Angel Mendez shares some of his EFC experiences and his thoughts on why the Encampment for Citizenship is important today.
What did you learn at the Encampment?
The first year I attended (Chicago, IL; 2014), I learned about so many struggles facing different communities. I learned about police brutality toward the black community. I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement. I was no longer focused only on immigration issues but now knew about these different struggles.
If we’re talking more about personal development, I learned how to be more outspoken and let my voice be heard. The second year (Tougaloo, MS; 2015), like the previous year, I learned about different community struggles, too. However, this time, I learned more leadership skills, such as organizing, which later became useful when I went back home. Last year, as an intern (Amherst, MA; 2016), I was able to become more of a leader in the program. I learned how to communicate better with the Encampers to get them more involved, not only in the program but in their communities.
How has the Encampment influenced your life?
The Encampment has helped me pop out of my comfort bubble and become the leader I am today. It has given me the tools I need to create change in my community. It was through the Encampment that I could ease into speaking in public and starting dialogues with strangers. Overall, it has truly changed my life.
Tell us what you’ve been doing since the Encampment.
I’ve been keeping busy in my community ever since. I have been working alongside community leader Margarita Romo to engage the youth in my community, to discuss the struggles they face and how to solve them. I started an open mic in the community for youth to gather and express ideas, feelings or just about anything they wish to express, through music, acting or in any way they want. The idea behind the open mic is to invite people outside the community and demonstrate the love in it, to those who have a negative view of the community. Hopefully in the future, these events will take away the negative stigma the community carries.
I am also involved in the Dreamers Teatro Crew, a theater group based in the teachings of Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. The theater group teamed up with Florida State University to start a dialogue within communities using theater exercises as a tool.
I am currently also a part of Young Entrepreneurial Students (Y.E.S.), a program to eradicate poverty through education.
I would not have been involved in my community as much as I am today if it weren’t for the Encampment. Now I am proud to see my sister (Maria, 2017 Encamper) going through the same experience and hope to see how she grows as a person.
Why is the EFC important now?
The Encampment is extremely important now because of the current White House administration, which is clearly attacking different racial and ethnic groups. It is attacking immigrants, especially now with the Dreamers having their dreams ripped away with the removal of DACA. In addition, it is defending white supremacists and Nazis. It is just unbearable to see. A program that gives youth the tools to let their voices be heard can truly bring a change.
Tell us about your experience at 2017 InterGen.
Especially and most importantly (because I’m biased), I got to see my sister Maria’s growth. Seeing her up on stage presenting her piece on society got me a bit emotional. Seeing how my sister used her voice to present herself as an independent woman who does not need society to tell her how to act was truly motivational. It was an experience unlike anything else—having the experience yourself is different from seeing someone you truly care about go through the same experience.
During the intergenerational weekend, I learned so much about the new Encampers’ struggles. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I enjoyed an activity called “River of Life“ where a person had to, in the most creative way, tell how they got to where they are now by using the idea of a river. During the activity, I noticed that mostly everything I do, in my community as well as my home, is for the people I love.