Indian American Yves Gomes is the first undocumented person as well as the youngest to be elected to the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance AFL-CIO National Executive Board at its 13th biennial convention last month.
Gomes, 22, is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland in College Park, where he earned a B.S. in biochemistry. He is a member of the Young Leaders Council of APALA and the Maryland Dream Youth Committee, a student-led grassroots organization focused on fighting for immigrant rights.
His election to APALA’s National Executive Board, the organization’s highest governing body, was announced Aug. 16.
The election came on the heels of a large convening of undocumented Asian and Asian American and Pacific Islander youth. In partnership with ASPIRE Los Angeles, APALA supported more than 40 undocumented API youth from across the country in networking with labor leaders about mass deportation, mass incarceration and other forms of criminalization in our communities.
“My election as the youngest and first undocumented person to the APALA National Executive Board is a reflection of APALA’s commitment to investing in young leaders and its willingness to uplift marginalized people in the Asian and Pacific-Islander community,” Gomes told India-West.
But before this latest achievement, Gomes and his family suffered through many hardships. As a young boy, his family – his mother is a native of India; his father is from Bangladesh – moved to the United States in 1994.
“I think as a South Asian, desi person, I admittedly bought into the stereotype of aspiring to be a sort of model minority here in the U.S.,” Gomes said. “I thought working hard, keeping quiet and pursuing a STEM career would ultimately get me success here in the U.S. and would keep my family safe.”
However, as time went by, Gomes realized that “I was dead wrong.”
His parents were requesting political asylum for years and were denied that privilege in 2006, and were later deported in 2009.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided our home on an August 2008 morning,” he recalled to India-West. “The raid happened a week after my father was pulled over for a blown taillight by local police, who collaborated information to ICE.”
Gomes said his mother, a college teacher, “was classified as a high risk to the United States because of her education.”
He went on to say that his mother was branded a criminal.
“In short, living up to false stereotypes ultimately ended with my family’s separation.”
With experiences well beyond his years, Gomes said he wanted to convey to Indian Americans some words of wisdom.
“Critically analyze and question our position in the racial and socioeconomic hierarchy here, especially those of us who have been able to achieve comfortable levels of living,” he said. “Also, I call other desi people who lack papers to not be afraid to seek help in your respective communities and to come out of hiding.”
Now, as a member of the National Executive Board of APALA, he feels he can use his voice to make a difference.
“My appointment to the board means that our undocumented API community will have an actual voice in the decision-making process of how APALA will engage immigrant communities and organize labor and community partners around the topic of immigration,” he said. “I hope my place on the board can serve to facilitate meaningful, constructive dialogue between labor and our undocumented communities.”
Gomes has worked within the context of immigrants’ rights for six years at various organizations in Maryland, as well as on campus. He has helped fight deportation campaigns with the United We Dream organization. He feels he fits into his new role as a bridge to the youth.
A pharmacy technician at a Safeway grocery store and a member of the Union UFCW Local 400, Gomes is hoping to finish his education and practice as a community pharmacist. He is currently enrolled in a pharmacy program.
“I want to still form meaningful relationships within the communities I serve and question how it may be possible to re-create true community pharmacies, not those that are run by large corporations.”