Reyna Montoya is a 27 year old DACA recipient who is now the founder and CEO of Aliento, an organization that helps the millions of undocumented immigrants to not only express themselves and their feelings but to get educated and develop themselves in leadership and organization, primarily through art, in a time that is particularly threatening to their dreams. She has bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Transborder Studies with a minor in dance, and an M.Ed. She was the recipient of the Isac Amaya Foundation’s Stylos Activist of the Year Award in 2012, and this year she made it on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in the Social Entrepreneurs category.
The Tempest: There is bravery in traveling to a foreign land in hopes of a better life, and even more so in fighting a system that’s trying to prevent you from having one. Have you ever felt the weight of the risks at any point? How did you get over that?
Reyna Montoya: I grew up in one of the most conservative districts of Arizona, whose representative was the driver of anti-immigrant laws such as SB1070. At the same time, I was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who welcomed our family with home-made cookies. At that time I was aware that politics are very disconnected from the realities we live. In 2010, I started seeing so much fear in my community, my mom would be worried about raids and was concerned about us going outside. At that moment, I decided to lift my voice for those who were too afraid to do so. I shared my story at a Republican fundraiser to shine a light on who dreamers and undocumented youth really are.
The Tempest: At “Aliento” you use art as a primary medium not just for healing but to also empower those it’s helping. Why art?
As a dancer and choreographer (and closet-poet) I have had the privilege of seeing how art has not only served to express my emotions, but as a great tool to process the injustices I lived and witnessed, as well as all a weapon to express my hopes, aspirations, and dreams for my community. I see art as a two-fold medium where people can use it to heal, process, find their voice, and advocate.
How much do you think “Aliento” has progressed over the past year?
Aliento started as a project doing arts and healing workshops for mixed-status families. Then it evolved into a social venture where we have three major components: arts & healing program, organizing, leadership development & ally engagement. Over the past year, we have engaged over 4,000 people through our workshops, open mics, meetings, training, and speaking engagements. We have also increased our online presence with over 31,000 online reach. We also organized and trained 100 people to advocate for a permanent solution for dreamers in Washington, D.C. from over 10 states across the nation, where we engaged in over 500 direct conversations with members of Congress and visited over 300 offices in both chambers.
What kind of message/statement do you see “Aliento” creating a ripple effect in the U.S. with, especially in these trying times?
I see Aliento as a part of a larger ecosystem to bring hope and positive system change to the undocumented community. Our hope is that Aliento serves as an innovative model, that is actively looking for different business models outside of the traditional non-profit model to bring positive change to undocumented communities, centering our work in children and youth impacted by the injustices of the current immigration system.
How do you feel being listed in Forbes “30 Under 30” Social Entrepreneurs category this year?
Being listed in the Forbes “30 Under 30” Social Entrepreneurs this year was a very bittersweet moment. I learned about the recognition only two months after the Trump Administration decided to rescind the DACA program, which protected me and 800,000 dreamers from deportation. This means that if the U.S. Congress does not come up with a permanent solution I could easily be deported to a pretty much unknown land. However, it also gave me hope and validation of all my parents’ sacrifices as well as the reminder that I am a hustler and I will continue to blossom regardless of how many obstacle and injustices I have to face.
Would you like to say anything to our readers? To Dreamers of all kind?
Right now we are living in critical moments where our actions and inactions matter. I am a firm believer that injustices happen because of good people of conscience remain silent. I hope that you decide to act and stand with thousands of dreamers who not only live in fear but have hopes and aspirations to collectively make a better future for our communities. If you are a dreamer, just know that you are not alone and that there are people like me that see your wholeness! You are loved, you are not alone, and never forget that flowers still blossom in the desert!
What are your goals for 2018?
For 2018, Aliento hopes to continue to co-create spaces of healing, empowerment, and growth among undocumented youth and children that live in mixed-status families. Our hope is that we continue to push change at the individual, community, and society level where our humanity is our driving force. We will continue to not only engage with our youth but grow our base of supporters, where our allies continue to grow and develop to better support our communities.