Bowdoin’s community came together at Portland City Hall last Friday to protest President Trump’s rescindment of Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, an Obama administration executive order which extended rights such as higher education and tax obligation to undocumented youth.
“Almost 800,000 people will lose access to the only country they’ve ever known,” said Leslie Silverstein, esquire and president of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, in her speech at the rally.
Two Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) students—Irfan Alam ’18, president, and Mohamed Nur ’19, vice president of academic affairs—spoke at the rally alongside activists Hamdia Ahmed and John Ochira, Portland’s poet laureate Stuart Kestenbaum and leaders of Portland-based immigrant rights groups. The large contingent of Bowdoin students was embraced by local activists.
The number of Bowdoin students who attended the rally reflects how deeply this issue impacts the student body and the successful organizing on the part of BSG.
Kathleen Armenta ’21 is not a DACA recipient, but at home in Tucson, Arizona, she is friends and family with many Dreamers—a term used to refer to those protected under DACA. She had been at Bowdoin for less than three weeks when Trump announced the repeal.
“I received a letter from President Rose about his sympathy for the termination; however, I didn’t see any efforts. It seemed like a normal day for everyone,” said Armenta in an interview with the Orient.
In response, Armenta sent an email to every student on campus, asking them to wear blue and purple in support of Dreamers. Two days later, BSG, led by Alam, had organized transport to the rally for approximately 80 students, renting a bus and enlisting students to carpool in their personal vehicles.
“We were thinking, ‘What if you were a first year that was affected by one of these events?” said Ben Painter ’19, BSG vice president for student government affairs. “What kind of community is Bowdoin?”
Bowdoin leaders showed their commitment to Dreamers and their community on the steps of Portland’s city hall.
Protesters gathered despite the rain, underneath pillars adorned with an American eagle and the Latin phrase “Resurgam,” meaning “I shall rise again.”
Organizer Marie Follayttar Smith beamed as she welcomed Alam to the podium, under meager shelter from the downpour.
“We have Irfan Alam, who is a Muslim Pakistani,” she said before being interrupted by a car horn. “He was born and raised in Austin, TX, and he is Bowdoin College’s student body president.”
Alam took the stage, holding the microphone for a while as he waited for the applause to stop. He looked to the whole audience when he said: “This is a situation where, when you have a privilege, you also have a responsibility.”
“If you have the privilege of not having to worry about the state of DACA, then it is your responsibility to stand up for those who do have to worry. ”
Rain poured down on the protesters. When Armenta could have picked up her umbrella, she stayed still, listened to Alam and held her poster high—“NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL.”
“As my friend Mo reminds me every day,” he said as Nur looked to the podium from the steps below. “It is your responsibility in any way and in every way you can, to do whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you are.”
“Keep fighting the good fight.”
Smith took back the microphone. “I don’t know about you, but I have a lot more hope for the future.”
Applause roared, particularly in the direction of the crowd of students—representatives from one of the youngest and most diverse places in Maine.
“Many of you show up to a lot of these, and a lot of times it’s a lot of voices over 40. Let’s be real about that. So, we are so grateful to have Bowdoin College students here today,” Smith said.
Archer Thomas ’21 is a first year and a socialist, a Mainer from Buxton and a regular at Portland protests. He is used to rallying alongside majority older, white faces and hearing calls for solidarity.
“It’s definitely strange to be from Maine and be here in a place that’s ostensibly Maine but not,” he said about Bowdoin’s presence at the rally. “It’s not just that Bowdoin is a wealthy and upwardly mobile community, it’s something that’s hard to put my finger on.”
As a Bowdoin student and a Mainer, Thomas felt as though he played mediator between the locals and Bowdoin students.
“There’s still lots of work to do. This Bowdoin Bubble is still very real. It’s kind of a wall to true solidarity and understanding between Bowdoin and the rest of the world.”
Thomas said that Maine is an old society and that Bowdoin students need to understand their place as a part of Maine, not separate from its issues.
“Bowdoin is trying very hard and has done a good effort of connecting with the community. It’s good that a school that has as many resources as Bowdoin does that,” Thomas continued.
As Nur stood on the steps in the city, the youngest speaker at the rally greeted the crowd. “Being from Portland, I have to say that it’s good to be home,” said he said.
“As the son of Somali immigrants, this is not the America that my family and so many other families have struggled so long to call home.”
“There’s a Somali proverb people like to say when they see injustice. It reads: dhiiga kuma dhaqaaqo? which means, ‘Does your blood not move?’ Well, my blood is boiling and I refuse to do nothing.”
Armenta stood on the edge of the curb in front of city hall, leading chants and saying them a second time for those in the back.
A picture of her yelling at the camera was featured in an article in the Portland Press Herald that focused on the detail that she was in her mother’s womb when her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.
Now, she is worried about the potential backlash of the article’s unclear language.
“I am a U.S. citizen,” she said. “But even just being Mexican, there’s lots of hate.”
Armenta is aware of the power held within institutions like Bowdoin or United States citizenship because she knows people outside of these privileges.
“Being a U.S. citizen gives me the right to advocate for others,” said Armenta. “You might know something about Dreamers, but you don’t know their hard work, the things they have to go through until you’re in their shoes with them. That’s when you can actually know by experience how it is.”
Armenta does not want to force tough conversations. She expects people to welcome them as part of being in the Bowdoin community.
“People here tend to be reserved when they should be open,” she said. “I feel like many people don’t join because they’ll feel left out. It’s important to let everyone know that you should be part of it. You can also be a voice.”
“I want everyone to be united,” said Armenta. “I’m one of those people, I want to include everyone.”
“If you’re in this effort, then we need to work together.”