Undocumented photographer shares his personal story

Artistic activist aims to unite, educate, prosper

Cory Kay, Assistant Features Editor


CSUSM’s newly-opened Latin@ Center hosted a Skype session with Ricardo Aca, an undocumented immigrant who is living in New York City and is the center’s Latin@ of the month.

During UHour on Thursday, Sept. 24, Aca told participants his story and discussed negative stigma surrounding immigration in today’s political context.

“We aim to raise awareness on an issue that greatly impacts the Latin@ community,” said Maria Mendoza-Bautista, the Latin@ Center’s Associate Director, on the primary goal of the event.

Aca crossed the border from Mexico when he was just 14 years old. He attended high school and two years of college here in the U.S. before earning his Associate of Arts degree in Commercial Photography. He went on to use this experience and education to launch a photography project that would broadcast countless voices regarding immigration.

Aca’s “Not A…” project (viewable at www.ricordoaca.com) features Latin@ immigrants holding signs that respond to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s harmful attacks against the Latin@ community, which note Mexican immigrants a “criminals” and “drug dealers,” among other damaging labels.

“I can’t vote,” said Aca. “But I can take photos.”

Through this skill, Aca is telling the stories of numerous immigrants throughout our nation. Having built a life here and having embarked on this artistic journey, Aca highlighted his attachment and his purpose in the U.S. in a video that was shown to attendants of the event.

“This is where I went to high school. This is where all of my friends are,” Aca said. “It’s home to me.”

Aca also emphasized the idea that, as long as you have made a life for yourself here and you feel at home, “It is OK to feel American.”

Attendees of the event also saw first-hand how many people related to Aca’s story.

“I wouldn’t have had these opportunities in my home country,” said Latin@ Center Peer Coach and CSUSM student, Deya Hernandez. “People don’t understand the struggle people have to go through to get here.”

Peer Coach Javier Jara also mentioned the importance of respectful language in the Latin@ community.

“People should stop using the word ‘illegal,’” Jara said. “No one is illegal in this world.”

CSUSM’s core values were incorporated into this event. Latin@ Center Lead Peer Coach Maria Gutierrez explained how the concepts of intellectual engagement, community, integrity and inclusiveness were involved in not only this event, but in the Latin@ Center as a whole.

The event ended with a discussion of what it means to be an “ally.” Attendees collectively decided that an ally is not only someone who supports a cause or group of people, but someone who answers a call to action, and members and employees of the Latin@ Center encourage all students to be active allies in their everyday lives.

Aca’s “Not A…” project and his face-to-face sharing of his story engaged students who attended this event. Aca further strengthened the sense of community among the members of our school’s new Latin@ Center.

Being the center’s first event, the Latin@ Center Cougar Reflections allowed the center to take its first steps, which will lead to further efforts to raise awareness and to educate others about the topic of immigration in today’s political context.