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Finding Solidarity

Students like Dayana Lopez ’25 shared their stories through poetry at Santa Clara’s Migration Gala, hosted by the Undocumented Students and Allies Association.
April 29, 2024
By Angela Solorzano
Dayana Lopez sitting in front of a wall with multicolor paper butterflies attached.
| Dayana Lopez Guevara ’25 is co-chair of SCU’s Undocumented Students and Allies Association (USAA), which helped organize the Migration Gala.

Dayana Lopez Guevara ’25 met her father for the first time in an airport lobby, but for years that wasn’t what she remembered most about that day. 

Until then, Lopez Guevara had spent the first 11 years of her life in El Salvador. With the country’s economy still reeling from its civil war, her father fled to the United States in hopes of earning enough money to send to his family. Three years later, her mother made the difficult decision to join him, leaving their young daughter to be cared for by an aunt.

Though the family was apart, they planned to reunite in the United States when they gained financial security. 

That day finally arrived when Lopez Guevara was 11 years old. After traveling to a child detention facility in Texas, she boarded a plane—her first ever—to fly to San Francisco to reconnect with her mother and meet her father for the first time. 

But instead of a joyous reunion, Lopez Guevara remembers flashes of confusion and anxiety—a strange man in a suit and floral tie who sat next to her on the plane; a picture of her father she held with her; and perhaps most notably, U.S. Border Patrol agents who ushered her through the airport when she arrived. 

It wasn’t until she started writing that she began to process the experience.
“Migration is really difficult,” says Lopez Guevara. “As an 11-year-old, I didn’t have a good understanding of how to deal with that experience myself when I went through it. Poetry and writing became that space for me to process my experiences.” 

About a year ago, during her sophomore year at Santa Clara, she tried writing a poem about her experience, which, for months, remained a work in progress. Every now and then, she’d come back to it to add new details and make edits as she remembered more. Earlier this year, she finally finished. 

Lopez Guevara debuted her poem, titled “The First Time I Flew On An Airplane, Before I Met My Father,” at Santa Clara’s Migration Gala in early March. She was one of many students who shared stories of their migrant experience at the event, which raises money for the Cabrini Fund that supports undocumented students at Santa Clara.

We sat down with Lopez Guevara to listen to her experiences as an immigrant, and her work as co-chair of SCU’s Undocumented Students and Allies Association (USAA), which helped organize the Migration Gala.

I wanted to congratulate you on the success of the Migration Gala, and this year’s theme, “Solidarity Through Storytelling.” How did that idea take shape, and how did you come across your keynote speaker, Deyci Carillo Lopez? 

We wanted to create a space that centered on the voices of migrants. Our ultimate goal [as USAA] was to create the space and allow anybody to step in, and share their stories. 

With migration, it’s very easy to get swept into the statistics, or what is said in the news, and just focus on the broad perspective of what is going on. We thought it was important to speak to the individual stories. Who better to tell the stories than [fellow migrants]? We want to share their story and their agency, highlighting that although migration in itself is a big community, each person has their own story. 

We were connected to Deyci Carillo, a Mexican poet from Oakland, through the LEAD Scholars Program. We thought that given her being part of the migrant community, she would be a great choice for a speaker and representative of what our gala was about. 

You read your own poem, “The First Time I Flew On An Airplane, Before I Met My Father” during the gala. Could you tell me a bit about its significance to you? 

Poetry has been a place for me to reclaim my voice and not nurture those feelings of animosity or hatred that I initially encountered in this country and are not my responsibility to feel. That’s what this poem was. I mentioned when I was reading it at the gala that it’s a poem that I wrote a year ago at age 19. It’s a poem that I continuously come back to edit to add new insights because I think it is representative of a space that I’m trying to create for myself where I can just be.

If you are comfortable sharing, how does your migrant experience inform your life, both artistically and academically?

Having gone through the journey myself, I have a better understanding in a small way of what my parents went through and what they experienced migrating into the country from El Salvador. As a child of immigrants, you get this pressure that you want to make sure to prove to your parents that the sacrifice that they made was worth it. Like, “I am going to take all of these opportunities that you didn’t have and I’m going to make the best of them.” 

I think my migrant experience has informed me in a lot of ways. But more than that, I learned about the power and importance of storytelling and listening to stories. Learning is a process where we can be teachers, but we can also be students. Allowing ourselves to share our experiences and our stories allows people to get a glimpse of what our experiences are. But at the same time, knowing that we are not experts in any way, and that even if we are connected to different communities, there’s so much more we can learn from each other’s experiences. 

