When she was only 7-years-old, Jia Min “Carmen” Yang and her parents emigrated from China to the United States. At the time, Yang didn’t even speak English. Now, as an 18-year-old living in Chicago’s South Side, Yang is a young political activist, persuading other immigrants in her community to get involved in the political process and vote if they are able. She has witnessed firsthand the heartbreak caused by an immigration policy that can tear families apart — and she doesn’t want to see it happen again.
Last December, Yang visited Congress through Wish for the Holidays, an event organized by We Belong Together, a campaign that seeks to mobilize women in support of immigration reform. During this program, Yang heard the stories of many young immigrants whose families were torn apart by immigration laws. “Listening to them tell their personal stories about their families being separated breaks my heart,” Yang said in an interview with the National Journal. “I connect to them and feel their pain, and it only made me more passionate about this issue. It angers me to know this is happening, and I really want to help change it.”
Yang’s neighborhood is composed of a large immigrant population. At Thomas Kelly Public High School in Brighton Park (where she attends school), 96 percent of the 3,200 students come from low-income families. The student body is 87 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, 3 percent white and 2 percent black. “Practically all my friends are immigrants,” she says. Because of this, the issue of immigration reform is very close to her heart. Yang tries to do her part by getting involved in the community. She’s dedicated more than 800 hours to improving the neighborhood. She also volunteers with the Chinese American Service League. But her biggest service is with the Mikva Challenge, an organization that gets youth involved with politics.
For several years now, Yang has been heavily involved in the Get Out the Vote campaign, where she worked to improve voter turnout in her community. She’s been a team captain, helping train new volunteers, working the phone bank and canvasing the neighborhood. “Working on these projects, I have learned that people have to be determined and cooperate together as one in order to make changes,” she says. “It may take a long time to see the results and get what we deserve, however, through handwork and commitment, those things will come.”
Yang hopes the same is true with immigration reform. She hopes that by making her voice heard that other families won’t be afraid to speak out to campaign for change. “There are a lot of people — 11 million in this country — who are undocumented, and 5.5 million of them are kids,” Yang says. “I’ll keep working until I’m reassured that no families are going to be separated, no parents are going to be sent back — and we can go to school without fear that someone will be gone when we get home.”