University of Arizona student Cynthia Diaz went without food for almost a week to protest her mother’s detention for an immigration violation.
Diaz’ mother, an undocumented immigrant, was deported from the U.S. in 2011 when Diaz was 15 — the first time she learned that her mother was an undocumented immigrant.
“It took Immigration and Customs Enforcement all of 15 minutes to break up my family,” Diaz described in an editorial about why she went on a hunger strike.
The Latin-American studies and pre-public health major went to the White House with two other people who had family members in detention to get the Obama administration’s attention.
“One of our main messages was that I have to put my body at risk … to get the attention to get my mother home,” Diaz said. “By day six, I was already fatigued and really weak.”
Diaz got to meet with members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to discuss her mother’s detention. She also started a petition on Facebook and Twitter to rally support.
The strategies worked: Diaz’ mother is going to be released, with immigration authorities citing the woman’s “credible fear” of violence in her native Mexico. She is not yet in the clear but will be considered for humanitarian parole or asylum.
Other students, like sophomore Monica Contreras, see Diaz as an inspiration to act and take risks for what they believe in.
“She’s so young,” Contreras said. “I’m only a year older than her, but it’s amazing how different our lives are. That could happen to anyone. The fact that she’s been so fearless and where she draws that strength from — it’s so inspiring because not everyone is willing to take that risk and do what she’s doing.”
Diaz’ professors have also been awed by her courage.
“[Diaz] is beyond brilliant,” said Roberto Rodríguez, an assistant professor in the Mexican-American studies department who had Diaz in class last semester. “She is courageous and fearless … I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody as fearless as her. Just a handful of people change history, and I think [Diaz] is proof of that.”