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I am an undocumented immigrant

June 22, 2011

I am an undocumented immigrant.

There are more than 12 million people like myself living in the United States without proper immigration documents. We might live in your neighborhood, we probably attend school with you, or work together or for you, we sometimes go to the same churches, our kids might be friends, we might be dating a friend of yours, we are people.

We are not aliens, we are not illegals, we are not the criminals that some hateful groups are saying. Before you judge us, at least get to know our stories first. There are reasons why people break the immigration laws, very strong reasons.

My story

I came to the United States 14 years ago as an adult from Peru. I arrived here with a Tourist visa, and later on I obtained a Student visa which I overstayed. I took this decision hoping that this nation was the best place for me, to grow as a person, to learn and to give back.

I wanted to live a decent life with dignity and opportunities, even if that meant sacrificing my legal status. I never know how hard it was going to be living without “papers”.

The first job in DC was as a busboy in a restaurant located inside of the newly opened MCI Center, today known as Verizon Center. The food was gross.

The plane that took me to Newark left Lima airport soon after my father showed up to give me a $100 dollars bill, which I assume he borrowed from a friend, since he was unemployed. My father strongly opposed of me coming to the U.S. because he was afraid of my safety, mostly because of his homophobia.

“Over there you will have the freedom to be the way you want to be, and not the way that you should be,” he said often referring indirectly to my homosexuality.

I came out to my parents at 17 years of age, I was already living on my own -I have worked since I was 12 years old- and my parents were hurt by my honesty, they prevented me from visiting their home for almost 2 years, including my birthday and every holiday. It was my first painful experience with social rejection for being gay.

When I came to the U.S. I had completed 3 and 1/2 years in an Architecture college of Lima. I stopped studying because of the economic crisis that hit me hard while living in Peru. I went on to work for a Brazilian company as a Computer Assisted Drafter, and later on as a designer for elitist architects in Lima who paid me cents. “You are young and learning” they told me.

Those were the years of the Fujimori dictatorship. Being young and dark skinned, I was arrested twice by the police in Lima while walking in the fancy side of town. They told me I “looked” like a terrorist.

When I arrived to Newark, I realized that New York was very close –the Twin Towers were visible from the airport. I managed to board a shuttle bus and visit the big city, before my next flight to Washington, DC. My profiency of English was worse than today, but as you know the second language of NYC is Spanish.

As soon as I got off the bus in Manhattan, I was shocked to be in the middle of that big urban concrete monster, surrounded by huge buildings. It was early in a weekend morning, so there were very few people walking in the streets, and traffic was very calm. As a matter of fate or some strange reason, I walked into a gay porn store right away but after noticing, I left as quickly as possible. It was my first time seeing photos of naked men ‘loving’ each other.

A few hours later I arrived to DC’s National airport, where my relatives were awaiting for me. I started a new life, with ups and downs, I lived many experiences, learned lessons and met people and visited places that I cherish with all my heart. I have spent almost one third of my life in the United States and most of times I feel that this is home for me now. I do not regret staying here.

However, this experience was not the first for me. I’ve been a migrant all my life. After I was born in a mining town of the Andes mountains, my family moved several times before settling down in Lima. I did move a few times as an adult as well.


My first summer in the U.S. I traveled to Atlanta, I wanted to see where the Olympics were held, where MLK Jr. lived and where Coca-Cola is made.

When I arrived to the U.S. I truly felt liberated. My father was right, here I could live without the pressure of being judged for being gay or dark skinned, especially in Washington, DC, which is a very open minded and educated city. I lived here with a tourist visa (and getting extensions twice up to 2 years), I worked with fake papers in restaurants and cleaning executive offices in downtown DC.

My first months here I had to deal with the homophobia and selfishness of my relatives, who warned me not to study anything, “just focus on working and make money to send back home”, while questioning who are the men who started calling my aunt’s phone number. I was naive, but rebellious. Soon I had to find a place to stay on my own, and I rented rooms or stayed with friends with benefits.

With the support of a friend, I eventually enrolled to college and studied ESL – English as a Second Language. After one semester I passed the TOEFL test and I was ready to take college credits classes. I wanted to become an artist painter; in 1999 I won a national contest for a scholarship to attend Savannah College of Art but I never used it, it was a partial scholarship, and all my relatives in the U.S. would tell me “you should be working to help your family”. So I kept working as a busboy and as an artist on the side.

I painted some murals back then for a restaurants in DC, and I did some art exhibits; my best piece was bought by some rich man from Virginia who paid me $500 dollars in a restroom of a DuPont Circle coffee shop.

Then, in March 2000, my father was run over and killed by a drunken military officer in Peru. I returned to Lima to bury my dad, without even asking for permission from my college. When I returned to the U.S. I was let in the country, after explaining to Immigration agents what had happened to my family.

When I returned to the U.S., I tried to get employed legally so I could help my devastated family in Peru. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (today’s ICE) denied my petition for a work permit. Those were tough days for Peru with so much political violence, generalized corruption and a economic crisis that ended with Alberto Fujimori fleeing the country for Japan by the end of 2000.

In the years that followed, I fell into a deep depression, little by little. My father was my guide, my best teacher and inspiration, even when he was the person who showed the strongest opposition to my coming-out as a gay man in Lima, after which we never talked much but kept a respectful relation.

With the support of another friend, I enrolled in college again. Like the first time, this was a closeted gay man who liked me a lot, and we unofficially dated for years. I still love him but back then I was ashamed of being gay, especially after my father’s death, so I could never return his affection.It’s a long, painful but beautiful story. I learned a lot from him.

After I was rejected a work permit, I decided to support my sister to come to the U.S. with her 3 daughters, so she could work like me with fake papers. It was my way to help my family at the time. My sister suffered so much after migrating, especially when she married an abusive man here -who surprisingly helped my nieces to get U.S. citizenship by adopting them. My sister is still fighting a deportation order and I will blog about it, if she allows me. Currently, my nieces are successful honor students attending college, and my sister graduated weeks ago from a Nursing college program. I’m really proud of them.

Since I moved to the U.S. I have studied art, architectural technology and food service management. I’ve worked “under the table” as a computer assisted drafter and a store manager. I also worked as a janitorial, dishwasher, gardener, busboy, waiter, cashier and other things that one day I might talk about.

After graduating from a 6-month certificate to work as a restaurant manager; I used it once when my friend opened a coffee shop. I designed most of the things there from the logo to the interiors and the menu. We were successful but it was hard for us, being a Black-owned store with a foreign gay manager in a mostly-Republican White populated suburban town, we could hardly meet the expenses. It was racism and homophobia. He sold the place, I moved back to D.C.

I tried to enroll again to college, but I eventually dropped out because of lack of funding, but mostly because of depression. My visa expired by the end of 2004 and I’ve been undocumented ever since then. That same year I became HIV positive. For some divine reason, I’m still undetectable and not taking medications.

Ever since I lost my visa and became zero-positive, I have been living in fear and negativity. I got involved in abusive relationships, I let myself lose and I have seeing it all, including homelessness, drugs abuse and sexual irresponsibility. Those were bad days for me, really. I still suffering the consequences of those decisions, and sometimes I fall again into that pattern.

But part of me kept the hope that one day I could become documented and apply for citizenship, get a decent life again. Since 2005 I’ve been rallying in the streets, to every single march for Immigration Reform there has been in Washington, DC. Every year we were told the reform was going to happen the next year, we waited, we are still waiting.

Some friends suggested several times that I should marry a U.S. citizen so I could get immigration documents. I thought about it when I was younger, I even asked a friend who later on married the man of her dreams (I recorded the wedding). I felt ashamed of this later on and never tried to do it again, because I think is a big scam to marry someone when there is not true love in between, besides it’s considered a felony under U.S. laws. Later on I had to say no to a couple to female friends who asked if I wanted them to marry me. I will write about this later on.

