Standing up and speaking out: How a Notre Dame grad and former UnidosUS intern took a stand against the Trump administration’s policies

Xitlaly Estrada is a first-generation college student who is working to empower communities to access and fight for their rights.

Xitlaly Estrada
Credit: Xitlaly Estrada (left)

By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

On May 21, 2017, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement. Two days before, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía addressed a group of graduating Latino seniors at a special recognition ceremony. One of the students who invited Murguía is former UnidosUS intern Xitlaly Estrada.

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She and other graduating Latino seniors were deeply concerned about the selection the vice president for commencement speaker, given the policies embraced and enacted by the Trump administration. They would go on to form a group called We StaND For that led a walkout during Pence’s speech.

“It was particularly hurtful to Latino students on campus, but also to other marginalized groups that their large commencement would have this individual that has said so many ostracizing and also denigrating comments about multiple marginalized communities. So, we wanted to bring someone to our recognition ceremony that represented the values that we think the Latino community embodies,” she says.

LISTEN: Xitlaly talks about why they reached out to Janet Murguía and UnidosUS

Xitlaly cites Murguía’s work as an advocate for immigrant rights and access to education as reasons for inviting her to speak at the recognition ceremony.

“We saw Janet as someone who really represents the Latino community,” Xitlaly continues. “I still think that Janet is one of the strongest advocates for the Latino community and one of the most visible advocates for the Latino community.”

READ: Janet Murguía’s full remarks at Notre Dame

It’s a connection born from her experience as an intern in our Los Angeles office, which showed her how UnidosUS works daily with our nearly 300 Affiliates to take a stand, give voice to communities, and make a difference.

INTERNING AT UnidosUS

Xitlaly, who is currently a first-year law student at the University of Notre Dame, interned in our California office while she was an undergraduate at Notre Dame.

“When I was going into the interview I didn’t have huge familiarity with the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS),” Estrada admits. “But one of my friends had previously interned there and she convinced me—you’ll love it, they’re great, they work on a lot of issues you care about.”

Xitlaly worked closely with both Feliza Ortiz-Licon, Senior Director of K-16 Education Programs, and Brenda Gonzalez Ricards, California Regional Director. She got first-hand experience on a range of issues—including education policy—and collaborated with UnidosUS Affiliates, the local community-based organizations that directly serve Hispanics and others nationwide.

One of the projects that Xitlaly worked on involved research on educational barriers in the Central Valley in California—a project that hit home for her.

“There was this Business Insider article that was published that gave the rates of essentially the cities that had the least educated Latinos, and Bakersfield, California was part of that list, and that happens to be my home town,” she says.

The Central Valley of California is home to a large community of migrant farmworkers, which presents unique challenges for ensuring that children can succeed in school. For example, many parents don’t speak English and lack access to the support they’d need to communicate with teachers. Additionally, because so many parents are farmworkers, they often keep schedules that make it difficult for them to find time to meet with teachers about their child’s progress.

“One of the things I looked at was internal accountability, and how we can create frameworks of education where it’s not just an individual teacher that feels responsible for their own children’s success, but rather creating a culture, and a community, and a school where every teacher feels responsible for every child’s success,” Estrada explains.

LISTEN: Xitlaly talks about growing up in California’s Central Valley

A FIRST-GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENT

Xitlaly is a first-generation college student, but sees herself as someone who has had a lot of advantages because her family has always been supportive of her. It made her cognizant of the privilege she’s had, despite a humble upbringing.

As an undergraduate, she was able to connect with other students from similar backgrounds. But as she applied to law school she was aware of the fact that many of her classmates were the children of doctors or lawyers and were more privileged than she was.

While she is interested in service-oriented law, she also maintains an interest in policy thanks to her internship with UnidosUS. As she’s entered law school, she’s learned more about different landmark cases, particularly in the field of education rights.

Asked about a field that she would consider specializing in, Xitlaly indicates that her main goal is to work where she can make the most change. Beyond that, she is concerned with empowering other members of the Latino community.

“How do we allow them to access and fight for their rights?”

And she sees UnidosUS as an important voice in that fight.

“I think the fact that the organization works to have representation across the board, and demonstrates the ability of capable Latinas and Latinos, and its ability to welcome anyone has always made me love UnidosUS,” she concludes.

READ MORE OF OUR STUDENT PROFILES

How an UnidosUS Líderes Con Alas fellow found a life mission in dark times

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