A noble cause does not make one infallible. Marginalization and hardship do not exempt you from internalized prejudices and racism. Even the immigrant community, knowing full well what it feels like to be regarded as less than human, has the capacity to dehumanize others. These remarks reference accusations of sexism and anti-blackness against “Undocumedia,” a prominent Instagram presence in the undocumented community.
Undocumedia was established by Iván Ceja and Justino Mora alongside the passing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) back in 2012. It was created to meet the outpouring of questions regarding the DACA application process and has since evolved as an established organization that keeps the community informed on all the latest pertinent news.
With an Instagram following of 398,000, Undocumedia stands as one of the biggest pillars of the immigrant social media presence. As such, they command a tremendous amount of clout and hence regularly collaborate with many other prominent activist groups and organizations.
Because of the beloved place that the organization and its founders hold within the immigrant network, it was incredibly difficult to hear accusations of sexual harassment and anti-black sentiments on the part of Iván Ceja.
Karla Estrada was the first to speak out publicly about the toxic interactions she had with Ceja. Estrada is a prominent activist in her own right, having started Undocutravelers, a page dedicated to information about Advanced Parole (which allows international travel for non-citizens.) Her work led her to be invited to work for Undocumedia at the beginning of 2016.
In an article published on Medium, she details her relations with Undocumedia. She tells of friendly beginnings but then details an increasingly downward spiral in her interactions with Ceja. He began making advances on her, despite having a fiancée. She rejected him, and their relations soured. Exercising his power as an executive director, he began to dismiss her from the Undocumedia team, only to reinstate her shortly after.
This continued, and Estrada eventually reached out to Mora and described the problematic interactions. They tried to arrange accountability meetings with Ceja, but he would continuously postpone them. She eventually met with Ceja privately, but he made even more advances.
Karla was presented with an impossible decision, between voicing the harassment that she was experiencing and preserving the unity of the undocumented movement. “[She] decided that the best decision, considering the political climate, was to be at peace with Ivan Ceja no matter how uncomfortable he would make [her] feel.”
The tensions only increased, however. Her place in the organization was not clarified and Ceja’s actions were increasingly unprofessional and petty. He dismissed the work she did for the organization as “unimportant and unnecessary” and shut down posts in which Estrada was involved, including a heartfelt speech regarding the deportation of her younger brother. Finally, late in 2017, she had an accountability meeting with Undocumedia’s main active members, but it led to no resolution or apology. Instead, she felt further dismissed and humiliated.
Ceja claimed that Estrada was lying in an effort to smear his image and that she was using Undocumedia for her own personal gain. After bearing this weight personally for the last year and a half, Estrada shared these experiences publicly, both on Medium and on Instagram. She has the support of “Latinarebels,” as well as many other activists groups and they are sharing her story.
As was Estrada’s fear, the community is splintered as to how to respond and what side to take. Despite this, her decision to share is a necessary one. It reminds the community that hardship and a noble cause doesn’t make one impregnable. Accountability and reflection are necessary to embody the ideals that the community strives for.
Furthermore, Estrada’s willingness to share invited the testimony of two others, Yadira Martínez and Denae Joseph. Yadira wrote her own article in which she corroborated what Estrada had experienced with Ceja and also described her own uncomfortable interactions with him. His sexual misconduct is undeniable and deserves to be condemned — it has no place in the fight for equality.
Beyond the despicable behavior of Ceja, Undocumedia and the greater Latinx immigrant community are being confronted about anti-black sentiments and behavior. Martínez and Joseph witnessed unmistakeable and inexcusable behavior at a Washington, D.C., conference in March 2018, organized by Undocumedia. While the premise of the gathering was supposedly intersectionality and the representation of the many ethnic groups that make up the immigrant community, the two activists’ experience proved otherwise.
Denae Joseph, who was present as a representative of Undocublack, an organization that advocates for undocumented black folk, detailed her experience in an Instagram post. Martínez and she had traveled together from LA and they first “noted that the delegation was anything but diverse as [Joseph] was the only non-Latinx person in the space.” They then witnessed the careless usage of the n-word at the first lunch of the conference. When they spoke out about it, they were dismissed as overreacting.
This continued throughout the week-long conference and Joseph felt continually ostracized. Both she and Martínez made efforts to confront Ceja about the blatant anti-blackness they were experiencing. Ceja disregarded their concerns and did not address them. Martínez , in her article, describes a conversation she had with him in which he was unabashedly racist:
“When I brought up the history of anti-blackness in Latino communities and challenged Ivan to use his platform to uplift the black community, he replied with, ‘I will not use our resources to help them…Why should we help black people? What have they ever done for us?’ and ‘I won’t stop helping our people to help them.’”
The capacity to consider such thoughts is entirely abhorrent, worse yet to actually say them out loud. The behavior is incompatible with a position of leadership. Rightfully, a large part of the community is pressuring his resignation, including Justino Mora, his co-founder.
Martínez is touching on an integral problem within the Latinx community, however. As much as these communities like to think themselves immune to racism, anti-blackness is a regular occurrence, almost unconscious at times. I’ve seen my own father do it. I’ve seen friends make racist jokes without a second thought. This toxic behavior contradicts any goals for liberation and equity.
It’s imperative that the community speaks out when these issues arise. These brave individuals know full well that their revelations will cause disorientation within the undocumented community and will likely divide it further. But their actions have the greater interest of the movement in mind, and their remarks need not be doubted.
As of now, Undocumedia has yet to truly acknowledge and apologize for the behavior happening behind the scenes. They’ve reposted a statement from Justino Mora, who has been the only member willing to cooperate and acknowledge the allegations. It is obvious that this does not take the place of action. The undocumented community will have to maintain pressure upon them until there is proper accountability.
Despite the divisive nature of these events, moving past this will require growth and unity. It will lead to a tighter community and stronger movement. Estrada articulates it perfectly: “In order to hold the opposition accountable, we must hold ourselves and our immigrant’s rights leaders, accountable for their problematic actions.”