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Undocumented, Queer, and Staying Right Here

Undocumented, Queer, and Staying Right Here

I remember the first time I came out. 

I was sitting in my favorite high school teachers’ office. My hands were shaking. My palms were sweating. All I could think about was how bad of an idea this was. Especially because I had already sort of given myself away by telling her that I needed to meet with her for “very important and personal reasons.” There was no turning back. 

All throughout high school and middle school, there had been rumors and talk about whether or not I “was” or “wasn’t,” and each and every day, it was an uphill battle trying to let the talk roll off of me like water off a duck’s back. 

Yet here I was, about to expose myself and share one of my deepest, and (at the time) darkest secrets. 

She shut the door, sat down, and looked me straight in the eye with a smile. “So Mo, what is it that you have to talk to me about?” 

“Oh no,”

I thought to myself. “She already knows…. Whatever, you know you have to say it eventually, so why not now?” 

“Mrs. Malone, there’s no way to tiptoe around this. I’m undocumented.” 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the first time I came out. But not as queer. That wouldn’t be for another year or so. I’ve been thinking about the time when I had to be far more courageous and vulnerable than I had ever been before. When I had to share with my teacher something that I had for years been told I should never share out loud. Something that if I shared with the wrong person, could put my safety in jeopardy. Could put my family in jeopardy. Something that I used to thing was dirty and to be ashamed of. 

As I reflect back on this moment now, as the proud and out poor, Latinx, undocumented Queer person that I am, I can honestly say that coming out as undocumented, and coming out as queer have both been quite possibly two of the most equally terrifying, yet bravest things I have done. Terrifying because when you come out as either (or in my case both), you quite literally risk it all: one’s livelihood, relationships, safety, food security, everything. Brave because, well we live in a country that was founded on the premise of white supremacy, othering, and the erasure of folx who do not look or act like the oppressor, and I was tired of hiding integral parts of my identity. 

When I came out of the two giant closets I had been trapped in my whole life, first as undocumented and later as queer, I was blessed and lucky enough to be surrounded by a beautiful and incredible support system. Yet my experience, while special and unique in its own way, is not universal.

As queer folx, the fear, anxiety, and nerves (and also the joy, love, and liberation that follow!) that is tied to coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community are indescribable. It’s hard to even put into words. So imagine what it must be like to have to do it twice.

To risk it all twice, and run the risk of being accepted by one community, but not the other. To be told by friends and family “it’s okay to not have ‘papeles,’ but don’t you dare be gay/lesbian/trans etc.” To be told by your queer brothers and sisters that you are loved and accepted, yet be turned away at the mention of not having a piece of paper. 

It’s as simple as that: Immigration is a queer issue. We cannot talk about one without the other, much like you can’t talk about the criminal justice system without taking into consideration questions of race, gender, and class.  

And damn it y’all, this is some tough shit!

Both before and after I came out, each and every day was a challenge. Making sure me and my family weren’t driving too fast or on roads that could lead to an encounter with the police which does nothing but terrorize and criminalize our community. Making sure I wasn’t speaking and behaving in a manner that could give myself away. Or, constantly having to be on my “best behavior” for the sake of not risking anything. 

I’d ask myself over and over “what if they know?”

“What if they know?”

And honestly, I’m one of the lucky ones. One of the privileged and blessed. 

Thanks to truly remarkable and legendary work by organizers within the undocumented community (many of which are also queer!), we are living in a time where I, along with 700,000+ other undocumented folx have the privilege to have DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DACA is a temporary relief from deportation that allows me to get an Employment Authorization Card, a social security number, driver’s license, and to enjoy a few other privileges usually afforded to my U.S. citizen peers. After years of mobilizing and organizing, our community was able to demand (and win) from President Obama that he do something to help our community. We were able to win DACA, which was something, but by no means everything. 

Now, in a few short weeks, this small bandage to a much larger issue will be before the Supreme Court. 

So my ask is simple: when we talk about the need to fight for our queer siblings, to put an end to the killing of Black and Brown trans women, to liberating our community, we need to recognize and emphasize that we are also fighting for our immigrant and undocumented siblings too. 

Likewise, when we say we are fighting and organizing for immigrant justice, we must also be actively calling for and demanding justice for our Queer, Trans, siblings as well. 

Because we are them, and they are us. 

As I continue through life, I am committed to always emphasizing the fact that my liberation as an immigrant is inherently tied to the liberation of Black folx, queer folx, women, disabled folx, poor folx, and the many other communities that have been subjected to, and oppressed by white supremacy, racism, the patriarchy, and capitalism. Why? Because I believe that by recognizing the intersections of our identities, we have the capacity to create something far greater than the systems that oppress us.

And because I believe that if we liberate the most marginalized amongst us, we have the capacity to set everyone free. 

And let me be clear: even when we win the DACA Case (because I believe that we WILL win), the war will be far from over. Even more so now than ever, we must be fully committed and intentional about fighting for protection for all- for those who have and continue to be criminalized, for those who do not and will never have DACA, for those who have come before us and have given their lives so my generation and others could breathe with a bit more ease.

Our commitment should never be to a small sect of our communities, but to each and everyone of us. Only that way, can we truly achieve liberation.

Mo Rodriguez Cruz is one of 27 DACA recipients sharing their stories in a United We Dream amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court. Cruz is a fourth year at the University of Chicago, double majoring in Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies + Gender & Sexuality Studies, with a minor in Human Rights. Outside of the classroom, he works as a community organizer, loves to listen to music, hang out with friends, and main Princess Peach in Smash. 

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