The night before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the three-year-old @Undocumedia Instagram account, which shares stories about undocumented immigrants, reached a quiet milestone: 100,000 followers.
It took the two co-founders three years to reach that number, but as Trump stumbles into his 100th day in office, @Undocumedia has almost doubled their following, approaching close to 200,000 followers on Instagram and another 200,000 on Facebook.
The account gives a rare, insightful glimpse into undocumented people’s lives that we don’t see much of in the modern press. Even the new, young and progressive news sources that present immigrant narratives in a positive light tend to focus on the same story line: either undocumented immigrants are smart people who contribute to society economically or they’re superhumans that do the work that U.S. citizens won’t. We rarely hear about undocumented immigrants who are re-shaping culture and shifting the national conversation with their ideas.
@Undocumedia’s success is owed in part to this ability to speak to the complexity, intimacy, and absurdity of being a young, undocumented person in the United States. The feed—a blend of photos, screenshots of news items, inspirational quotes, legal advice, and homemade memes—juxtaposes the irreverent and comical with more serious legal advice.
It’s run by Iván Ceja and Justino Mora, two undocumented immigrants who, like the people they feature, live publicly and unafraid of their immigration status.
Ceja and Mora founded the Undocumedia organization in 2012, the same year President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Their goal was to start an organization to spread information they thought the undocumented community needed to access resources like DACA. Both have spent years advocating for immigration reform and volunteering with well-established immigrant rights centers in Los Angeles, but they wanted to reach undocumented people across the country.
“It just made sense that Instagram and Facebook is where we needed to be,” Mora, 27, told Fusion.
While Facebook remains the most popular social media website on the internet, Instagram is more popular with non-white internet users. About 47% of African Americans and 38% of Latinx internet users ages 18 to 29 use Instagram, compared to 21% of white internet users in the same age group, according to the Pew Research Center.
@Undocumedia has joined the ranks of extraordinarily popular content creators of color on Instagram who have been able to amass a cult following by speaking to their followers in a familiar voice—accounts like the @TheShadeRoom, which shares celebrity news and memes with a healthy dose of shade and has more than nine million loyal followers who the founders lovingly refer to as “roommates.”
The overwhelming majority of @Undocumedia’s almost 200,000 followers on Facebook are between the age of 18–34 and most are in Los Angeles, followed by New York, Chicago, and Oakland, according to Facebook data shared with Fusion. About 60% of followers are women.
Mora said he wants to give his followers “a sense of home and provide reassurance,” especially to undocumented youth living in more rural areas where they may not have the access to immigrant rights and community organizations.
The duo post several times a day, often scheduling in advance. During the day, Mora is a web developer and Ceja does video and graphic design consulting. A grant from a local foundation in Los Angeles helps pay for operational costs such as web hosting for the main website and for @Undocumedia, but it’s not enough to pay themselves a salary. Small individual donations and T-shirt sales also help keep things afloat.
“I never forget where I came from. My dad does construction and he gave me my first job,” Ceja started saying in a telephone interview before correcting himself. “Actually, I still do construction to this day, and it helps me survive, otherwise I would not be able to focus the amount of time necessary to run Undocumedia.”
And this experience is what informs the curating on Undocumedia.
“The big secret to our success is we don’t have to learn what the struggle is,” said Mora, who was born in Mexico.
But their success is still bittersweet, given the current political climate.
“Usually you celebrate when you get this many followers, but in our case the spike in growth is partly due to fear, confusion, and people in the community just not knowing what to do,” said Ceja, 25, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and came to the U.S. when he was just a few months old.
The Undocumedia social media feeds have caught the attention of other leaders and content creators in the immigrant rights community, including Angy Rivera, who in 2010 launched Ask Angy, an online advice column for immigrant youth.
“It’s hard to be undocumented with a [U.S. citizen] sibling. Something like that may not be important to a reporter, but Undocumedia has highlighted this experience because they know it personally,” Rivera told Fusion in a telephone interview.
Rivera, who is now the co-director of the immigrant youth-led New York State Youth Leadership Council, said it was empowering to know Undocumedia is showcasing stories that otherwise would not have a platform.
“We may not have papers, our lives may be limited by laws, but we have our stories,” Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American, believed to be the the largest media and culture non-profit headed by an undocumented immigrant, told Fusion.
Vargas said the stories organizations like his and Undocumedia share are critical, especially in “such deep polarizing partisanship.”
“Storytelling is an intervention, a correction and, ultimately, a form of liberation,” he said, adding that Undocumedia has become a quintessential grassroots brand in the undocumented community.
The Undocumedia founders say they’re ready for their own physical space where they can host workshops and have their own studio where they can bring in editors and writers. They said the core team will be undocumented, just like them.
“In this movement, we are the ones that are making things change for our people,” said Ceja.
Update, 1:30 PM: Nancy Meza, a leader in the immigrants movement, wrote to Fusion to say the term “Undocumedia” was first coined in 2011 by immigrant rights activists, producers, and artists who hosted media trainings for community organizers in Los Angeles.
“The concept for the undocumedia trainings came after holding countless media and messaging trainings out of my living room due to the high demand from immigrant rights organizers,” said Meza.
Meza went on to say “the core values of #undocumedia have always been to pass down our skills and train the next generation of storytellers.”