Giday “Dede” Adhanom is a mother of three living in Seattle, who has devoted most of her life to activism. She’s worked on issues of youth violence, housing access, employment, and the juvenile prison expansion.
She’s also spent much of her life fighting her own deportation.
In an effort to call attention to the persecution Adhanom and thousands of others in the United States are facing, local director Christy X (sometimes known as Christy Nc17) teamed up with editor and director of photography William Pierce to produce, write and direct a film called “Unified Struggle.”
The film places Dede’s story in the context of the larger problem of mass deportations under the Obama Administration, which have impacted more than 2 million people as of April 2014.
“Unified Struggle” is set to premiere in the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) next month.
The director, producer, and writer of the film, Christy X is also a woman of color, single mother and grandmother, activist, and guerrilla filmmaker. A recent graduate of Seattle Central Community College’s film program, Christy X says she aims to use her art as an educational and advocacy tool, and told Dede’s story with that very intent.
“I wanted to do something not just a tributive piece for her family to reflect on, but something that can help in the frontline battle of deportation,” Christy X said. “Dede said she really wanted “Unified Struggle” to be an organized film about unifying all struggles — not just her story of her personal struggle and battle with deportation, but the bigger picture and broader scope of what deportation in the U.S. looks like. ”
According to a truth-out report detailing her story, Adhanom came to the United States in 1993 after fleeing war-torn Ethiopia, and was placed in foster care for most of her teen life in Seattle, WA. During her struggle to support herself and pursue an education, Adhanom was caught selling a small amount of crack cocaine in 2002. Based on new immigration laws passed during the Clinton Era, that was enough to make her eligible for deportation, despite having arrived in the U.S. at just 10 years old.
In 2006, she received a letter from the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals mandating her to appear for a deportation hearing. She battled being deported to Ethiopia, a country she had no linguistic or cultural memory of, until the case was finally closed in March 2013.
“Dede is someone who is extremely hardworking and is involved with the community activist programs for prisoners, homelessness, etcetera, on the frontlines,” Christy X said. “She’s someone who went through the correction system, did what they told her to do, and continued to be penalized.”
University of Washington School of Law Assistant Professor Angelica Chazaro was one of the main organizers of a screening of “Unified Struggle” at the law school’s Diversity Week back in February.
“Every day there are dozens of hearings in court rooms where life-altering decisions are made that split up families and communities,” Chazaro said. “What Dede does in her own life and activism, and what the film does so powerfully, is bring this to light.”
Chazaro served as an immigration attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project for 7 years before starting her work at UW this past fall, and is involved in a number of groups doing work for immigrant justice, anti-prison organizing and activism, hunger strike support, and deportation opposition.
Adhanom helped found Washington Incarceration Stops Here (WISH), a group Chazaro is involved in as well that is fighting King County’s plan to spend 210 million dollars to tear down and rebuild the juvenile jail and courts at 12th and Alder.
“I met Dede when she called for a community meeting to bring people together to organize against the juvenile jail,” Chazaro said via email. “Only after we had been organizing together for a while did she reveal details about her immigration case.”
From there, Chazaro became an active member in Adhanom’s community of support.
“She and others formed a group called Who You Callin’ Illegal? to oppose deportations, and WYCI? began organizing around supporting Dede in her struggle against deportation.” Chazaro said.
Who You Callin’ Illegal? eventually succeeded in stopping Adhanom’s deportation. But much to the tune of the film’s theme, the struggle has not ended for many others. Chazaro believes that these systemic issues, on both a local and national scale, need to be humanized and contextualized.
“Deportations have reached an epidemic level under Obama, but when we’re throwing around the number ‘2 million,’ we sometimes forget what that actually looks like, person to person, community to community, family to family,” Chazaro said. “Dede’s case highlights the tremendous impact of a looming deportation on the life of one Seattle family, and brings together so many issues that are inextricably intertwined with deportation policies: the criminal legal system, the child welfare system, the war on drugs.”
These national issues have a big impact on a local scale as well, with one of the largest immigration detention facilities in the country right in our back yard.
“Thousands of people in Washington state are facing deportation right now,” Chazaro said. “There are two full time Immigration Courts here, one based in Tacoma at the Northwest Detention Center, and the other based in Seattle, where people like Dede fight their cases outside of immigration detention.”
The film, described by Christy X as a “unique story about motherhood, justice, deportation and activism,” will be shaking up film festivals in the coming months. You can see it at the Bayview Retirement Home’s first film festival on Friday, April 25 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and at STIFF on Tuesday, May 6 at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Wing It Productions in the U District.
“It’s time for us to move forward, take action, and fight for humanity,” Christy X said. “It’s a time for true independent media to come through.”