Even though I’m undocumented, I didn’t want to stop my education –I couldn’t attend college but I was always involved in culture, history, writing and art. In the years that followed, I realize that one of the things that helped me getting over so many difficulties being undocumented was that I was somehow fluent in English. So I decided to volunteer in my community by teaching basic English as a Second Language to new comers, in two learning centers in Washington, DC. I also volunteered in a local church in DC.

The next year I enrolled in the internship program at the Smithsonian Institution, where I became a “visiting scholar” for almost two years, at the National Museum of the American Indian. That was a great experience, it helped me learning about my true roots and my indigenous history. I still worked on the side with fake papers to make a living.

One day I got tired of working 10 hours a day for a $6 dollars/hour salary, and I decided to become a blogger and tell the stories that corporate media would never do, like the abuses we immigrants without proper work documents have to face in a daily basis. Ever since then I’ve been waiting for the right moment to “come out” and tell my side of the story.

By the end of 2007 I started blogging with Carlos in DC and soon I decided to support in the Barack Obama campaign, trying to get more Latinos to vote. I have met extraordinary people because of my blogs, and visited places that I’d never had access to otherwise. Through my blogs I have educated myself in social media skills, I think I have improved my English a bit, and I learned of things that I’d have never learned in college. At least not back then.

In my blogs I have written articles and made videos about issues that have affected me directly as an immigrant, as a gay man, as a disenfranchised undocumented queer. In my blog Peruanista I wrote about being a Peruvian who left the country because of poverty, homophobia, political violence, racism and lack of community, family support.

Still, I never became personal in my blogs, until recently. I supported grass roots groups in Peru during the presidential campaign of Ollanta Humala, and he won the elections. I used some techniques that I learned by watching the Barack Obama campaign in 2006, and skills I learned as a blogger in the U.S. About this story, listen to my interview with DC-based journalist Pete Tucker.

When I know that my blog Peruanista helped in the victory of Ollanta Humala in Peru and especially preventing the Fujimori-Montesinos mafia to get elected, I feel that I vindicated my father’s memory and justice was served in some way. My mother agrees with me. My father eventually had sent me a letter telling me that he accepted me as a gay man. I need to find it in my files.

This past weekend, I “came out” as an undocumented immigrant this past weekend, and today a well-known journalist has done the same. I really feel empowered by what Jose Antonio Vargas has done, the same way I felt when the Dreamerscame out months ago.

I do want to tell my story, without victimizing myself but taking charge of my life and full responsibility for my actions. I want to do it because I don’t want to live in fear any longer, and I know this can impact positively the lives of others in the same situation. Yes, my blogs are creating a positive impact in the lives of many and I’m really happy about that.

Also my blogs are helping me, enormously– I’m getting over my fears, forgiving myself for the wrongdoings of the past, creating necessary debates in order for me to learn, and trying to get my life together. I’m doing something risky and at times I get nervous, but I feel confident I’m doing the right thing and something that is necessary.

My mom and I riding the Metro yesterday

I saw my mother yesterday in D.C., as she is visiting from Peru and staying with my conservative, homophobic sister -another one- who lives somewhere around this city. My mother and I spent the day together, and she accepted to be interviewed by me; she told me that I should fight for my case, even after I warned her that I might get incarcerated and deported eventually. Well, I said it in a nice way.

My mother is 70 years old, and I feel that soon I will need to go to Peru and take care of her, but I don’t want to become a burden for my family. At my age, is hard to get employed in Peru. I know I can make a good living in the U.S. if I had the chance to sell my art legally, or teaching young students and corporations about social media, or working as a journalist somewhere in this country. I can’t today.

In this journey that I’m continuing I will tell you about my life being undocumented, and the process of my final attempt to get legalized by applying for political asylum as a gay man. It’s the only visa that I can apply for today, even though I have very little chances to get it approved.

In this blog I speak only my personal ideas. I don’t represent any political group or any advocacy non-profit, especially those working supposedly for immigration reform, because I don’t really trust those non-profits that have never show support for my work.

