Immigrant-rights activists kicked off Latinx Heritage Month in the company of one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Cristina Jimenez — executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth–led organization in the nation — gave a keynote address on Friday evening to a crowd of nearly 150 people. Afterward, a panel of female immigrant organizers joined Jimenez at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on the New Haven Green.

“We have to stand up, not just for the rights of us, for our families,” said Jimenez, who made the Time list earlier this year. “If it’s one community that can be attacked — we can all be attacked. … Unity can give us dignity.”

Jimenez has organized in immigrant communities for more than 10 years with United We Dream. Under Jiménez’s leadership, the organization has grown to a network of more than 100 groups and 400,000 members, according to Unidad Latina en Accion activists. Jimenez said that to create real reform that protects youth and families, it is important to change the country’s political landscape.

Born in Ecuador, Jimenez came to the United States with her family at age 13. She attended high school and college as an undocumented student in New York; she noticed that her family was treated poorly by neighbors and peers at school.

“They treated immigrants differently, not because they knew our status, but because of the color of our skin,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez said that the power of minorities in the United States comes from their unity. She urged attendees to continue to resist President Donald Trump’s administration, and continue to organize and vote for politicians who welcome immigrants. At the event, ULA organizers set up a voter registration table.

The event was held at the same church where, for 291 days, Nelson Pinos Gonzalez — a New Haven resident and Ecuadorian immigrant — has been living.

During an October 2017 Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-in, Pinos was asked

to return permanently to Ecuador by the end of the month. After losing his job because of his immigration status, Pinos sought sanctuary at the church last November. In 2011, the immigration enforcement agency’s then-Director John Morton issued a memo directing officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals.

Pinos has lived in the United States since 1993 and was the sole provider for three children before he began to live in the church. Jimenez praised Pinos’ strength throughout the process and recognized the sacrifices he made in coming to the United States.

After Jimenez gave his remarks, Larissa Martinez ’20; Hazel Mencos, a student of Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven; and Joseline Tlacomulco, a University of Connecticut student, shared their stories and fielded questions about their experiences as undocumented immigrants. Panelists discussed a variety of topics, including the importance of mental health resources undocumented immigrants and changing the narrative of “immigrants as criminals.”

“I think together we can win, but divided we definitely cannot win,” Martinez said.

Eileen Galvez, director of La Casa Cultural at Yale, said that the Latinx Heritage Month Kickoff is one of the highlights of the semester for the cultural center. While La Casa does not limit the celebration of Latino communities to just October, the heritage month provides an opportunity to engage in important conversations and movements, Galvez said.

The event was cosponsored by the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program at Yale, the Yale Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu