by Alan Pelaez Lopez
I arrived to the San Diego border at the age of 5, alone, to reunite with my mother, who had been working for a White Mexican family in the United States as a domestic worker and nanny for about 2 dollars an hour, and working 60+ hours a week.
At the age of 5, all I knew is that ma and I were safe here. Ma and I were going to live. I knew that there would be no more family deaths, no more visits to the hospital because of an abusive night at home, but it also meant no more visits to the cemetery to see my younger sister.
Growing up, I knew ma and I were undocumented. I knew that there were people out in the US/Mexican border with rifles shooting migrants, I knew that people didn’t want us in the US, I knew all of this, and I learned to survive and to grow up fast.
When I was a teenager, I began to hear about undocumented youth in California, Arizona and New York speaking out in public and sharing their stories as undocumented. As a teenager, I didn’t know I had a story, and yearned to be a part of this movement. When I was 16, I joined the undocumented movement and finally felt like I could create change.
Undocumented Afro-Latinx womyn in Boston, and undocumented queer and trans activists, influenced my politics, my art, and my ambitions. While revolutionary people surrounded me, I endured a lot of pain because I didn’t know how to hold allies, community members, or myself accountable.
As a queer and (un)documented activist, here are 3 things I regret not doing to hold allies, my community, and myself accountable:
1. I often felt I couldn’t say “No” when I was asked to share my story at rallies, public hearings, church talks, community events, or at delegations.
The reason why undocumented youth were able to mobilize so successfully is because undocumented youth took risks: undocumented youth created a national community by sharing their stories of survival, of resistance, and of home. However, as someone with extreme PTSD caused by an interfamily murder, and a history of abuse for not being “man” enough as a toddler, sharing my story often caused me secondary trauma.
If everyone who reads BGD gave as little as $10, we’d be fully funded for the next 10 years. GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
To my undocumented community out there, be careful. Your story is yours, and you should not justify every part of your existence. Share what you are comfortable with, and let people know when you need someone else to speak.
To those in solidarity with the undocumented community: the stories you hear are not yours to re-tell. Yes, you should share articles, videos & art by undocumented migrants, but you should not re-tell their stories without their permission. By re-telling their stories you may trigger other migrants; and you may also romanticize and exaggerate stories, thus reducing (and detaching) the lived experiences of those who have so vulnerably shared their truths with you.
2. When people asked me to speak at colleges and universities, galas, or art venues, I always said yes, but never got paid.
Truth be told, undocumented activists are being burnt out, and fast, because a lot of people want to hear our truths, our cuentos, our laughs, our love, but no one wants to pay us for our time.
I remember once traveling about 2 hours on public transit, getting to a college, the facilitator being late, and then being in a panel followed by a Q&A, and all I got for it were a water bottle and chocolate. For real? You’re telling me that I just traveled 2 hours, talked for an hour about how undocumented folk are paid less than minimum wage, harassed at work, denied health care, threatened with deportation, and you can’t compensate me for my time, but you have a budget for snacks, set-up, cleanup, and tons of fancy posters and invitations?
To my undocumented activists, do not be afraid to demand compensation for your time. Our truths are not readily available to anyone who wants them. I know that sometimes, we feel that we have to say yes because our stories are barely shared, but you have the right to be treated with respect and consideration. Your stories matter, your time matters, and your money matters.
To those in solidarity with undocumented activists, and to those who work in organizations that serve the undocumented community: if you are going to have an undocumented individual speak somewhere, compensate them. Think about it this way: when you ask someone to speak, they have to write their talk down, they have to revise it, they have to remember many painful memories, then they have to rehearse. Umm, no, this is not free.
3. I regret the most not disclosing to my undocumented community and those in solidarity with us that I was often hungry at our organizing meetings, or scared of my hour and a half commutes at night.
As an (un)documented activist, there was always something more important to do than eating: stopping someone’s deportation, fighting for stolen wages from domestic workers, dealing with family issues back in our home countries, etc.
Food and transportation for undocumented and queer activists are major concerns, especially for undocumented queer and trans youth, who are sometimes not privileged to be accepted at home, and thus end up raising themselves in the homes of other undocumented activists, in the streets, or in homeless shelters (if they don’t require an ID).
To my undocumented community, it is not shameful to admit that you are hungry, or that you need a ride, or someone to wait for you at the bus stop. I regret not asking for help. Take my advice, if you can, and ask for help when you need it.
To my undocumented community members with modest jobs, and to those who are in solidarity with the undocumented community: please always try to ask undocumented activists if they have eaten, and if you have a car, always offer a ride, if you are able.
Before moving to California, when I was able, I would buy three $15 grocery store gift cards when I went shopping, and whenever I had the chance to give one out to an undocumented activist, I would. Hey, when I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant, and barely made minimum wage, $15 got me a long way at the market.
Just remember that sometimes the best way to be an ally is to allow an undocumented activist to stop for a second, and eat, or to simply ask them if they need a ride. And if you are comfortable with buying gift cards for those in the movement, I would highly suggest it!
Do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.