Artistically, it’s been more about letting myself be free, and the most vulnerable that I can. And academically, it’s been like, “I’m here, I made it and I’m going to make my family proud.” And I think at the same time also myself, hopefully, I also hope for that.

As one of the co-chairs of USAA, can you tell me about what the club is and what it represents? 

Our mission statement is to promote and raise awareness of immigration issues on campus to create a more immigration-friendly campus. We seek to create coalitions among undocumented students, allies, staff, and faculty and to address the needs of undocumented students and allies on campus that are relevant to the current circumstances. 

It is important to recognize that being undocumented can often present a lot of challenges in terms of financial aid, whether you can do an internship, or if you can accept a job.

We seek to bring awareness to the fact that this community exists. This community needs to be recognized, celebrated, and supported. 

When did you first get involved with USAA?

It was actually in the most organic way. I was an orientation leader at the end of my freshman year and my friend Alex connected me with Daniel Martinez, the co-chair at the time. We were just walking by the main parking garage on campus when Daniel approached us to chat. Alex mentioned that Daniel was leading USAA and that I should join. To which, he added, “You should join USAA,” prompting me to join the club. 

So I submitted a form and that summer I heard back and I’d been named club treasurer. Getting involved was an easy choice for me because my migrant identity has always been significant and very central. And I just, I think there’s sort of like this invisibility, or like underlying thing when it comes to migration that I think often needs to be highlighted. 

How would you describe your experience with USAA at SCU? 

I felt comfortable and just at ease in the community. Allowing yourself to be in a community with people who have experienced a lot of what you have experienced can lift a lot of the weight that you’re constantly carrying as migrants.

I think it’s always important to continue to give back and create spaces where people can feel supported and uplifted in a way that may not be always possible for most migrant students. Being undocumented means you can’t disclose certain information because of the danger that it poses. Having spaces where people can be an ally, or companions for your identity, is always important.

What are some goals/areas of growth for USAA in the coming year? 

Migration is ever-changing. I think with the elections coming up, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen. It is important to have a space that you can fall back on, where you feel safe regardless of what is happening out there, where you feel supported, and where you feel that people can take action. That is what USAA is trying to do. 

I hope that beyond events like the gala, more people come to our weekly general meetings so they can get interested in researching more and learning how to take action. 

I don’t want it to just be, “I attended this and then I‘m done.” I want people to think, “How can I support nonprofit organizations? How can I attend Undocumented Allied training? How can I continue to keep learning? Can I donate to the Cabrini Fund?”

What are you most proud of about your work with USAA?

My proudest moment is when I see people who didn’t know about the USAA before, come in and be moved by it. They can see it is such important work.

So having students feel safe enough to keep coming is what I’m proud of most. At the end of the day, even if it’s just one student, one faculty member, or one staff member who feels seen by the club, then I think I feel like we’ve made it.


“The First Time I Flew On An Airplane, Before I Met My Father” 

By Dayana Lopez Guevara

I sat next to a suited stranger. The magnolias

of his tie slapping an armless armrest.

And his voice, breathy and blissful, spoke a

language I did not understand.

Against it, shivering questions bounced

Left, right, left, right

I wonder if, like this stranger, his voice will breathe a smile?

Could he smell like him? Tobacco washed in sweat and mint?

Will his skin fold under his eyes like the corners of the picture I kept under my pillow?


Outside, encapsulated by a smooth-edged square,

I imagined was Jesus’ home. And beneath a heavenly mist,

children wrapped in tinfoil, bound by polished, swollen branches,

swaddled in identical green uniforms.

They were extensions of a rotten trunk, whose rancid fruit bled,

US Border Patrol. Under a white sky with woven hues of gray and orange

were robotic, black birds sliced in half-half spheres.

They could see and hear it all.


In my back pocket, a wrinkled prayer in a ziplock bag.

My blue khakis, stained from water and dirt, squeaked against

broken leather. My seat was cold, my memories warm.

From the airplane window, the sky surrendered

its sapphire skin to a stained navy ocean, two red pillars blooming,

their hairs stretched from beginning to end.

The stranger gone, and Jesus’ home distant, again.


The pecks between my oversized plimsolls and the airport ground were slow, so careful,

that I imagined myself in a stuffy, plaid dress on a Sunday, at 10:05 a.m.,

walking by congested rows and by a priest that I always wondered

was too extravagant not to smile. And like a seesaw,

three shirts, two jeans, and monthly phone calls shuffled

in my duffel bag as I moved it from shoulder to shoulder.

Up, down, up, down


From a distance, he called my name, and as I raced to his outstretched arms, to the prospect of home, I decided, yes, my father’s voice does breathe a smile.

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