coming out publicly about ones immigration status is an empowering step for many undocumented individuals.
Because the simple act of stating something that society instructs to be kept hidden is an act of revolution.
Because once something we all have in common is stated out loud we create unity among people sharing the same struggle.
Because finding this unity or support system is important to those who feel alone.
Connecting our struggles and identities is where a movement is born.
I’ve come out of the shadows undocumented and unafraid for over 2 years now. On tv, the radio, news papers, blog posts and t-shirts. Two of the biggest events in which I stated my status were organized for the National Coming Out Day in March. One sunny morning in 2010 I stood in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building right here in New York and stated that I am undocumented. In March 2011 I stood in the middle of a circle in Union Square and told all the onlookers. However, when writing and sharing my story of self I never told anyone that I was molested as a child by someone I know.
In high school we were asked to submit a personal statement along with our college applications…an essay about ourselves which described a struggle we faced that empowered us in a certain way. I didn’t embrace my undocumented identity as much back then so I decided to write about being molested and how it had changed me. This is something big and I cannot hide the fact that it happened; it has shaped who I am. I didn’t want to be secretive about it and I know that being quiet about something this huge doesn’t mean it makes it go away…so I wanted to embrace it. I wanted to share this huge fact about myself because I know I am not the only one. By writing my piece I had hoped to reach other girls who like me were once in the same situation. I wanted to get over this huge fear of intimacy. I had hoped that writing it out would mean I wouldn’t have nightmares anymore. However, one of my high school teachers told me to never tell anyone about what happened, “you should try to write about something that won’t be embarrassing to speak about when interviewed by college staff. This is not an appropriate topic” and just like that she convinced me to keep quiet about something that is intertwined with my sense of self.
Similarly, I read and hear about folks coming out as:
parent and undocumented
student and undocumented
working while undocumented
unemployed and undocumented
queer and undocumented
But I’ve never been able to say that I survived molestation and am also undocumented because I didn’t understand how both were connected. I didn’t understand how one issue balanced with the other. I didn’t understand that my inability to ask for help when the abuse was happening was intertwined with the threats I heard of having ICE called, of having my family separated. I didn’t understand that by sharing this story I could reach other individuals who may be living this every day and don’t ask for help because they think it isn’t there.
Why bring one topic as controversial as sexual molestation into the already controversial issue that is immigration?
I get it now.
Because one may not agree with my fight for immigrant rights, but by seeing a another side to my story they’ll understand that I’m just as much of a human as anyone else.
Because I’ve stated my immigration status and I seem brave and courageous, even though another aspect of me is still scared and embarrassed.
Because to fully promote empowerment we must practice it.
Because we are all survivors of something and there is nothing to be quiet about.
Coming out isn’t just one identity. It is about finding strength and courage within all of our struggles. Coming out about any obstacle we have faced, and embracing it, is where we empower ourselves and aren’t ashamed about it anymore. Sure, talking about my immigration status is controversial enough as it is but folks needs to understand that this isn’t the only problem I am facing.
Yes, I am undocumented but that isn’t the only aspect about me that matters. And so, one of my resolutions for 2012 was to embrace all of me equally. I am not a 2D person, but 3D even 4D with different facades to my identity, different struggles, different stories that go untold because many believe that this is only a one issue movement. When it’s not. By connecting all of our stories, struggles and realizing that there is unity in oppression we are able to really move forward. Our existence is combined with many other things.