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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Teen activist from Queens wins award for leadership in undocumented immigrant and LGBT communities

Katherine Tabares, 18, moved from Colombia to the United States in 2010. She has since rallied in Washington, D.C., fought for the New York DREAM Act and worked to continue her education. She received a Colin Higgins Foundation’s Youth Courage Award on Saturday.

A determined and dedicated Queens teenager who identifies herself as “undocumented and unafraid, queer and unashamed” will be honored on Saturday for her advocacy efforts on behalf of both immigration rights and the LGBT community.

Katherine Tabares, 18, is one of three recipients of the Colin Higgins Foundation’s Youth Courage Award. Along with a $10,000 grant, Tabares will be recognized during New York City’s LGBTQ Pride Weekend.

“Coming out as being undocumented is like coming out as LGBTQ,” she told the Daily News. “Having to do both is difficult.”

After graduating as class president from International High School in Queens in 2012, Tabares enrolled at LaGuardia Community College. She earned a 3.9 GPA and is transferring to Hunter College in the fall to study political science with the hopes of becoming an immigration lawyer.

“I have seen my immigrant community suffer because of negligence and want to be able to protect them from being abused and oppressed,” she said.

Tabares is no stranger to hardships. Like many immigrants, her family moved from their home country of Colombia to the United States in search of a better life in 2010. They settled in the Corona section of Queens.

Although she had taken English classes back home, Tabares admitted that she was far from fluent. During her first summer in the states, she took the initiative and enrolled in an intensive English course.

“I really pushed myself to learn the language, and even though it was difficult,” she said. “I had friends who encouraged me through the process to speak English instead of Spanish, and that was very helpful.”

In 2011, her frustrated father packed up and moved back to Colombia, leaving Tabares and her mother, both of them undocumented, to fend for themselves in New York. Her mom, a home health aide, worked nearly non-stop to keep them afloat.

Despite living in the same apartment, Tabares said she and her mom rarely see each other. However, their situation has only pushed them closer, and they have become each other’s biggest fan.

“As a daughter, I want to be able to make my mother proud because she is making me proud,” Tabares said. “She is my hero.”

Not long after moving to New York, Tabares became involved with Make the Road, a non-profit that is part activist organization, part support center for the Latino and working class communities of the city. She has since fought for the passage of the New York DREAM Act, which would open up financial aid to undocumented students, and spoken out against about Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) in front of the Supreme Court.

Tabares said one of her greatest accomplishments has been standing with her mother, Maria Elena Guerrero, and sharing their story with thousands at the Rally for Citizenship in Washington, D.C. on April 10.

“A couple of months ago before today, I asked my mother, ‘Mom, what is your dream?’ And what she told me is, ‘Katherine, my dream is to be healthy so I can give you a future full of opportunities and success like I never had before,'” she told the crowd.

In her speech, Tabares called for comprehensive reform that covered all immigrants, not just DREAMers.

“It is unacceptable that the system does not recognize my mother for who she is because we don’t have a regular immigration status,” she said. “I am tired, just as many of you are tired, of seeing our parents being oppressed and denied of work opportunities, not because of their skills…but because of a nine-number digit that supposedly defines a person in the United States, when it should not.”

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