As I listen to my mother on the phone, I stare vacantly toward an empty wall. The thought crosses my mind that I have been trying to get off the phone with her for the last 10 minutes. I had let her know that I needed to work on my conference projects for college, but she was yet again talking about how proud she was of me. How everyone in my hometown is proud of me and she makes sure to pass along all of the compliments and well wishes of my community. I hear pride and joy in her voice; how could I stop her? As I repeat that I have to get off the phone soon she says, “Oh, one last thing. I ran into Arturo at the store. He asked about you.”
My heart starts attempting to leap out of my chest at the mention of his name.
“I know what he did to you, and I told your father, but we both agreed, that is water under the bridge and it happened a long time ago,” she says.
The sudden and casual dropping of his name caught me off-guard. Since I was speaking to my mother, my defenses were not up. I felt that I was in a safe conversation and I was vulnerable. There was no returning now.
It is not his name that has power over me. His name was just a vehicle that took me to memories I had buried, that I have refused to deal with and I honestly haven’t had time to heal from. His name allowed me to travel back in time. I thought of myself being 15 and walking to class. I am in the courtyard during break when everyone is outside walking to their classes. I walk toward Arturo and his group of friends who congregate in front of “B” building, since I needed to enter that building, as I get closer I hear him yell. “Hey! Look at that faggot walking right there!” I feel my face and ears turn red; time stops and I feel the whole school look at me. That was only the beginning. My silence and fear seemed to feed his ego and his taunting. For my last two years of high school, I lived terrorized by him and by that courtyard. I would make a point to avoid it during breaks and especially when I knew he was there.
I started high school in 2003, and during that whole period I remained deeply closeted. I desperately tried to be in relationships with women to try to “fix” myself.
I knew that I faced rejection from my fervently religious Catholic mother and from the greater community in my country. There were no safe spaces at my high school, and I had no one I could confide in. The deep feeling of isolation was eating away at me from the inside.
“I know what he did to you,” my mother casually states. But the truth was the complete opposite. No, Mom, the fact is, no, you don’t. You don’t know how bad the situation at school was. Every single day was a nightmare knowing I had to be in the same room and space with my aggressors, not only at school but also at church. Every night I would come home and cry myself to sleep. I would pray every single night to God to make me straight. Most of all, what she didn’t know is how I had to pull her son, this awkward brown Mexican boy with a big nose, back from the brink of suicide. How with hands shaking, I often thought about opening a bottle of sleeping pills to get rid of my pain. Any physical violence that could have happened to me in high school, I felt, was minuscule when compared to emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse. I might be pushed, I may fall, my body may bleed, but Arturo and his friends’ words broke something inside me. Their words broke my soul.
Unfortunately, the lack of a legal immigration status has prevented me and my community from being able to access safe spaces, for therapy, be it medical or psychological. Every single person that I have come across and built a relationship with on my journey as an activist has suffered from some type of bullying due to the color of their skin, nationality, immigration status, or for being queer. Sometimes, for some of us, it can be all of the above. Imagine living in a world where every single part of your identity is constantly under attack.
What I learned is that I can no longer run from my emotions. I can’t try to bury them or forget them. They are always there and will remain with me. I must allow myself to talk about them openly in order to allow myself to heal. As a college student with, finally, health insurance, I now have the privilege to at last access therapy sessions. But how about the millions of other undocumented individuals who are not even allowed in college in their state? Or are unable to afford the costs associated with a college education? What about the now DACA-mented and soon-to-be DAPA-mented individuals who continue to be excluded from the health insurance exchange market? The emotional and mental well-being of my community can only lead to a happier and stronger America.
As for Arturo’s Facebook friend request, it will continue to sit in my inbox, as it has for the last two years. I can neither confirm nor delete his request yet. The only thing I am going to confirm is my appointment with Health Services at my college next week.
MOISES SERRANO is an undocumented and queer activist who has lived most of his life in rural North Carolina. He publicly revealed his immigration status in 2010 to highlight the need for the passage of the DREAM Act. After the legislation failed, he became a part of the National Coordinating Committee for United We Dream. Moises’s struggle will soon be featured in the upcoming feature-length documentary Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America, which will be released early next year. He is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in public policy at Sarah Lawrence College.