Raising Her Hand

When a professor asked the Intro to Ethnic Studies class to raise their hands if they were born in the U.S., Sacramento State student Martha Ancajas left hers in her lap.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Ancajas, 20. “I was sitting in front and he noticed me not raising my hand. He started asking me questions.”

So what are you then?

Why aren’t you raising your hand?

That means that you’re not a citizen?

Martha felt uncomfortable and stayed silent.

“It was that moment where I felt really confused of who I am,” she said. “My identity.”

Now a year later, she uses that experience to remind herself to keep advocating.


Why aren’t you raising your hand?

That means that you’re not a citizen?

Ancajas is the Sacramento State chapter president of Define American, a non-profit organization trying to change the conversation about undocumented immigrants. She organizes events on campus and encourages others by sharing her story.

Ancajas found her voice as an immigrant advocate after she realized she was not alone. She learned she was one of 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. by reading a  Pew Research Center report.

Ancajas said learning that fact inspired her to speak out.


Ancajas immigrated from the Philippines in June 2012 with her grandma who raised her and her three siblings. Ancajas’ said her mother wasn’t around much and her father died in a motorcycle accident about a year before she traveled to the U.S.

The family could only afford to send one grandchild.

“I don’t know why it was me, but all I really know is that my brother had a visa, my sister was pregnant so she couldn’t come,” Ancajas said.

Ancajas hasn’t seen her siblings since she left the Philippines but she has built a community of friends in Sacramento that serve as family.

“They don’t see me as different,” she said. “They see me as Martha who is quite weird, who laughs all the time, who always takes a nap. They know I’m undocumented but they still say hi to me.”

“My mom has been hospitalized because of pneumonia …I don’t even know if she’s awake or asleep. I wanna see her. I wanna hear her voice. I wanna hug her.” -Martha's Journal

Ancajas relishes her role as an advocate. On a recent afternoon, she spent time registering students to vote for the upcoming election. She finds it important to advocate even though she is unable to vote due to her residency status.

She’d vote if she could.

“It’s sad but at least I’m taking advantage of what my privileges are,” she said. “You know, talking to people and (registering) them to vote.”

Though Ancajas has had to overcome hurdles in her lifetime, she is grateful to be in the U.S.

“I’ve been through a lot, but those pieces of journeys I’ve been through have still made me fall in love with this country and just want me to stay here and advocate.”