Coming out as gay showed me just how necessary it was to address my undocumented identity. I dealt with both separately, but every day both of these identities influence each decision I make. Being out ( has not only been the best decision I made but ) has allowed me to be more mentally healthy while fighting for my rights as an undocumented queer Latino immigrant.
As I stood on stage in downtown Chicagoabout to come out as undocumented, unafraid, unapologeticmy body felt heavy. I had practiced what I would say but the fear that rushed back into me for a second was something I could not have dealt with beforehand. I suddenly realized that I was about to come out to an immense crowd.
That dayMarch 10, 2011I was anxious of who would actually see me on the news and how I would be judged. I remember thinking, "What if my manager at work sees this?" I was afraid of losing my measly café job for coming out and talking about my identity.
I also remember thinking, "I need this. I'm going insane." I was about to graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and felt the same feelings that came forth when I was graduating high school. Feelings of frustration, fear, loneliness and anger at not knowing where my life was headed due to closed doors and no opportunities regardless of my hard work and education. It was overwhelming. I needed to come out and speak aloud to know that I would live past all this and that being undocumented was not something I would have to deal with alone.
One year later, I am still seeing the after effects of coming out. While I was doing it for personal reasons at the time, I quickly realized how it affected the people around me as well as undocumented youth I would come to know. Only months after coming out, me and five other undocumented youth, some who came out of the shadows with me on March 10 would get arrested participating in a sit-in blocking traffic and protesting the immigration-enforcement program Secure Communities. After coming out, I have realized that we are coming out to defend ourselves. No one else is going to do this for us, and our voices are ready to be heard. If you listen closely, our stories have potential to change politics and I believe that they will.
National Coming Out of the Shadows Day is about defining ourselves and not relying on others to show us what we need or who we are. It is about undocumented youth taking control of their future. This year, on March 16, the suburbs will also come out of the shadows in DuPage County, for the first time. Being undocumented in the suburbs can bring its own issues but the youth there are realizing that coming out is the first step to fight hate speech and programs that criminalize undocumented immigrants, running strong in suburban communities. It is not only in states like Arizona, Georgia and Alabama that immigrants are being deported. Here in Illinois, deportations have increased as families are ripped apart and undocumented people continue to be blamed.
Coming out is a process and there are still many young people who are scared to speak about their status. Youth continue to fear in silence as college response letters are quietly opened knowing that the resources to pay for school do not exist or that getting a job seems impossible. I want to tell these youth to stop feeling afraid. I want them to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that coming out means that you will not let anyone take away your humanity. We need to create a space where no one can ignore us and it begins with us believing that we are worth it and that we can achieve our goals.
I claim my undocumented and queer identities as they are continually developing and redefined while definitely being out. I invite everyone to come to come to National Coming Out of the Shadows and listen to undocumented people share their stories. If you are undocumented, know that we will survive in this country. But we will only be ready for what is to come if we are able to define ourselves, and be out about our status. The time to come out is now.
Jorge Mena is a queer undocumented organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League ( IYJL ) . He came out as undocumented March 10, 2011, and was arrested during a civil-disobedience protest in Chicago six months later. He is also a 2010 Windy City Times 30 under 30 award recipient.
For more information on Chicago's 2012 National Coming Out of the Shadows event, see www.facebook.com/events/347153208636270.