“So much blending that I became smudges”
Five immigrants dissect what it means to be “undocuqueer” right now.
BECAUSE PRIDE CANNOT be confined to the 30 days of June, I am going to try to make it a point, in this newsletter, to continue celebrating and including queer voices—especially those that even within the queer community are pushed to the margins.
One of those intersections is the duality of being undocumented and queer. I must have first heard the term “undocuqueer” in college, when I started learning from other undocumented people how to embrace my immigration status as part of who I am, and not something to be hidden.
Undocuqueer is a kind of identity. But it is also a way of being, a theory, and a framework of political organizing. It recognizes that within the undocumented community—a group that is already rendered illegal by the state—there are people whose sexual orientations and gender expressions are also labeled deviant both in their countries of origin and their adoptive homes. And, within the queer community, which has historically privileged whiteness and traditional markers of good citizenship, there are people who by the fact of their immigration cannot fit those boxes.
What we’re talking about is a type of intersectional marginalization.
In a 2018 landmark study, Jesus Cisneros and Julia Gutierrez interviewed undocumented immigrants who considered themselves “undocuqueer” on the meaning of that word. Although the existence of this intersection predates any academic analysis, their article appears to be one of the most important comprehensive examinations of this intersection. The authors write:
“Like black feminism’s challenge to the black liberation and feminist movements, queer of color critique demonstrates the insufficiency of political projects predicated on a single-issue analysis. A queer of color critique considers the ways that bodies enact multiple identities simultaneously and negotiate various levels of power in order to survive. Queer of color criticism interrogates how social formations correspond with and diverge from nationalist ideals and practices to describe what has been hidden, made invisible, forgotten, and rendered unknowable by hegemonic power structures.”
This often means resorting to the inventiveness that has come to characterize the immigrant. “The need to survive in a space where citizenship was denied to undocuqueer immigrants set the context for participants to identify and recognize their own capabilities, resources, and possibilities,” the authors write continue.
Our understandings of the ways we can be is ever-changing. I wanted to know from other undocumented, queer people around the country what being undocuqueer meant to them. I reached out to a few folks and posted some call-outs on social media, always clarifying that there were no set guiding questions. But secretly, I think I wanted to know if their struggle was my struggle, and if their knowledge of this double illegibility helped them eke out an existence in this country. Can awareness be comforting? Can theoretical frameworks ever truly bring relief?
What follows is a collection of perspectives from immigrants across the country on the broad question: “What does being undocuqueer mean to you?”
(The responses have been lightly edited, and some names have been redacted for privacy. Please, please, please, stay till the end.)
Eva G., an undocumented and unDACAmented Mexican trans woman and college student.
For me I feel it’s an identity that’s inherently political.
I learned I was undocumented at a young age (elementary school) and since then my relations with peers, teachers, and strangers have been a performance (I’ve always been open of my migrant status but not that of its legal status) since even the some of my closest mentors growing up would turn around and vote for Trump in 2016 and 2020.
So from a young age most of the outside-family existence required some level of performance, and led to only being able to find intimacy inside my fellow undocumented family/community.
However, this changed once I realized I was queer, which showed a significant gap of understanding between myself and my Mexican Catholic family and community. Hence, a place which was intimate had also become a place of performance for me, such that my existence has been fully consumed by strategic performance of both legality and CisHeterosexualiy dependent on the space.
And obviously this has led to personal problems, which is where I see undocuqueer being political.
The solution to many of these issues lies in a material improvement (access to gender affirming healthcare, finding safe sources of employment as both undocu and queer). However, most options and assistance exclude one or both of these identities. Therefore existing as undocuqueer is existing in spite of both a political and social structure that isn’t based upon but inherently assumes one’s non-existence and exclusion.
When talking to queer peers they suggest going on government healthcare or certain jobs that are queer-friendly, but which all require work authorization. When I talk to my immigrant community they suggest jobs that require a hiding of my queer identity (which as a trans woman stings a bit more because it’s something inherent to my presentation and being).
And now, in light of increasing anti-queer (and specifically anti-trans legislation and sentiment across the country) it’s an identity of mine that is becoming even more crucial.
I recently saw a tweet about queer time and the uncertainty of tomorrow in face of this legislation and how some queer people only think a few months ahead and are seeking an escape from the United States. As an undocuqueer person that felt very similar to living life in 2-year increments for my DACA peers.
The option of leaving the United States is not one for me, because unlike other queer trans people, a step outside the border is a permanent exclusion from the United States (not to mention that repatriation for me would mean entering an isolated and vulnerable situation with the ever-present threat of femicide). Being undocuqueer requires of me to be present and aware of not just social structures and how to navigate them, not just political structures and how to navigate them, but it requires of me to work and see them in tandem. It’s an inherently material position that requires a continual analysis of my place in the sociopolitical order.
