TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2019

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37 SPRING 2019 Mekala Audain discovered an understudied pocket of history: slaves crossing the U.S. southern border. with a class to support the Dream Act, she told none of her peers on the trip that she was a Dreamer; she campaigned on campus for Obama although she herself could not vote. The secrecy, she says, was exhausting. "You don't know who to trust, you don't know what to say, you live this double life," she says. "You're like everyone else, but there's this looming thing hap- pening in your life no one knows about. It is really hard." Her parents divorced while Calle was still in high school. When she was a junior at TCNJ, her father married a U.S. citizen. Calle and her brothers applied for citizenship and were able to get working papers and Social Security numbers. "It made a huge difference in my life," she says. Four years after she graduated from TCNJ, Calle became a U.S. citizen. Her swearing-in took place on the final day to register to vote in the upcoming election, so she postponed her celebration and went directly from the ceremony to the Board of Elections. Now, at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Calle is a prominent advocate for immi- grants in New Jersey. Whether collecting petition signatures, lob- bying the legislature, or speaking on the steps of Newark City Hall, her own story is an ever-present reminder of the happy ending not everyone is lucky enough to get. "Every time I see families dealing with this, I think of my own," she says. "To me, it's about getting it done and fixing this for everyone." H istory professor Mekala Audain did not set out to become a historian of slavery. As an undergraduate at Florida International University, she planned to teach high school history — until she reg- istered for an English course about slave narratives. The class was meant to be interesting, not life-altering. But the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave from Richmond, Virginia, who found freedom by packing himself in a crate and having it mailed to Philadelphia, captured Audain's imagination. What about enslaved people living in places like Louisiana or Texas, those who couldn't walk north to freedom, much less mail themselves there? "And that made me think, 'Did anyone ever escape to Mexico?'" Audain asked. The answer, it turned out, was yes. Curious, Audain began searching old newspapers for advertisements seeking fugitive slaves and scouring the first-person narratives of former slaves collected during the Depression-era Works Progress Administration Writers'

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