepted into a prestigious university.

This drives the narrative that only the brightest must be rewarded, often forgetting that undocumented youth, regardless of their grades, deserve an equal opportunity to live freely in this country. The Voices of Dreamers project aims to break stereotypes about undocumented immigrants as well as provide undocumented students with a safe platform to share their stories. I trust that documenting the voices of those who fear coming out of the shadows due to federal laws shines a light on the complexity and chaos that is our current immigration system. By contributing to this project, you are supporting our undocumented youth who have bravely shared their stories in order for others to understand the impact immigration statuses play in their lives.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Mariana Castro

About Our Fieldwork

Mariana Castro first approached SPOHP with the idea for the Voices of Dreamers project in the summer of 2017. She wanted to conduct interviews with undocumented students that could be used in a student-created training, UndocuPeers, which is now offered to University of Florida faculty and staff in Student Affairs. However, she also wanted to make sure that the interviews would become part of a public archive, so that the students’ stories and voices would be able to be heard by wider audiences in perpetuity. We decided to establish the project as a track for our fall 2017 internship in oral history and social justice, parallel to a track devoted to developing a play about the Women’s March on Washington (Voices from the March), and a third track working on Black history in Gainesville’s 5th Avenue neighborhood for the Heritage Trail project. VOD was driven by the hard work of six University of Florida students: Mariana Castro, Angela Locarno, Grace Chun, Kendra Blandon, Chelsey Hendry Simmons, and Juan Paniza.

They worked throughout each week on developing the interview guide, doing background research, honing their interviewing skills, and conducting, transcribing, and extracting clips from the interviews themselves. Throughout all of this, Mariana went above and beyond in helping to coordinate most of the interview opportunities herself, in addition to conducting interviews and undertaking the same work as her peers. Thanks to Mariana’s vision and leadership, and the VOD team’s hard work--with a bit of guidance from internship co-instructors Dr. Ryan Morini and Jeff Pufahl--the UndocuPeers training was able to draw on clips from in-depth interviews with ten currently and former undocumented students and six allies.

To include a wider collection of voices and understand undocumented students’ experiences in different institutional circumstances, Mariana also coordinated a trip to the University of Central Florida, where the team conducted eight more interviews with undocumented students from UCF and Valencia College, as well as faculty mentors who work with them. Under Mariana’s leadership as well as that of Kendra, who is now one of SPOHP’s Latina/o Diaspora in the Americas Project coordinators, the team plans to continue expanding the collection, including conducting interviews at other schools in and outside of Florida. In fact, the team plans to stay an extra two days at SOHA to conduct more interviews at the undocumented student centers at Fullerton and UCLA.

The stories in the VOD collection are powerful. Some narrators opted for anonymity, and signed their release forms under agreed-upon pseudonyms; others are public about their status and chose to put their names on the transcripts. Some narrators have already been very public about their stories in newspapers and even before the state legislature; others had few if any conversations about their citizenship status outside of their families or a very close circle of friends. The VOD collection includes stories such as the successful student-led fight for tuition equity, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition; a student whose attempt to go through the proper channels was thwarted because their family’s scheduled appointment happened to be on September 11, 2001; and the incredible sacrifices and hard work of many parents to work to provide the opportunity for educational advancement to their children.

About the SOHA Conference

The 2018 Southwestern Oral History Association (SOHA) Conference will be held in southern California the weekend of April 27-29, 2018. From introductory workshops to inspiring plenary addresses and groundbreaking documentary films, and now this play, the SOHA annual conference explores the many ways in which oral history, oral traditions, and storytelling help to bridge past, present, and future. SOHA announced that this year’s theme will be Elevating Voices: Oral Histories of Resilience and Unity.

Meet Our Staff

Mariana Castro

Mariana Castro is a senior Biology major at UF. Throughout her time in undergrad, Mariana has worked to advocate for immigrant rights at a local, state and national level. As an undocumented student, she temporarily put a pause in her education and fought for tuition equity for undocumented students in the state of Florida. This would spark her passion for social justice and policy.

She has created start programs that provide visibility to undocumented students at UF, most recently helping institutionalize UndocuPeers, a training for professional staff about relevant immigration laws that affects students. Mariana has raised thousands of dollars for the Out of the Shadows Scholarship, a scholarship specifically for undocumented students in Florida that she oversaw for 3 years. She is currently interning for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in D.C. while advocating for a DREAM Act with nonprofits in the area.

