photo: Zaira Livier; iStock

Zaira Livier was only eight years old when her life changed forever. Visiting the U.S. with her mother — who returned to Mexico — and brother from Querétaro, Mexico, via Nogales, this particular time was different from past visits. When they initially tried to cross, her mother and a border guard got into an argument. The guard destroyed her mother’s visa as a result. After several unsuccessful visa-less attempts to cross to attend a funeral, the woman’s aunt — who was born in the U.S. — joined the trio to help and had a brilliant idea. She dressed her niece and nephew in nice outfits, gave each juice to carry, and taught them to say, “U.S. citizen.” After extensive practice, the group of four nonchalantly walked across the urban border crossing. “U.S. citizen,” each announced with confidence, without missing a step. It worked.    

Zaira Livier is now 30. Her mother, now back in Mexico, never meant for her children to stay in the U.S., but, as debates on immigration make clear, maneuvering life as an undocumented person is no walk in the park. Living in the shadows is sometimes the most viable option. 

She pretended that her aunt was her mother and she learned to hide when the migra truck made its rounds in South Tucson, where she still lives. 

“We were little, confused, and not sure who they were there for. It’s a very scary feeling," Livier recalls, now a resident and student of neuroscience at the University of Arizona recalls. “I tip my hat to anyone who lives with that fear his whole life. It’s no way to live.”

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Livier only had to live with that fear for about four years. At about the age of 13 she became a U.S. resident. Today, Livier is not afraid of leaving the shadows. She is a politically active feminist Bernie Sanders supporter who hopes to become a citizen to vote in the fast-approaching presidential elections in November. She hasn’t applied for citizenship yet because of a lack of money. 

In October of 2015, Livier founded Latinas for Bernie Sanders, an organization that ran voter registration drives in heavily Latino South Tucson, Arizona. She estimates that she and her amazing group helped register some 2,000 new voters. In the period leading up to the March 22 Democratic primary, the group ran phone banks, canvassed, spread flyers, and held fund-raisers, like Dance for Bernie. As sitting president of Progressive Minds of America at the University of Arizona, where she still attends classes, she oversaw efforts that led to over 1,000 students registering to vote.

After Hillary Clinton’s victory in the Arizona primary (58 percent to 40 percent), the political activist, student, bar manager, and single mother took a breather from campaigning. She was exhausted and wanted to spend more time being a mom. 

“I needed time to regroup.” But she will be back on the streets — she never left social media — as a recently hired field organizer of Arizona’s Democratic Party. 

She started on June 1 and is currently hiring a team to replace her as bar manager. While Livier knows that she may have to campaign for Hillary Clinton if the former Secretary of State wins the Democratic nomination, it was Bernie Sanders that woke Livier to the entrenched injustices of the world.

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“It drives me crazy when people say he only appeals to white America, and not to people of color,” she says. “It’s absolutely ludicrous to suggest that a candidate fighting against inequality, who is for workers’ rights, women’s rights, equal pay, increasing the minimum wage, health care for all, free college, is not directly affecting all minority communities is ludicrous.”

Livier wants big money interests to stop influencing policy, the prison-industrial complex to stop incarcerating the disenfranchised, for-profit immigration detention centers to cease to exist, an end to unmanageable debt for the crime of accessing a degree, and the military-industrial complex’s profiting from unending war. 

Of the dilemma of hiding and exploitation and a lack of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Livier says, “The whole thing is like a sick joke.” She is beyond woke.

But as a Latina feminist, Livier is all about empowering women by providing a path to political engagement and by serving as an example. 

“Latinas for Bernie is about getting women involved,” she says. “When you get Latinas involved, you get the whole family involved.” 

While Livier feels the wrath of plenty of trolls, including a Latino who sent her a picture of Sanders riddled with bullet holes and with a superimposed gun, she says she gets even more positive reinforcement from her neighbors, including non-Latinos. She hears substantially more encouraging messages than trollish hate. 

"People have said things, like 'You can’t even vote and you don’t sleep because you’re out here doing this?' I’ve never voted in my life and I will because of this,” Livier repeats. “People have taken the message, warmed up to it, and been very supportive.”

When things settle down for Livier, she wants to start a non-profit to teach kids about political engagement. She envisions going to middle and high schools with her team to throw rallies that might excite children about becoming aware of the political realm. 

“I want to get children involved, get them excited,” she says. “Then they’ll go home and talk about it.” 

Perhaps some little Latinas will one day dream of becoming leaders. 

“We hear, 'I want to be a doctor,' never ‘I want to be a mayor or senator or congresswoman or president’ for goodness sake. That’s probably the least that young Mexican-American girls can aspire to.”