I want to recognize that I am white Mexican, which influences some of my interactions with larger structures such that when I say I’m a migrant my peers and teachers assume a legal status — definitely a privilege that not all my undocuqueer siblings have access to.
Queer DACA recipient
I would say that my experience as a queer DACA individual has been filled with uncertainty regarding my status and sexual identity. At times, I have felt that I must come out of two closets. One in which I share that I identify as queer and another in which I explain my immigration status as a DACA recipient. The uncertainty of being DACA makes me fearful of what could happen to my future and all the hard work I’ve invested in my career. In terms of my sexuality, it is yet another part of my indenting in which I must first assess the people surrounding me before sharing about my personal life.
Atziri “Jacks” Peña (@ziripena, they/them), co-owner of Adelita’s Apparel.
Being undocuqueer to me means getting to live in two separate worlds at once.
I often say that being undocuqueer is much like living like Hannah Montana, because we are openly undocumented with our family while hiding that we are queer, but with our friends, we tend to be openly queer and hiding that we are undocumented.
A lot of us have had to endure so much because of our identities, being victims of not only xenophobia from strangers outside of home but also dealing with homophobia inside of our homes. I remember making posts about gay rights and having family members telling me that I needed to take my posts down because I was going to destroy the family. I’ve had family members look at my existence as an issue that has to be talked about within the family. I dealt with abuse from my first-grade teacher because I am undocumented.
To this day, I see the effects of that abuse linger. Some of us didn’t have a chance at having a childhood because we migrated here and had to grow up too fast. Others didn’t have a chance at childhood because they were queer and couldn’t be themselves until they were old enough to move out and be who they are safely.
Being undocuqueer is having to deal with the fact that our chances are slim to none.
Being undocuqueer is being radicalized, resisting all of these systems that are actively working against us. It means looking at how bad our odds may be but making our paths to beat those odds. We deal with so much and learn to love ourselves so much more because of it. I have grown to love all parts of me, all identities, and to cherish them for being what makes me who I am.
Edwin Soto Saucedo (@edwinsotos, he/they).
Being a UndocuQueer person is existing at the intersection my identities as a Queer and Undocumented individual. It’s painful, yet revolutionary. It’s resistance against the systems in place that are not meant for me to survive in this country.
Being Undocumented and Queer in America often becomes a heavy burden by constantly having to fight for basic human rights—the right to work, drive, access to healthcare, travel, marriage, own a home, etc.
In my 15+ years of organizing, I have learned that being my most authentic self—a Queer, Brown, undocumented, first-generation college grad from the hood—is my greatest resistance to oppression. I am empowered by my communities who’ve had to struggle to be seen, to be heard, and to be given basic human rights… to exist. As an UndocuQueer Brown person, my moments of joy are a revolution in a nation with laws and policies that are intended to criminalize and kill me.
I find solace in my community- especially the undocumented immigrant community like my grandma who sold tamales for a living to feed 13 of her grandchildren, and my mother, who wakes up at 2:30 a.m. every weekday to make ends meet. I see the trans women of color leading our marches and protests. They bring us power. They’ve taught us to resist. I see the resilience in their everyday lives and their longing to live in a country that does not want them here.
Even when our hopes for a legal pathway to citizenship are constantly shut down, we, the UndocuQueer community, continue to fight to be recognized as an integral part of this nation’s framework.
Lev Luna Ibarra (@queercatdaddy, he/they).
Being undocuqueer has taught me how I used to shapeshift through systems of oppression for survival.
Being undocuqueer to me means existing beyond borders and binaries
& finding the Divinity within me.
I have had to find the power in my existence as a queer and trans human
Sometimes it feels as if my entire existence is up for debate
Sometimes it feels as if my entire existence is being criminalized, demonized, and mocked
Sometimes it feels as if someone always has an opinion on the validity of my expansiveness
A power that I know to be Ancestral
A gift that I know to be Divine
It has meant hiding the parts of me that didn’t feel safe.
It has meant blending in for safety.
blending into heteronormative ideals
blending into ciscentric societies
so much blending that I became smudges of an image that is everything but me
but I wished for so desperately.
It’s taken years of deconstructing internalized hate.
It has taken years of decolonizing my mind and heart.
It has taken years of darkness and abuse before I realized my worth.
It has taken years of fear and tears, wishing it didn’t have to be this way
That I didn’t have to be this way
i was 6 years old
i was 6 years old when i met shame and fear
shame of my homeland
shame of the color of my skin
shame of the accent in my speech
shame of the fluidity in me
I reject the ideals that oppressors have created.
I reject the systems that filled my mind with toxic ways to live.
I learn from nature that my body is Divine.
I learn from my Ancestors that I have always belonged to this land.
Being undocuqueer means existing as an act of resistance against white supremacy and settler colonialism.
I am resisting by existing.
If you have not had the chance to catch this week’s post on Roe v. Wade from a critical race theory perspective, check it out here:
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