When the Freedom Writers are invited to speak to members of Congress as part of their book tour, this student, for the first time, finds herself hesitating. As an undocumented immigrant, she wonders if she will have to show an ID and might risk being deported. Unlike most Freedom Writers, this student always knew she would graduate from high school, because her mother trusted that hard work would lead her far. However, she soon had to deal with the frustration of not being able to attend college, because she needed a social security number to receive financial aid.
This student’s life demonstrates that cultural diversity is not only an aspect of everyday social life, but also a possible issue of life and death, as it can be tied to illegality and the threat of deportation—in a similar way that a seemingly innocuous feature such as one’s skin color is tied to gang violence in Long Beach. Her immigrant background has influenced her entire life, defining even her educational opportunities.
After expressing her sadness that, despite her hard work, she is still not a full citizen of this country and doesn’t feel that she belongs, her mother reminds her of her accomplishments. She notes that even though she wasn’t able to go to college, she is currently enrolled in a community college that she is financing on her own. Her mother’s words give her the strength and motivation to choose to go to Washington, D.C. In the end, in the Capitol, no one asks for her ID and she is able to meet Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders. She experiences this as a great honor and wishes the rest of the Freedom Writers group were there.
Her mother reminds her that determination and hard work can help overcome the obstacles one faces. John Lewis exemplifies this idea, as he sacrificed his life for a noble goal, facing hatred, discrimination, and violence head-on in an effort to make the world aware of racial injustice. In turn, this student puts her own life at risk by defending the Freedom Writers’ noble goal.
As she is about to give her speech, she realizes that she is going to talk to a crowd mostly composed of privileged white men, which makes her extremely nervous, but then she reminds herself that these congressmen represent millions of people whose voices cannot be heard. She feels that she is a spokesperson who has been given the responsibility to testify on their behalf. In her speech, she describes her struggles as an undocumented immigrant, invoking her fear of immigration authorities and her deep disappointment at not being able to attend college. She explains that Ms. Gruwell and the Freedom Writers saw beyond her legal status, blindly accepting her into their large family.
This student does not feel alone. Instead, she knows that speaking up is not a selfish act, but one that has the capacity to affect many people’s lives. Her sense of accountability to other people struggling like her and, more generally, to the Freedom Writers’ elevated principles of inclusion and tolerance motivate her to use her personal story as an opportunity to effect social change. This reveals her trust in the political process as well as in the power of stories to inspire courageous actions.
After her speech, she feels that she could have said much more to inspire congressmen to fight for immigration reform. However, she concludes that she still trusts in the system, and that she will keep on fighting from within, because the Freedom Writers work within the system as well as challenge it.
The Freedom Writers have long given up their tendency to use violence to express their anger, trusting instead that working patiently and diligently within a given system, however flawed, is the only honorable path for success.