Interview Highlights: Boston’s Student Immigrant Movement Part 1

The following is a summary of an interview with Renata Teodoro regarding a project with the Center for Civic Media at MIT on the role of Media and Technology in Social Movements.

The Student Immigrant Movement

Renata Teodoro is the Development Director of the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM), which is an undocumented youth-led immigrant’s rights organization that focuses on education. SIM emerged from the battle for in-state tuition for undocumented youth in Massachusetts, but has also been very active around the Dream Act, stopping the deportation of students, and “building leadership of young people in the community.” The best source for more information on SIM is their website, or by visiting their office in Chinatown.

The Student Immigrant Movement’s main areas of work include leadership development and training, specifically through recruitment of high school and college students who are undocumented. Through the Deportation “rapid response” Team, SIM has been able to halt the deportation of detained undocumented youth. Additionally, SIM has a College Access Program, where workshops are provided over weekends “for students looking into getting to college.” Renata states, “It’s pretty small scale…last year…there [were] only like forty students who came through the program…but [um], we were able to get some of them into college.” There is also a strong focus on campaigns within SIM, ranging from in-state tuition campaigns in Massachusetts to broader Dream Act organizing. “We’ve been working on in-state [tuition]…but that’s…kind of been like an uphill battle.”

Rogelio: “What social movements do you consider yourself a part of?”

Renata: “…I definitely identify with The Dream Movement…you know…young people…fighting…for immigrant’s rights…”

Renata became involved with the Student Immigrant Movement nearly four years ago as a freshman at UMASS Boston after coming across the SIM Facebook page. “I was undocumented…[and] my family was going back to Brazil,” she said. Through the SIM Facebook page, Renata was able to access media created by undocumented activists, including videos of students she would eventually work with. “When I saw those videos I was like, ‘I am one of those students,’” she stated. Renata was able to find the SIM network of undocumented youth through the help of social media, a connection that is increasingly happening among people with similar circumstances.

Daily Media Practice

A typical day for Renata involves communication with a core group of staff at SIM. This communication occurs in person, over the phone, or through the group messaging system GroupMe. Communication practices are similar with general members of SIM, however Facebook and email play a larger role. “A lot of times we let them [SIM members] know what is going on through…email blast, or like a Facebook blast,” asserts Renata. Social media plays a pivotal role in outreaching to undocumented youth and also keeping current SIM members informed about relevant topics. For example, videos of SIM members in Boston are uploaded regularly to Facebook. Additionally, social media has allowed for awareness campaigns surrounding detained immigrant youth that are in danger of deportation, such as the campaign to stop the deportation of Denis and Vinny. During this campaign, SIM members and allies were urged to change their profile picture to one of Denis and Vinny as a sign of solidarity with the detained youth. “We get our friends to put the picture on Facebook so, [um] that we can get the word out to them without relying on mainstream media,” states Renata. This practice has been highly effective for SIM, as over 4000 people were engaged through the group’s Facebook page and also through Twitter. “Sometimes it’s even more effective than…putting it on The Boston Globe,” she said.

Ethnic Media

Different forms of ethnic media have also been important to SIM’s media approach. Specifically, relationships with El Mundo, El Planeta, The Brazilian Times, and other Brazilian media outlets in the Boston area have been very fruitful. “They get the narrative out there, and they usually use the narrative that we want them to use…which is different from, like, the American media [because] they can spin it any way they want,” comments Renata. Ethnic media has been crucial to informing communities that are most affected by immigration legislation, and also building trust and credibility towards SIM. For many communities, ethnic media is the primary source of information for actions and events related to SIM. “It makes people trust us…they see us in El Planeta [and] they’re like, ‘Oh I saw you in El Planeta so that’s why I wanna be involved.” Additionally, a presence in ethnic media has benefitted SIM through donations and other contributions.

According to Renata, coverage with ethnic media is crucial to adding legitimacy to the movement. “When they see you in the paper, they’re like, ‘oh these kids are real.’” During the campaign to halt the deportation of Denis and Vinny, SIM outreached to ethnic media in order to give an account of the youth detentions. The communication with ethnic media was significant, not only to raise awareness about the campaign, but also because undocumented youth were able to find SIM and request similar support. “We already had one person call us and was like, ‘can you stop my deportation?’” said Renata, “So um, it’s effective in terms of like helping the community and…building credibility.”

Mainstream Media

Renata described the relationship with mainstream media as being “a little trickier.” While SIM has worked with The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and The Metro, ensuring that SIM’s message will get across can be a challenge with mainstream media. “They spin it the way they want because…they’re trying to sell newspapers…and there’s so much anti-immigrant sentiment.” The success that SIM has had with mainstream media has been largely due to relationships with individual journalists and reporters that are movement sympathizers. This has been the case with the Associated Press, where individual journalists have been great allies to the movement. For example a reporter of the Associated Press covered a campaign by undocumented youth to donate blood at blood drives, which was very beneficial to the movement. “Sometimes you get lucky with the mainstream media,” said Renata.

Generational Media Divide

There seems to be a generational divide in regards to media use among SIM’s target organizing communities. Boston has unique immigration patterns, leading to a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds that paint the city in all colors. For these reasons, SIM has strategically suited their media approach to match the media consumed by immigrant communities. El Planeta and El Mundo reach the Boston area’s Spanish speaking population, while SAMPAN and The Brazilian Times cater to Chinese and Brazilian communities, respectively. Among older generations, “traditional” media sources, such as newspapers, radio, and television continue to be consumed regularly, especially ethnic media. Things are much different among youth: “People our age are…on Facebook and Twitter, so they find us through that.”

Top Three Most-used Media

Renata went on to rank the top three media used by SIM’s target communities: 1) Facebook 2) ethnic radio 3) ethnic and local newspapers. “Radio stations for some reason…mostly get to the parents, like the ethnic radio stations,” said Renata. However, the generational divide of media use has also presented challenges in regards to communication. “Sometimes it’s harder to reach out to people who are like over thirty through…Facebook sometimes.” Among the SIM core membership of youth, social media and email are the preferred methods of communication. This preference can pose challenges when outreaching to an older demographic. In this case, Renata comments how SIM has to “go traditional” and use phone calls instead.

Tracking Media Use

Keeping track of media creation and consumption can be challenging, but SIM addresses this task by keeping databases using Google Docs. “We’ve been tracking everything through Google…we have like a hundred Google Docs.” While keeping track of spreadsheets and other documents through Google has been helpful, SIM hopes to improve their method somehow. “It’s helpful but it can also be aggravating. We’re trying to get a better system…so that we can be more effective at keeping track of things.”


This concludes Part 1 of this interview summary blog. Part 2 coming soon!

I would like to thank Renata Teodoro once more for agreeing to collaborate with the Center for Civic Media: Thank you Renata!

I would also like to thank the artist of the picture provided, Julio Salgado: Thanks Julio!