Published in The Huffington Post, 02/13/2012
Jorge Gutiérrez, 27, was addressing a hall packed with almost 200 young people in Memphis, Tennessee.
Like him, they were brought to the United States as children. Like him, they grew up as Americans. Although they were bilingual, English was their first language.
Their parents came illegally, so they too, are undocumented.
Then, he told them that he is not only undocumented, but also gay. He asked the pro-immigrant organizations represented there to be inclusive. If there were others who, like him, were undocumented and LGBT, he asked them to stand up and come down to the front.
One by one, more than 20 activists stood up and approached. Some of them were revealing their sexual identity for the first time. Some were well known activists in the DREAMers movement.
Gutiérrez, currently lives in Santa Ana, California. At the age of 10, he arrived illegally from El Cora, Nayarit, Mexico, with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. In 2008 he graduated from Cal State University – Fullerton with a BA in English.
He is undocumented and queer, one of many.
“Some of the most recognized leaders of the DREAMer movement, who never talked about it, are now out of the closet, and are calling on others to do the same,” he told The Huffington Post in a series of phone calls.
Increasingly, scores of undocumented students are joining the ranks of the DREAM Act movement, in support of a federal law — the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) — which would grant legal status to many of them under certain strict conditions. They do this openly — “undocumented and unafraid,” they say.
Opponents label the DREAM Act as “amnesty” and argue that granting legal status to 2 million “illegals” would reward undocumented immigration to the detriment of those who came here legally.
But for Jorge and others who are also gay, the experience of working in an organization fighting for the DREAM Act and which openly challenges current laws may have opened the path to express themselves. For many, this has been a liberating experience because they see it as one struggle: Undocumented and Unafraid; Queer and Unashamed.
Over the last few years, the fight for the DREAM Act has created a new type of legal rights’ activist: primarily undocumented Latino students who are resolute in revealing their immigrant status. In some cases, these activists are openly gay and have taken upon an added mission alongside their DREAM Act advocacy.
“In a year, we want to organize a meeting between the main LGBT organizations and the main pro-immigrant organizations” so they can work as allies, said Gutiérrez.
He is one of the founders of DeColores Queer Orange County, a group created in 2009 that “focuses on narrowing the gap of needs of Latino/a Queer individuals.”
“They are no longer afraid,” they state.
Jorge also seems unafraid, and even combative, in a new video released today by the civil rights organization Cuentame, or “Tell Me” in Spanish, part of the non-profit Brave New Foundation.
“Cuéntame is a production and documentary campaign organization for Latinos, by Latinos,” says Axel Caballero, the Mexican-born founding director of the group, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
The video, says Caballero, is part of a series that “as a whole breaks a taboo within the Latino community, as it is often the case that things like that go unspoken, hidden.”
As for Jorge Gutierrez, these days he is busy working on the board of directors of United We Dream, a network which identifies itself as “the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization,” as well as on collaborative projects with the UCLA Labor Center.
Recently, said Gutierrez, “in United We Dream we pushed for the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project” or QUIP. A United We Dream statement Gutiérrez sent to The Huffington Post states: “The Dream Movement has begun to intentionally acknowledge and praise the contribution of Queer undocumented immigrant youth to the movement.”
“Faggot, illegal, dyke, wetback, pervert and alien,” are some of the insults directed at both “the LGBTQ and the immigrant communities,” states the document. The project aims to “engage Queer Undocumented immigrant youth in intentional dialogue with allies in the LGBTQ and Immigrant Rights Movements.
While the quest for immigration reform is an issue which has generated confrontation between the Latino community and external groups, the individual path which persons traverse in recognizing their own sexuality is an inward one, and confrontation around it can occur within a family.
Jorge describes repeatedly struggling to be accepted with dignity since he was six years old and still living in Mexico, stating how he was rejected by his own father. “I knew I was different from my brothers, but I didn’t know how to explain it; but for my father, everything was clear. Society told him that people like me go to Hell. He was very repressive: don’t walk like this, don’t play like this, don’t speak like this… and then severed all relations with me, like I didn’t exist. He used to take my brothers to the country, or the city, without me. I felt ashamed and bad, and even considered suicide.”
“I am alive thanks to my mom.”
A constant presence in Jorge’s life is his mother.
“I was around 15 years old and she was driving me somewhere. Suddenly she stopped and asked me if I liked girls. I was afraid I was going to lose her love like I lost my dad’s and I almost lied to her. But I told her the truth because I remembered just then that she always told me to be myself.” His mother, Amelia Cortez, who works cleaning houses, is now an important ally and talked to The Huffington Post.
“I already knew, but I wanted to be sure. It was a critical moment,” stated Mrs. Cortez in a phone interview in Spanish. “I wanted to protect him, even though I am not a schooled person; I knew that there is a lot of hatred against them, like they are not normal, although they are. Like his father felt.”
And she added: “Men in our culture are such machistas.”
“It was like in a telenovela”, said Jorge, remembering his coming out to his mother. “She told me to leave the car and followed me. We hugged. She recognized that she may not understand everything, but she will always, always love me. From that moment I became able to explore my identity as a gay man.”
Jorge’s father lives somewhere in California with his daughters. He is not in touch with his son. But Jorge continues his activism: for rights; recognition and dignity. And he continues to dream. “I want to pursue a Master’s degree or a doctorate to study the LGBT Latino youth community, so as a professional I’ll be able to contribute.” Shooting the video for Cuentame was part of this path.
“With this video and this series,” said Axel Caballero, “we want to create an honest conversation on a nationwide basis, one that can engage families at the dinner table in real, although often uncomfortable, discussions about Latino youth.”
“Because if not us, then who?”
Illustration by Julio Salgado