Student Activist Highlight with Andrea Anaya-Sandoval

To continue the celebration of the historical impact made by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, read through one of our very own Marymount student activists, Andrea Anaya-Sandoval’s responses to her role as a student activist.

Andrea Anaya-Sandoval is a freshman studying politics with a minor in sociology. She was born in El Salvador and was raised in Silver Spring, MD. On campus, she is the President of Latino Student Association (LSA), is the Senator and Chair of Academic Affairs of the MU Student Government Association, and is a member of MU Dreamers.

Photo of Andrea Anaya-Sandoval

Can you tell us how you got involved in social justice activism? What topics are you passionate about and why do you think they are important for others to mobilize for?

I got involved in social justice activism at the beginning of high school. I grew up in a liberal and progressive community and school county, where students were actively encouraged to fight for the changes they wanted to see. So throughout high school and the present day, I advocated and got involved in organizations that fought for issues like immigrant rights, gun control, and women’s rights.

Was there a moment that inspired you to start focusing on this social justice issue in a more concrete way?

For me, the issue that struck me was immigration rights. I migrated to the U.S at the age of 5 and qualify for the program (DACA), also known as Childhood Arrivals which protects migrant children in the U.S who are undocumented. Growing up undocumented, I suffered many limitations that prevented me from applying to college, working, traveling, and just living a normal life without fearing deportation. For so long, I didn’t tell people about my status, but during my senior year of HS, DACA was at risk of being terminated after multiple courts argued its legality. That’s when I decided to go to the “ Home is Here” rally in 2019, where immigrant youth and allies stood outside the Supreme Court, fighting for DACA to stay, a program that shields over 600 thousand immigrant youth. It was a special moment for me because I had never told anybody about my status, nor had I ever been around people living a similar struggle. So to be out in front of the supreme court, chanting and fighting for my livelihood in the U.S, I felt powerful; I felt like I belonged for once. After that rally, I was set on working with immigrant rights organizations to continue fighting for justice for the 11 million undocumented people in the country. 

Tell us about the organization you work with if you work or volunteer with any. How did you get involved there and what kind of work do you do? What kind of approaches do you all take to address the social justice issues at hand?

After the Home is Here rally, I connected with United We Dream, which is the largest immigrant rights organization in the U.S. I started as a volunteer, going to events, member meetings, and rallies. The more I engaged, the more powerful I felt, and it gave me the utmost joy knowing I was part of something bigger than me for a cause that affected me for so long. Together, we fought for DC to become a sanctuary city, pushing ICE out of the community. We also the House of Representatives to pass the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people if passed by the Senate. This past year, I was also contracted as a Voter Contact Lead in our Civic Engagement Campaign. I and undocumented youth phone and text banked over 2 million people across the country for the 2020 Presidential Election.

What do you find the most rewarding about the work you do and what do you find the most challenging?

I love that the work I do allows me to connect and help people in my community who know the immigrant struggles. I know I’m fighting for something bigger than just myself. I’m fighting for the millions of undocumented people in the country who have had to go through immense struggles just to stay in a country they call home. I love working in an organization that fights for people like me because it’s healing and I have a network of people who know and understand my struggles and fight for me. But it can be draining at times, and watching how my livelihood consistently is up for debate with Congress. I’m not just an activist or community organizer, this issue is personal for me, and it affects my family and me. Sometimes, as much as I want to give others in the same situation hope, I also feel emotionally burnt out seeing how often my community is hurt by the hatred towards immigrant communities.

From a student perspective, how are you able to balance your work as an activist with your other commitments?

It’s definitely challenging. It was way easier for me to get involved in high school because the school’s workload wasn’t as much as it is in college. But now, it feels overwhelming having so much work to do for school while fighting for my rights outside of it. It’s stressful because I can’t just email my professor and say, “ sorry, I can’t turn this in because I’m on my way to congress to fight for my rights to stay in the country.” So I do my best to keep an organized schedule and have my priorities straight. But I have also learned Professors are more understanding when you’re just honest about how much you can handle.

Is there something at Marymount that has inspired you to continue working on social justice issues or shaped the way you approach your advocacy and activism?

I came to Marymount, I saw so much space for us to grow as a community. I joined different clubs where I serve as the President of the Latino Student Association and Senator and Chair of Academic Affairs on SGA. Through these organizations, I have been able to see firsthand some of the disparities students are facing on campus and I am actively working to create solutions with our student leaders on campus. It has also been a good opportunity for me to meet students who are passionate about other issues and have amazing ideas. Their approaches to critical thinking and solving have shaped my own approach and mentality.

Do you plan to use your degree and your studies to further your pursuit of addressing social justice inequalities? How?

Right now, I am majoring in politics with a minor in sociology. I chose politics because it’s important to understand the system if you want to change it. I want to have a seat at the table where I know I will accurately represent my community. It’s also vital for me to understand how our society works and the relations we have with people. Sociology and Politics are a perfect mixture of the work I am doing. Hopefully, by the end of my degree, I can better understand how to fix the systems we have created because I don’t believe they are actively protecting or serving our underrepresented communities.

In light of your work on social justice issues, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

So five years from now, I can envision myself in grad school getting a degree in public policy and also working for nonprofits advocating for immigrant rights and the issues that I’m most passionate about. I ultimately want to be able to create policy that protects and serves people in my community. Not just immigrant rights but also policy that would bring resources into my community like improving education, mental health, and housing resources because I know what it’s like to depend on a piece of legislation, so I would love to be in a position I can serve my community.

What are some ways that young people, whether in college or high school, can take effective action for change in a community? What do you think schools and organizations can do to educate young people on current social and political issues so that they form their own well supported opinions? 

Students should get involved in clubs that are fighting for the issues they’re passionate about. And if there isn’t a club, create one! There are so many opportunities for young people to get involved in movements if they only look for it. Get involved, get educated, and strive to teach others to do the same. If you want to see local change, get involved in SGA. If you want to fight for a particular issue, research the work that’s already being done in your community and try to get involved. I think sometimes colleges shelter students about the issues that are occurring around them. Institutions need to expose students to resources and opportunities that get them informed about the community’s issues. We are an institution, but we also inhabit a community, and it’s crucial to get well-informed about social and political issues. Often, students base their opinions on stuff they read online. But Universities can strive to do better by bringing in organizations and speakers to talk to students. I’ve attended some great events at MU so far where I have learned so much about the issues occurring in NOVA. Those events and conversations are important in shaping student’s perspectives on social change. 

What would be your advice for students looking to get involved in the topics you’re interested in and what do you do to keep up your fighting spirit when faced with challenges in activism?

I would advise students to research the organization that they want to work with and the issues that they’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about immigrant rights, you should research immigrant rights organizations and do some volunteering with them. Give back to your community and get informed about the issues that are occurring in the Immigrant community. You also don’t have to be an immigrant to be passionate about immigrant rights’ immigrant rights affect everyone. If you want to get into this work, reach out to orgs, get informed, and educate those around you. Something that I do that’s healing when I feel down or burn out is that I connect with those in my community that is undocumented. Together, we give each other hope and strength, and we do things that are good for our soul. It’s not always about working and working. I’ve learned that as I have transitioned into college. I do things that are good for my soul and body. Activism and community organizing is fantastic work, it can be healing, but it can also burn you out if you don’t take care of yourself. Know your boundaries and limits, it’s essential to serve your community, but self care is also community care.

The Center for Global Engagement thanks Andrea for all that she does as a student activist and is excited to see her future endeavors! 

-Judy Ortega

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