Meet Angelica Costovo – Youth Lead Organizer at CT Students for a Dream, over the years she has grown through her determination to transform the realities of members of the undocumented community across the state. With a major campaign win, successful summer programs, and her inclusion in Connecticut Magazine’s 2018 “40 Under 40” list, there was plenty for us to discuss. During our interview Anghy spoke of her journey growing into her power as an undocumented young person, finding love and community in C4D, and helping new generations of youth leaders claim victories of their own.
MM: What’s your name? Where do you do your work? What is your position and what are your responsibilities at the organization?
AC: My name is Angelica Idrovo Costovo and I work for CT Students for a Dream (C4D). I’m the Youth Lead Organizer and so I am responsible for running the youth programs in Danbury as well as doing the community organizing.
MM: How did you find C4D and why did you stay?
AC: I am undocumented and my first experience with C4D was back when I was 17. I was in my last year of high school, and as a senior I remember being concerned about the financial aspect of college. Knowing that undocumented students couldn’t apply for FAFSA or private scholarships because they needed a social security number, I knew how hard and how many obstacles an undocumented person would have to overcome when it was time to go to college. I started going to C4D meetings and one-on-ones with them and I stayed because I’d found an after school community willing to stand behind me; I felt myself helping young people there as well. Carolina was running the College Access Program and so she was able to talk to me and walk me through the scholarship list that C4D had put together back then – a scholarship that they’d put together for undocumented students.
MM: What impact has youth organizing had on you, young people, and your wider community?
AC: Youth organizing entails really being able to understand, care, and be passionate about working with young people. For me, it has opened many doors to continue learning and building leadership skills as well as being involved in different aspects of the work. For example, I’ve been able to learn more about different political organizations and what they do. Personally, it’s impacted the way I see power because power is usually only demonstrative or held with older people who have a lot of money. It’s shifted my view, and now I understand that if young people have knowledge they can organize and continue learning and growing; we can do amazing things and we also have power. It has made me able to see the power I have in myself and collectively with other people.
One of my messages to young people is that it’s always great to have an idea, but we have to make sure that we are including everyone and making collective decisions. One person’s idea is great, but the way we move forward and fight systems of oppression is together. Creating community isn’t just about pushing us to win things we want to win, it’s also about having people you can call family and people who are there for you.
“Creating community isn’t just about pushing us to win things we want to win, it’s also about having people you can call family and people who are there for you.”
MM: What inspired you to do this kind of work? Was there an event/were there events that led you to becoming an organizer?
AC: I remember deciding to really become an active member of C4D and I got involved as staff. I used to translate here and there, but when I was in college I became disengaged a bit. Partially why I re-connected was because I didn’t think anyone was connecting with my community on issues; additionally, the main people inspiring me to do this work were my two younger brothers. I’ve gone through many obstacles and I wanted to be able to help them, and other people that I knew, not face the same struggles I did or like other people who were going to high school and had no one to talk to about the challenges of being undocumented.
MM: What is C4D currently working on? What is your role in this work? How do you help move the organization closer to its goals?
AC: C4D is currently running its summer program and it’s our third year doing it – I’m the coordinator for the Danbury program. We’ve also just finished our “Live Unafraid” campaign this past legislative session. “Live Unafraid” was focused on gender justice, racial justice, healthcare, and educational justice. I help C4D move forward by guiding young people and helping them find their own answers. I inspire them to do what they want; I help them to know “Hey this is how it happens, and if you move on I’m here to support you.” With young people I always try to recognize the space that I’m in and be intentionally present all the while knowing that I hold power to a certain extent, and that I have knowledge to share. I’m always pushing C4D to lead in their values, to be very honest with membership, to have open conversations and discussion with members and staff, and to be clear about where we are and where we want to be.
MM: You mentioned the “Live Unafraid” campaign, can you tell me more about it, and how it builds on C4D’s work?
AC: The campaign contains different components: C4D is working to be more inclusive of other issues besides immigration and we want to acknowledge that while we just won financial aid for undocumented students we need more, and we need more in different institutions. We were supporting and working in partnership around the efforts towards African American and Latino studies in Connecticut public high schools. We’ve also been working in partnership organizing on healthcare campaigns with the goal of getting healthcare for immigrant populations here in Connecticut; a lot of the parent members in particular have been struggling with finding different avenues of coverage. We also supported and worked with CIRA (Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance) towards the revised Trust Act [the recent legislation provided revisions to the Trust Act of 2013 with more detailed restrictions to limit law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with ICE] (1) and the 364 Sentencing Deal [a deal that aims to lower the maximum number of days of a class A misdemeanor preventing the sentence from automatically starting the deportation process as required by federal law] (2).
MM: You all hosted a Youth Power Conference recently – how did it go? What were your hopes for the young people who attended the conference? What role did you play during the conference? What are your hopes for the field of youth organizing?
The Youth Power Conference was really amazing. It was created and led by young people who really worked to make it happen; many of them had already been leading things with me in Danbury region. We had 60 people total all from different cities and organizations: we had students from Grow Hartford, Students for Educational Justice, and the Black Lives Matter club at Danbury high school. We’d had a meeting in the beginning of December to think about different ways to create a bigger space for young people in Connecticut, specifically for youth of color, to do activities and make and take the stage. This amazing idea came from that meeting, and I worked with the Danbury young people once they collectively decided to take it on. All the talks were led by youth and we invited two different youth organizations to lead workshops. We also had a panel of young people share what work they’ve done since they started organizing and why. We had a lot of food, and it was a learning experience for the young people who put on the event. For many of them, the thought was, “Yes I want the leadership opportunity, but I’m also challenging myself to make this thing happen.”
My role at the conference was as emcee for the youth panel; additionally I supported the workshops and everything that happened behind the scenes. Aside from my supporting role, I had a number of personal goals for the conference: one goal being that young people realize and come into the power they have both individually and collectively. Another was that the young people would be able to celebrate themselves and learn that they are not alone in their struggles – we might look different from one another, but our struggles are all connected. And my last goal was that the young people attending would keep fighting and learn different tools that they could bring back home to their communities, like I did.