When I first started documenting the DREAM Act movement through badly scanned drawings of undocumented organizers in 2010, I started noticing a very queer pattern. A lot of the organizers I was hanging out with during the actions that happened throughout 2010, were openly queer. I remember reconnecting with Jorge Gutierrez during the hunger strikes outside of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office in Los Angeles, CA.–we’d actually met a couple of years prior when I was dating his then roommate, who he dated before me. But that’s another messy story for another time. I can’t remember the exact time I saw the word UndocuQueer popped up on my Facebook timeline and I cannot take credit for coming up with the term. I do take credit with helping popularize the term through a series of images I started making in collaboration with some queer baddies of the immigrant rights movement: The I Am UndocuQueer! Series.
I remember seeing this iconic photo of then undocumented activists Tania Unzueta, Lizbeth Mateo, Yahaira Carrillo, Mohammad Abdollahi, and Raul Alcaraz doing a sit-in in the Tucson office of Senator John McCain, and thinking WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY DOING, THEY’RE GOING TO GET DEPORTED! But they were actually taking control of the undocumented narrative and making it hella queer in the process. I was specially in awe at how Mo, who was 24 years old at the time, had also come out as gay while talking about being undocumented. This was major but not surprising because of all the undocumented queer activists I was connecting with here in Southern California. Then I came to find out that Yahaira, Tania, and Raul were also queer family. Around this time, I’d just graduated from Cal State Long Beach and was reaching out to different online publications that’d let me write about this movement. In 2011, Canada-based Briarpatch Magazine let me profile Yahaira and Jorge for this article. While I’d been pretty open about being undocumented and queer, talking to Yahaira and Jorge only pushed me to get extra queer on the images I was putting out about the immigrant rights movement.
So in January 2012, I made this post on my Facebook:
“I am UndocuQueer!” is an art project in conjunction with the Undocumented Queer Youth Collective that aims to give us undocumented queers more of a presence in the discussion of migrant rights. If you want your own “I am UndocuQueer!” image, message me a photograph from the waist up of yourself and a quote telling us what it means to be both undocumented and queer to you. These images also serve as a great way to fundraise for your organization. I can e-mail you higher resolution versions so you can print them and sell them! Hit me up if you’re interested. Arriba la joteri@!
I received a bunch of submissions from UndocuQueers all over the country and what it meant for each of them to be part of this intersection. I don’t know how I could have been clearer that this collaboration was specifically with other fellow undocumented immigrants becasue I later came to find out that one of the folks that I’d drawn was actually a citizen. I was annoyed and I took down the image immediately. I made a total of 34 images –plus the one I took down–during the month of January 2012.
Sure, I started making these images as a homage to all the undocumented and queer organizers around the country. But I also started this collaborative project because not long before I started posting these images, a lot of us queers in the migrant rights movement had witnessed homophobia and transphobia within this movement. Because there were a lot of religious folks who were down for immigrant rights but not so much for the “gay agenda.” I remember one day during a bus ride with a pro-immigrant rights group, some homophobic comments were made and I just had to stay quiet because I didn’t want to make it a big deal. Then on the queer rights movement of the time, a lot of the focus was on gay marriage and gays in the military and very little attention was being put on undocumented queer and trans migrants who were in danger of being deported. You constantly had to wear two different hats in two different communities you were part of. It was exhausting. But undocumented activists like Mo, Tania, Yahaira, Jorge, and many others had enough and started standing up and calling out the hypocrisy.
These images have gone on to be part of exhibits around the country and some academics have used them to go along writings about this specific intersection of the migrant rights movement. I am honored that these images added to the conversation started by a lot of these badass organizers.
Thank you to all of you who let me draw you for this project.