DACA/DREAM Frontera Fund News

What Celso Taught Us

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

The immigrant community in Phoenix has been in mourning for the past weeks. We painfully lost 30-year-old Celso Salinas-Mireles – leader in the DREAMer and immigrant rights movements, and founder of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition – in a tragic traffic accident.

There are many lessons we can learn from his exemplary life. Let me point out some important ones:

All people, including undocumented folks, are valuable and can accomplish greatnessCelso learned to overcome many obstacles set by his legal status. He was able to excel academically and earn scholarships, then lost them due to Prop 300. But he organized efforts to reinstate institutional support for DREAMers’ education, including his own. His advocacy for immigrant rights made him a respected leader. Through it all, he remained compassionate and respectful of his fellow immigrants and honored the humanity in all of them.

Education is the key that opens doors. Celso was a great student and made many sacrifices to earn merit-based scholarships. His access to higher education allowed him to surround himself with mentors and equally talented students who became his fellow activists. He drew energy and ideas from his fellow DREAMers and their experiences overcoming obstacles. He successfully graduated from ASU in 2009 and used his education as a platform to new ventures.

The community is important. Community and friendship were his sources of solace, inspiration, and energy. Among his fellow activists, he found the love of his life in Ileana Salinas-Mireles.

Celso’s sense of fellowship did not stop at the immigrant rights community.

During his packed visitation and funeral, it was evident that he gathered a diverse group from all ethnicities and walks of life, including undocumented workers, DACA-DREAMers, advocates, professional programmers and even bikers. Also mourning with his family and friends was The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix in Paradise Valley, which never turned away its support of DREAMers and undocumented immigrants even in the darkest times. In the Unitarian church, he found a space to be free, contribute, marry his love and be laid to rest during an incredibly moving visitation.

Education does not end at graduation but a is lifetime process. Not just an activist, but high-tech cool, Celso was an entrepreneur and innovator who focused on giving his fellow immigrants online tools to fight for their rights. He was part of the first hackathon organized by FWD.US, an organization supported by giants of the tech industry such as Mark Zuckerberg, whom he met.

Celso re-invented himself multiple times. Even though he graduated with a degree in business, due to his lack of a working permit before DACA he created his own job opportunities, first fixing computers and later learning to code. He started businesses and worked as web developer. He was profiled on national media for developing apps to stop deportations and fight immigration raids. 

You can lead and be humble. His friends always describe him as a humble young man. He never sought fame, but he wanted to touch people’s hearts and give them tools to succeed. His experiences as a day laborer, working in the alfalfa fields even after getting a business degree from ASU, taught him humility and respect for all. He never expressed bitterness for the arduous journey his undocumented status took him on but instead found ways to feel enriched by the experience.

Art and nature heal. Celso was convinced that art is a powerful tool to soothe the soul. Along with his beautiful wife, he offered his music at rallies and gatherings. As some of his last pictures depict, he enjoyed and savored nature and the real things in life.

We are saddened by his loss but proud of the legacy of hard work, spirituality and determination he leaves behind. Rest in power, Celso Salinas-Mireles. 

Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund, August 2017.