Perla Vanesa Barraza is a Fronteriza from Tucson, Arizona. Originally from Tijuana, Mexico, she migrated to the United States when she was 3 years old. Living in the U.S. as an undocumented person for 23 years, Perla was able to adjust her status in 2018.
Perla’s activism began on the theater stage. It wasn’t until Perla was cast in the Borderlands Theater Production of El Ausente that she felt seen as her authentic self. The play was about a father’s disappearance after crossing the Mexico-United States border and the impact his absence had on his family. Mirroring her own father’s incarceration and deportation, for the first time, Perla felt she was telling an important story. Through her theater work and community organizing, Perla became critically aware of how immigrant stories are told. She believes that storytelling can heal and push back on harmful narratives about immigrants. Perla aspires to create theater that uplifts and serves all marginalized communities. Once she finishes her Master of Fine Arts, she plans to co-create a theater program specifically for theater artists of color.
While undocumented, Perla attended Pima Community College in the hopes of transferring to a state college. However, Arizona’s Proposition 300 made attending any state school impossible because she was deemed ineligible for state aid. After the 2016 presidential election, Perla applied to Mills College. Mills was the first college to offer Perla any type of financial aid. With the help of her community, Perla raised the necessary funds to relocate herself and her daughter to Oakland, CA. After ten years in and out of school, Perla will receive her bachelor’s in Theater Studies with a minor in Ethnic Studies in 2020.
For her DreamSF Fellowship placement, Perla has been placed at the Office of Civil Engagement and Immigrant Affairs as the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative fellow. There, she helps promote civic participation through large-scale citizenship workshops and resource fairs.
Perla loves to cook, draw, and sing to herself when she washes the dishes. She spends most of her free time with her daughter, Emma. Together they eagerly binge watch comedy shows on the weekends.