Nestor Gomez Jimenez began his work as a political organizer at the age of 14.
“My whole life has been political,” Jimenez said. “And I didn’t choose that. It was because I was directly affected.” Jimenez spoke to students about his passion for activism as the Political Awareness Committee’s first speaker of the spring semester. He addressed an audience of St. Olaf students on Tuesday, Feb. 21 in the Black Ballroom.
Jimenez began his lecture by telling the audience that he came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant when he was nine years old. When he was 19 he received a work permit and protection against deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is also one of the movements he himself has worked on.
“I wouldn’t be here today without it,” Jimenez said.
PAC Weekly Event Coordinator Rita Thorsen ’18 met Jimenez at a local Get Out the Vote campaign this past fall. She invited him to speak at St. Olaf because, according to Thorsen, he could provide a view on local politics that students might not be exposed to otherwise.
“He was very involved in electoral politics, which I think is really, really important for young people to know,” Thorsen said.
Stressing the importance of marches and protests, Thorsen said, “it’s also really important to actually interact with the system and the powers that be to also make lasting change.”
One of Jimenez’s first experiences as a political organizer started when he worked with a group of youth workers from the University of Minnesota who opposed local violence. From this experience, he saw firsthand the power of community.
“We had the Hmong community, we had the black community from Northside Minneapolis, we had the Latino community,” Jimenez said, explaining that they all came together to work against the gang violence present in North Minneapolis.
His passion for youth organizing continued as he took on the role of Vice President of La Oportunidad Peace Conference.
“It was all about peace, and how we could involve Latino youth in organizing but also just give them a medium,” Jimenez said. “So we focused that time on visual art, and how [that] could become some form of medium for peace.”
In his talk, Jimenez opened up about his struggles as a student in high school, including his inability to apply for a driver’s license.
“I barely graduated because there was no path for me to actually continue on to go to college, or even to work, or even to drive,” Jimenez said.
Accessibility to driver’s licenses is now part of Jimenez’s advocacy.
“A lot of different people in this state can’t get a driver’s license because of their immigration status,” Jimenez said.
He hopes that in the future all residents will be able to obtain licenses regardless of their legal status in an effort to make the roads more safe.
Not every campaign that Jimenez has worked on has been successful. In 2007 and 2008 he worked on passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in Minnesota. Two corresponding bills passed the state legislature but were vetoed by then-governor Tim Pawlenty. Again in 2013, during a wave of optimism surrounding immigration reform, Jimenez worked to pass the DREAM Act in Minnesota, but once again it failed to pass. He showed a photo of all the organizers who had worked on passing the act.
“It’s really symbolic,” he said, gesturing to the photo. “You have legislators, you have Dreamers, you have the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU). And this is key if you ever want to go into politics. You have to build relationships. You might need them later on, and that’s key in whatever you do.” Even though the DREAM Act didn’t pass, Jimenez carried on those relationships.
At the end of his talk Jimenez implored students to get involved. One aspect he stressed was education about the democratic process.
“Knowing the process is key,” Jimenez said. “And unfortunately in lower income POC [people of color] communities that’s not being taught, and they’re missing out on that privilege.”
Jimenez also encouraged students to canvas for local campaigns, especially in Northfield and surrounding communities. Along with getting involved, Jimenez discussed the importance of making politics personal in order to humanize what can at times seem abstract.
“You tell your story,” he said. “If you’re an immigrant or a refugee your story is really powerful.”