A Dream Deferred
This school year, I had the opportunity to live in a new apartment building as part of the University's overflow housing plan. To switch in, I had to have a roommate, so I looked on Facebook and found one. His name is Mo, and he, like everyone here, is passionate about countless topics. He even founded his own organization! This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with him and ask him more about how that all came together.
Noah: Can you give the name and a brief summary of what your organization does?
Mo: Fuego is a youth network based in the city of Chicago. Its mission is to build and foster new leaders throughout the city to organize around racial, educational, and LGBTQIA justice. Fuego is composed of students, workers, and ordinary chicagoans.
Noah: How did you come up with the name?
Mo: I don't know actually. Well I guess Emilio (the other founder) and I, as we were starting and preparing for our big action in DC, we were brainstorming for our name, and Emilio said 'We are fire'. The original logo was just Fuego with a fire emoji as the period, because we bring fire wherever we go.
Noah: Was there a single event that made you decide to start organizing people in this manner?
Mo: Well, I started to go to DC in December of 2017. That was my first time going to DC and I really did not expect to get into what I got into. So originally, I was invited to DC thinking we were going to just have a conversation. When I got there, it was the opposite. Sit ins, rallies, direct actions to push for the dream act. I was shocked, and ended up loving the space I was in. January, February, March, I was going for three week, four week intervals, on top of taking a full course load and working full time. Being there and seeing the work being done–learning what I learned in those spaces, made me realize that if I can do this, other students and people can do this as well. That was another thing that surprised me…Chicago was not represented at all, even though it is a city with lots of immigrants. I started inviting other students, one of whom was Emilio, and then we started things up in February of 2018.
Noah: Where do you have active members?
Mo: Fuego has membership in five schools and counting, as well as ordinary Chicagoans and local community organizers.
Noah: What are some of the things you do on a regular basis?
Mo: Our main goal right now is to build a base in the city. This will be done by holding trainings, workshops, retreats, and leadership development opportunities. We also hope to start training educators and faculty to learn how to better interact with undocumented people. When I say students, I don't just mean college students, this extends to high-schools, community colleges, and graduate programs. We hope to reach out to more youth and community members. The hope is that at the start of next year, Fuego's members will start their own campaigns to fight for issues relevant to them, in their own local area, that they are passionate about.
Noah: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Mo: This summer was a bit of a challenge, but I would also consider it a success. I was leading a lot of the building remotely due to my summer job, and so it was very hard to keep things organized and get things done. At the same time, when I knew we had to keep things together and complete something, we really got to work. It was pure joy seeing so much work done by such a small group and watching leadership develop.
Noah: What has been the most rewarding so far?
Mo: The United We Dream Congress. So Congress was a gathering of over 1,000 immigrant youth leaders, allies, undocumented people in the country. When Fuego said that they wanted to go back in June of this year, we said that we were each going to try to bring one person, for a total of 10 people. We had to fundraise for registration fees and airfare, totaling about $600 per person. It was scary, but we started reaching out and recruiting. At the end, we had 60 people from Chicago ready to go. It was very exciting to see a lot of support for the trip. Unfortunately there were a lot of fundraising efforts that didn't come through, but the 25 people who went had a great time and the trip was well worth it.
Noah: You just got back from that. What exactly is the United We Dream Conference, and how did Fuego play a role there?
Mo: Congress was to celebrate all the accomplishments of our movement and learn, strategize and prepare to work towards our 2020 vision of intersectional organizing through a racial justice sense. We partook in over 20 different workshops that worked on dismantling the school-to-prison racial justice pipeline, and other issues. Fuego attended the conference, and I taught two workshops as a fellow with UWD. I taught one called 'Reclaiming the Mic: The Beauty and Power of Storytelling in Communities of Color'. And then I also taught '# QueerTakeover: LGBTQIA Liberation, Survival, and the Beauty of Being Queer.'
Noah: What are your plans for the organization after you graduate?
Mo: I always say in all of my organizing that I'm not doing my job if I'm not preparing y'all to replace me. My goal as an organizer is never to stay more than 2-3 years in a particular role, and I don't think it would be right for me to cling onto Fuego for so long. As much as I love the city, I'm not a native Chicagoan so I don't know the city's needs as well as other people. I plan to stay involved as much as possible but hope to go to a different city for law school. Definitely keeping in touch, but Fuego's flame will need to continue under the guidance of someone else.
Noah: Is there anything else I haven't asked you about that you would like to add?
Mo: I love what I do. It's hard, it's draining, it can be very, not disheartening, but there are points where I am like why do I keep doing this if I'm not getting anywhere or seeing immediate change. But when I have moments during tough conversations with administrators or I see something that's missing and needs to be there, or check ins with my teammates when I see the empowerment they have felt–I realize the importance of this work and am motivated to keep doing it. If you asked me a year ago if I was going to be a community organizer, and start my own organization, I never would have believed you. High-school Mo would never have thought I'd be doing what I'm doing now, but I am really proud of it and excited to keep at it.
You can follow Fuego on Facebook by clicking here.
Thank you Mo for taking the time to do this interview, and best of luck to you and everyone at Fuego!
Photo is of a person wearing butterfly wings at one of the actions Mo took part in where some folks used civil disobedience to advocate for change. The monarch butterfly is a symbol for the movement because not only does it come out of its cocoon and blossom into a beautiful animal, but it is also a migrant.