This past fall, Mariana joined the SPOHP Fall 2017 internship to document the stories of undocumented students at the University of Florida and utilize them for UndocuPeers. After graduation, Mariana hopes to obtain a combine JD/MPP degree and continue to use legislation and grassroots organizing in order to fight for disadvantaged communities in the nation.

Kendra Blandon

Kendra Blandon is an undergraduate student majoring in Religion and International Studies with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. She began working for SPOHP in fall 2016 as a transcriber and translator for LDAP. Kendra collected oral histories at the 2017 D.C. Pride March and at various events and protests around the March for Florida Queer History and served as a research panelist. Kendra is currently working on a large community mural project to showcase the intersectionality of faith, immigrant narratives, and the Gainesville community.

As an intern in fall 2017, Kendra interviewed undocumented and DACAmented students in Florida and aided in the creation of UndocuPeers, a training presentation for UF faculty and staff on DACA. Kendra also serves as the Executive Director for Hispanic Heritage Month and hopes to attend law school to pursue a career in refugee law.

"The Voices of Dreamers project gave me a unique perspective on the experiences of undocumented and DACAmented students. As the daughter of immigrants, my status in the US provides an invaluable sense of security and belonging. Hearing the narratives of people without that privilege is both a humbling and incredibly frustrating experience. The UndocuPeers presentation, I hope, will be a major step towards making our students feel at home and secure at the University of Florida."

Grace Chun

Grace Chun is a fourth year psychology student at the University of Florida. Grace conducted research on racial bias in higher education as a University Scholar. Grace first joined SPOHP in Fall 2017 as an intern working on the Voices of Dreamers Project interviewing undocumented students at UF and UCF. She joined the SPOHP staff in Spring 2018 as a student assistant to work on the Poarch Creek Project. Working with undocumented students through SPOHP as well as newcomers in Gainesville through the non-profit Welcoming Gainesville and Alachua County has cultivated her interests in the movement of people and their stories. She also currently works as the Education Coordinator at the UF Center for Undergraduate Research as well as a senior intern for Cru.

Working on the Voices of Dreamers project allowed me to see the importance of having a safe space to share one’s experiences. Every story is unique and deserves space. Speaking with these students transformed the struggles of DACA students from something abstract to something tangible for me and sharing their voices will do the same for others. Going to SOHA is crucial in sharing one way we have found to share the voices of Dreamers to prompt steps toward social justice.

Angela Locarno

Angela Maria Locarno is a 4th year Women Studies Major and Latin American Studies Minor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She takes pride in her Latina identity as a 2nd generation Colombian American and cherishes the mouth-watering food, upbeat music, and countless cultural traditions. She loves to facilitate conversations around diversity and social justice to students at the UF through programs, events, and initiatives. She wants to work towards liberating folks from the pain that comes with socialization through education, intergroup dialogue, and centering the voices of the most marginalized.

“The Voices of Dreamers project was one of the most special experiences I’ve had at UF. There is so much power and truth that comes with centering the most marginalized voices. I got to hear from peers and strangers about their hardships, concerns, triumphs, and stories of true activism. This project also pained me to learn of the lack of support UF and our government provides for documented students. I hope through this project administration on all levels will realize the need to take responsibility of better supporting our DACAmented students.”

Dr. Ryan Morini

Dr. Ryan Morini is Associate Program Director at SPOHP. He started as a grad student in 2010 on the African American History Project (AAHP), which now holds 600 interviews and counting. Ryan is also involved in ongoing research with the Western Shoshone Indians of central and eastern Nevada, using oral history to take a complex look at heritage and to tell histories that have been otherwise overlooked when not actively silenced. As a co-instructor for the fall 2017 SPOHP internship, Ryan coordinated the Voices of Dreamers group’s efforts--primarily offering oral history methods and theory, and pragmatic guidance for the digital humanities aspects of the project, and through that mainly being there to support some really dynamic students as they undertook their work.

“This project has been especially powerful, not only because it’s student-driven--from Mariana conceiving of it and directing it, and the rest of the interns in conducting it, to the student narrators who have shared their stories with the archive--but also because the stories the VOD team has recorded have been so completely silenced in mainstream discussions of immigration.”

Budget Breakdown







CONFERENCE RATE ($140) = $2100










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