Op-ed: Coming Out as Gay And Undocumented

Nearly 10 years after coming to the U.S. as an undocumented child, and two years after coming out as gay to his family, Juan Pedro Garcia Machado is fighting for his rights on many fronts.

BY Juan Pedro Garcia Machado

October 12 2012 3:00 AM ET

I came to the United States when I was 13. The night I crossed the border without documents shadows every other part of my life. My sister and I were coming to rejoin our mom, who had been working in the U.S. Before that night, we hadn’t seen her in more than eight years.

It was the night of July 27, 2003. It was a cold day, and I was more scared than I have ever been in my life. I crossed the border posing as a child of another woman. The story that I was told to remember was that we were returning from a family gathering in Mexico. I wore my best clothes that day. I was asked to sit in the co-pilot seat and to pretend that I was asleep.

My heart was beating faster than ever before, and my legs were shaking. I closed my eyes and did as I was told. Immigration officers stared at me a couple of times, they also flashed their lights at me a couple of times, but fortunately, we were out of there in less than 30 minutes. I still dream about the lights at the border, and lights reflecting off the freeway pavement. Those lights illuminated a new path for me, marked the beginning of my new life.

I just wanted to be with my mother and sister, but I was worried because of all of the things I heard on the news were racing in my head: I didn't want to get killed or put in a detention facility. I also didn't want to be away from mom any longer. I needed her. That night at the border, I was given the opportunity to re-invent myself and to start a life from scratch. Something that I quickly learned was not going to be easy.

My immigration status is not a secret I share with many people, but sometimes I feel like people assume I’m undocumented just because I’m Mexican. Again, I feel like I’m constantly forced to prove that I’m a good person, that I’m not here to take someone’s job or get free emergency room care. Even though I am the proud holder of a bachelor’s degree in business, which I financed completely with private donations, I can’t work, travel, or even drive a car legally in the United States.

When I came out as gay two years ago, I felt like I was on trial. Like I had to prove to everyone else, and to myself, that I was still the same person they’d known and loved. I had to make my case that I wasn’t going to drop out of college, get AIDS, or become the caricature of the gay man my family joked about. I knew that my mom was going to be the most critical voice at this so-called trial, but I needed her acceptance if I was going to be able to face everyone else. I understood that her doubts and questions were because she worried about me, but they still hurt.

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