The Undocumented Immigrants Who Are Redefining ‘American’

They believe in the power of open communication

The nonprofit group Define American seeks to change
 how the public perceives immigrants by encouraging undocumented people to “come out” and share their stories.

This section was guest edited by Jose Antonio Vargas. All of the articles and photos from our special Immigration Issue are available in the October 2016 issue, on newsstands now.

Zoyla Jorge Hernandez and Raul Cruz Bautista (with daughters Sahara and Sophie Cruz), housewife and laborer, from Mexico (their children are U.S. citizens)

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Hernandez and Bautista came from Oaxaca 
in 2006 and had two daughters here. Last year 6-year-old Sophie hand-delivered a letter to Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., urging immigration reform.

Liana Ghica, event planner, from Romania

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Ghica emigrated from Bucharest, Romania, with her children in 2001 to avoid the social stigma single mothers face back home.

Geovanni Rodriguez Leyva, student at Cal State Long Beach, from Mexico

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Leyva, who emigrated as a 2-year-old from Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1989, is studying to 
be a teacher.

Francisco Medina, member of the Huntington Park Health and Education Commission, from Mexico

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Medina moved from Mexico City in 2000 at 16. “I’m part of this community,”
 he says. “I care as much about 
it as any U.S. citizen.”

RELATED: ‘There Is No Single Immigrant Narrative’

Ju Hong, outreach coordinator at the Asian American and Pacific Islander DACA collaborative, from South Korea

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Hong relocated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, in 2001 at 11. He works to educate people about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which delays deportation for at least two years.

Gretta Moreno, author, from Mexico

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Moreno came from Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 2003 after experiencing harassment as a transgender woman.

Yosimar Reyes, Define American Arts fellow, from Mexico

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Reyes left Guerrero, Mexico, at 3 and walked across the desert with his grandmother to reunite with his mother
 in L.A.

Justino Mora and Ivan Ceja, cofounders of UndocuMedia, an immigrant rights organization, from Mexico

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Mora moved here in 2000, when he was 11, to escape “extreme poverty” in his small town near Mexico City; Ceja was 9 months old when his family came from Michoacán in 1992.

Denea Joseph, student at UCLA, from Belize

Photograph by Damon Casarez

Joseph, a double major in African American studies and public affairs, emigrated from Roaring Creek, Belize, in 2000 when she was 7.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Los Angeles magazine.