Living beyond the fear. Living #BeyondTheWall.
It’s October 11, 2011 and I’m in my dorm room at American University pacing up and down the hallway. I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could really thru campus with this sign on my chest. A sign that read “I am Undocumented.”
The reality is, deciding to come out as undocumented isn’t exactly a choice you hope to make, but rather a choice you have to make.
Just three years before that moment in the hallway, I didn’t even know I was undocumented. I had moved to the U.S. at the age of six with my mom. I remember the day we landed because I was so excited to see my sister, Ana, who had been living here, that when my mom and I were stopped by immigration I couldn’t even focus on the officer’s questions.
Every time he asked me, while pointing at my mom, “Is this your mom?” I just responded by asking for my sister. Of course, at the age of six I didn’t realize just how serious all of this really was.
Outside of Pre-K and Kindergarten, all of my schooling has been here in the U.S. As you can imagine, I grew up feeling just as American as any other kid around me. I went to school, played with my friends after school, and just tried to discover who I really wanted to be.
However, this would all change for me in 2008 during my senior year of high school, when my mom would sit me down to tell me I was undocumented. I could see in her eyes the fear and the pain she felt. She had moved to the United States to build our American Dream, and here she was having to tell her kid that the country we loved didn’t consider me American enough to be allowed to even go to college.
I know a lot of people think it’s messed up that she didn’t tell me until then, and to be honest I did too. It wasn’t until I was making the decision to come out publicly that I really came to understand all of the fear that drove these decisions. A fear that families are faced with every single day in this country. A fear of being deported and having your family torn apart by a system that is clearly flawed.
My mom’s fear was so great that I even remember times we would go to the mall and if we saw a security officer with a badge she would grab my hand and pull me closer towards her. She of course didn’t realize at the time that a mall cop had no real authority to get us deported. It was this fear that held my mom back from telling me was undocumented before my senior year, and it was that same fear that held me back from coming out in 2008.
Crazily enough, I had already experienced what it felt to live in fear about revealing another aspect of my identity. I had grown up knowing I was gay since the moment I liked my best friend in first grade. But I knew I couldn’t say anything. I honestly thought I was just going to have to hold it in for all of my life because toxic masculinity in my community was enough to keep me silent. Eventually, I realized I had the strength to confront that toxic culture, and now it’s been ten years since I came out as gay.
I’m about to celebrate another personal milestone: October 11, 2016 will mark five years of being out as undocumented. There are definitely parallels between my two coming out experiences, but I know that what really drove me to come out as undocumented was a desire to speak out and speak up.
For years I had seen the DREAMer movement build up around the country. I had seen undocumented immigrants walk from Miami to DC. I had seen protests with undocumented immigrants who shouted at the top of their lungs “undocumented and unafraid.” And I envied them, I envied them for their bravery.
But I allowed this envy to culminate into action. For me, #BeyondTheWall, means taking my mom’s sacrifices of moving us to this country and using it as the drive to push against the norm of what I could do with my life as an undocumented immigrant. Although I definitely experienced what it was like to be pushed out of opportunities because of my status, I still recognize the amazing privileges I held. Not only did I get to attend school at Seminole State College of Florida and American University, but I also received the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, one of the very few scholarships in the nation that allows for undocumented applicants. It was my personal mission to push the envelope and show my mom that her sacrifices wouldn’t be in vain. And this is what drove me to become the first undocumented intern at the Clinton Foundation in 2012.
The reality is, we all have to make a choice, and every single day undocumented immigrants around this country make the choice to be brave.
That is why I see so much of the beauty that lies #BeyondTheWall. I see the stories that continue to drive this country and I see the human lives that exist beyond the metaphor of a wall that keeps everyone out.
As this country continues to grow, it is imperative that we accept the amazing contributions of undocumented immigrants in this country. That we come to understand that behind each of us there is a story. That this country should not be tearing families apart but instead bringing families together.
As a gay, formerly undocumented immigrant in this country I have seen the power of community. I have seen how those in the LGBTQ+ community and those in the immigrant community have held each other together. We cannot allow for fear to be the driving narrative in this country. Five years ago, I let go of that fear and walked out on campus with the sign that read “I am Undocumented” and now I am dedicating my life to tell the stories of our communities around the nation.
I am an immigrant! We are immigrants! We are human!
To see more stories, go to beyondthewall.org. Then share your own story using #beyondthewall.