Uplift (Madison + Tita Maddie)

 To Tita Maddie, my Mommy,

As your daughter, you’ve influenced my role in the undocumented youth movement the most by raising me to be who I am. But your legacy in our movement is greater than the two organizers you’ve raised. I address this letter to your movement name, Tita Maddie, to honor your legacy as one of our freedom fighters. 

You took on your movement name, Tita Maddie, after your first press conference. I invited you to speak on  Assembly Bill (AB) 60 on behalf of UPLIFT, an undocumented Asian Pacific Islander (undocuAPI) youth-led organization. The California bill allowed eligible undocumented people to receive a driver’s license. On TV, you spoke about driving as an unlicensed undocumented mother. You took the risk of driving to work,  dropping me and my sister off to school, and taking us wherever we needed to be to meet our potential. When we made it to college, you knew the risk had been worth it. I invited you to speak because I felt liberated to come out the shadows and fight for our dignity

Being undocumented and Filipino, we were always told to hide, as if our status was something shameful. That day, I wanted you to be free and take back your power.  You inspired everyone in the audience with your courage and determination to provide. It was rare for undocumented parents to speak up because unlike your children with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), you had no protection from deportation. Immigrant parents often have to place their dreams on their children because you all are not afforded the same opportunity. But without you taking the risk to drive me to my first undocumented youth conference, I wouldn’t be where I am now. 

After the press conference, you told me you felt like a weight was lifted off your chest because you no longer had to hide. I was ready for you to join me in organizing with UPLIFT, but the next day  we rushed you to the hospital and discovered your cancer recurred. 

Defiantly, you continued to speak out for our community. Two months after recovering from life-threatening complications from chemotherapy, you served as the keynote speaker for the Immigrant Youth Empowerment Conference at UCLA. You spoke with daring vulnerability about once fearing for your daughters’ future in a country that wouldn’t afford us opportunities without papers. You shared how you felt inspired by young undocumented activists, and how your dream became a reality when my sister and I started fighting for immigrant rights with UPLIFT. Undocumented youth gave you hope, you said, because we had won DACA, financial aid for undocumented students, and AB 60 driver’s licenses. You called to the parents to rally with their children because we weren’t giving up, so neither should you all. You believed these victories would lead to the immigration reform that can provide the relief you’d gotten old and sick waiting for. You hardly used your driver’s license before you passed, but so many benefited from your advocacy.

I’m now in my seventh year of organizing with UPLIFT and my third year working at California State University, Northridge’s DREAM Center, providing support and mentorship to undocumented students on campus. I recognize I am living your dreams, so it is my duty to answer your call for intergenerational organizing. Undocumented parents don’t deserve to die waiting for a better life. As our lives improve with monumental victories like DACA, it is our responsibility to uplift our elders and keep fighting for those excluded.

 Even though your time in the movement may have been cut short, your legacy lives on. Your passing fueled UPLIFT to fight for expanding healthcare access to undocumented elders, in the Health4All campaign. You helped to show that the undocumented movement is no longer fighting only for the youth. We carry your memory by fighting for and with everyone. Our elders deserve dignity during their lifetimes.

Rest in Power,

Your bing-bing, Maggi


UPLIFT is an Undocumented Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Youth-led organization, based in Los Angeles. They provide a safe and progressive space for API immigrant youth. UPLIFT raises awareness of various immigrant and civil right issues in the API community, advocate for equality, and uplift the narratives of API undocumented youth in the immigrant rights movement. Together they build lasting relationships to empower and strengthen the next generation of leaders.

Madison Villanueva is an undocumented Pinay warrior who was born in Cavite, Philippines and immigrated to California. Much of her work revolves around building power among the undocumented community to fight for collective liberation and healing. Her chosen family is UPLIFT, for which she is a Core Leader working to nurture the leadership and uplift the narratives of undocumented Asian Pacific Islanders. She currently supports undocumented students in higher education as the DREAM Center Supervisor for CSU Northridge. She is an alumnus of UC Santa Barbara, where she served as the co-chair for the undocumented student organization, IDEAS, and the lead intern for the Undocumented Student Services (USS).

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