Meet Rhustie and Tony, two members of the GAPIMNY community. This May Day for worker and immigrant rights, we want to share their stories of being gay, Asian and undocumented.
It took a lot from me to embrace the reality of my life as gay and undocumented. It detered me from achieving my full potential. I was a hopeless case. It took countless failed attempts, rejection and heartaches just to give myself a little speck of normalcy. Yet, through courage and determination I manage to rise from the shadow of fear. This fight is just not about having some paperwork to prove an existence in this country but it’s about fighting the stigma and having pride. Coming across people with such tremendous compassion in their heart and soul gave me hope. I know there’s plenty of people out there who is in the same predicament as I am who only have hope to make it through. I hope that someday a fair comprehensive immigration law will pass. I hope that someday families will be united once more. I hope that fear from deportation will be no longer in existence from their frightened souls. I hope that the power of hate will relinquish itself and turn into compassion and respect for each other. Finally, I hope that someday well all be united not divided just because of our differences.
Growing up, I needed to convince people that I was straight. Well, I needed to convince myself that I was straight. I thought it would be easy. After all, as an undocumented child of a single mother, I couldn’t afford to rock out all those fabulous Abercrombie & Fitch and other mall brand clothes that other out gay kids were rocking back in the mid-2000’s.
Every time that Myles or David would walk down the halls of my high school, my heart skipped a beat. But I told myself that it was just a phase – A long-lasting phase that started in seventh grade with the onset of puberty, still going on very strongly and thirstily as I drool over men that I see on my commute. I convinced myself that I was actually in love with random girls who happened to cross my path. With the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) hovering over my life like an ugly shadow, same-sex marriage would not grant me citizenship, let alone provide a reprieve from deportation.
The federal DREAM Act, a legislation that would have given me a pathway to citizenship, went on vote while I was on a car ride going from Kentucky to Michigan. With each vote, my heart skipped a beat. There were fifty-six Democrats, and my dreams of living outside of fear hinged on four votes from Republicans.
“Hagan, Nay.” My heart sunk. The freshman Blue Dog Democrat from North Carolina had voted no.
“Lugar, Yea.” My boy Dick Lugar! The Indiana Republican who would later be defeated in the 2012 primaries by a Tea Party challenger had voted yes.
In the end, I arrived in Ann Arbor broken. Baucus, Hagan, Nelson, Pryor, and Tester – the Democratic senators upon whom my life hinged on – voted no while Manchin skipped town.
Final tally: 55 Yeas, 51 Nays, and 4 Abstentions.
I wanted to cry so badly, but my driver had no idea that I was undocumented. That weekend, underneath the perpetually gray Michigan sky, I reflected on what my life would be like, living undocumented in the United States.
It meant that I would be rooted in New Jersey, in the Korean American community that doesn’t support me at all. At best, I would be able to work at a Korean American business while forcing myself to remain closeted for an eternity. At worst, it was a reminder that I could be deported back to a country where I would face mandatory conscription for two years, in an environment that is openly hostile to queer identifying folks.
As a realistic optimist, I had hoped for the best in this Tea Party-controlled reality where I had no hopes for legalization in the near future. Future was still bleak. I would never able to become financially independent of my family, and I would most likely have to take care of my sick mother in an unsupportive suburban Korean American community, which meant that I would have to stay closeted for the foreseeable future.
“Will I never find somebody to love?”
Despair kept on weighing me down to the deepest of the deep until something in me snapped. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2011, I lost the willpower to get out of my bed. Wasting away an entire day in bed, million thoughts flooded my head. And I arrived at this conclusion: I don’t have the right to complain if I don’t try to change the situation myself. I didn’t want anyone else fighting for me; I wanted to fight for myself.
Coming out as #undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic is a proclamation of my determination to empower myself. I became one of the very first Asian Americans to come out as undocumented in the East Coast, following in the footsteps of Prerna Lal and 姑 Tam Tran, two Asian Pacific American youth who were the trailblazers for the immigrant youth movement. Through my visibility and activism, I eventually ended up on the cover of TIME magazine along with my fellow undocumented activists led by queer undocumented Filipino American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. To this day, there is no separation between my fight for justice in the immigrant, Asian American, and queer communities because all are interlaced together and form a core part of my identity. Even with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an administrative relief measure by President Obama that grants me reprieve from deportation and a work permit in two-year increments, I know that there is much to fight for in our communities. Queer folks with legitimate fears for safety in their countries of origin are often deemed ineligible for asylum and are fast-tracked for deportations. Our trans* sisters and brothers wallow away abused in private prisons kept afloat by the congressional mandate that demands that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fill more than 30,000 beds every night with members of our community. To this date, the Obama Administration has deported more than two million of our community members, many of them disproportionately queer and Asian Pacific American.
This May Day, I will be marching with the MinKwon Center for Community Action and Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) to win victories for all of our communities. This Saturday, I will be joining a panel discussion with Jose Antonio Vargas following the screening of the film Documented at the Village East Cinema to progress the dialog of what it means to be at the crossroads of these identities. Will you join me in this fight for all of us?