Washington, DC – Today, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Cristina Jiménez, co-founder and executive director of United We Dream, as a member of its 2017 MacArthur Fellows.
The MacArthur Fellows Program was designed to “encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. . . for the benefit of human society.”
Upon hearing the news, Cristina Jimenez said:
“I could only think of my parents as I received the news of this award. It was my mother and father who heroically risked everything to come to the United States from Ecuador seeking a better life for my family. This award celebrates the resilience and strength of my parents and of all immigrants who’ve defeated the odds to make the United States their home.
“There are those in power who want to deport my family. As a proud immigrant woman of color, I ask the country to see me, see my brother, my parents, and the generations of immigrants who’ve come before. This recognition symbolizes the pathways we take to survive and thrive. I hope that it inspires Americans of all backgrounds to stand up to racism and urge our lawmakers to pass a clean Dream Act immediately.
“The MacArthur Fellowship will enable me to build upon United We Dream’s collective vision to ensure that the next generation of social justice leaders and organizers can transform our world.”
While the award recognizes Cristina’s leadership, it comes at a pivotal time for the immigrant and civil rights movements as we build the power needed to pass a clean Dream Act, which would provide security to undocumented immigrant youth like Cristina’s brother, Jonathan, while not harming millions of other undocumented immigrants like Cristina’s parents.
Diana Valdivia, co-chair of the United We Dream Board of Directors said:
“As an immigrant woman of color I know how difficult it is to overcome the systemic racism and patriarchy which stands in our way and I admire her leadership. Cristina started organizing in secrecy because of fear of immigration agents and she is now an integral part of a movement fueled by the energy of living undocumented and unafraid.
“From the start, United We Dream has created spaces where immigrant youth can live and grow as their full and authentic selves regardless of immigration status, sexual orientation, race or any factor whatsoever. As a result, thousands of young people have become leaders and developed a movement built to transform our society.”
Growing up, Cristina always knew she was undocumented. Originally from Quito, Ecuador, Cristina came to the United States at age 13. Her parents risked everything and fled poverty to give her family a better life here. She grew up in Queens, New York and as an undocumented young person, Cristina and her family experienced poverty, abuse by police, wage theft from employers and fear of deportation. From a young age, Cristina made a decision to fight back against unjust practices that plagued people of color and the immigrant community.
While in college, Cristina began organizing with other students, finding her voice, and realizing that immigrant youth have the power to transform this country by telling their own stories and developing their own political strategy. Together with a broad movement of immigrant youth, Cristina’s work has helped change the national conversation on immigration.
She was instrumental in organizing the successful national campaign that led to the creation and implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program (DACA) under President Obama. DACA is the most far-reaching and significant victory for immigrant communities in more than thirty years, and has enabled nearly a million immigrants to live without constant fear of deportation, go to school, pursue careers, and build stable lives here.
Under Cristina’s leadership, United We Dream has supported and trained tens of thousands of immigrant youth leaders to find and express their voice and has inspired millions. Ultimately, Cristina wants to transform the politics of the United States so that all people can thrive here and live without fear.