Living undocumented is not easy, the fear gets in your soul, it controls your life. You can work, pay taxes, do things like most normal people, but every day at some point you are reminded that you are not equal, that you must stop doing some things before getting caught. You lack of true freedom, and it hurts deeply. It also prevents you from safety. I’ve been robbed, beaten and harassed, I have health problems because of these attacks which I didn’t report to the local police out of fear to get reported to ICE because of “Secure Communities”.

If I become legalized, I would do my best to help other immigrants to find a way, first we need to get over fear because we are not the criminals they make us believe we are. We are decent, proud people sacrificing our own lives for a better future of others. I want every U.S. citizen get to know us the undocumented immigrants, so that they understand we are neither their enemies nor a threat to this nation.

We the undocumented people deserve a chance. We are a talented, skilled, brave, creative and productive part of this country already, but we are oppressed, abused, and we are tired of living this way. We want to come out of the shadows. We need your support.

Honestly, I’m not trying to become a poster person, or nobody’s hero. I just want to speak out, I’m also tired of living this way, and I’m doing this out of love which has always pushed me to continue going on in life, the love of my parents, my family, friends, the love I feel for those who are suffering today, those families being torn apart, those kids left without parents, those people overseas praying everyday like my mother, so that one day we will be given a chance to live with dignity in the country we love.

I will either get my legal documents, or get deported. We’ll see, either way I will continue living proud of who I am and conscious that I’m not an illegal, I am undocumented.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2011 7:45 am

    Im not positive why but this weblog is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a difficulty on my finish? Ill check back later and see if the difficulty nonetheless exists.

  2. November 23, 2011 5:38 am

    Interesting banter I’ve bookmarked the page on Digg under “I am an undocumented immigrant Carlos in DC”. Kudos!

  3. November 22, 2011 7:56 am

    What a terrific quick editorial I thoroughly appreciated it

    In conclusion , give permission me thank you for your tolerance with my English as (I am certain you have figured this by now,), English is not my head language as a result I am utilizing Google Translate to shape out how to compose what I truly plan to articulate.

  4. July 1, 2011 12:53 pm

    In my opinion you commit an error. I can prove it. Write to me in PM.

  5. June 23, 2011 11:44 pm

    Carlos,
    As always, you have my support in your quest for legal status. Please dont hesitate to let me know how I can help.

    Carmen

  6. June 23, 2011 10:31 am

    Thank you so much Sean for emailing me your questions, I will reply with a post including answers to your inquiries. It shows that people like you care, that is so much needed right now. One of the first actions that anyone can do is support the Dreamers, because they are at the forefront of this movement. Their success will be our success, and even if many of us adults don’t get legalization but our youth deserves it, is our responsibility to help them. This is a good website to get involved: http://www.dreamactivist.org/

  7. June 23, 2011 10:30 am

    Rodrigo, thank you. That is exactly the purpose of my blog, to create awareness and make people understand that we are millions of people living as second class citizens in the country where we live, work, breath, love, fuck, produce, consume, interact, create, and spend every second of our lives.

    We want U.S. citizens to recognize that we are also here, don’t ignore us, don’t see us as criminals, laws are meant to be reformed when they promote injustice and human abuse. Immigration is one of them, and the crisis is worsening every day, we can’t overlook it any longer.

  8. June 23, 2011 10:27 am

    I will write about it Pablo, thank you for asking.

  9. Sean Strub via email permalink
    June 23, 2011 10:25 am

    Carlos,

    Thank you for posting your moving story and for your amazing courage. Many of us are familiar with having risked personal relationships, employment or housing when we came out as LGBT; risking deportation, and definitively losing your life as you know it now for a wildly unknown future, takes on an entirely different dimension.

    Last night I was talking with friends about Jose’s story and we began to speculate what our lives would look like if any of us were to be suddenly deported. It was an uneasy speculation. My heart aches for the heightened uncertainty and fear that you and Jose now face as a result of having gone public.

    I would be interested to hear from you and Jose and others, who personally have so much at stake, what efforts and organizations you believe are most appropriate and effective in fighting for immigration reform.

    I suspect there are many progressives who are instinctively sympathetic, and want to be helpful, but aren’t sure where to direct contributions or what they can do to advance this cause.

    Sorry for thinking in marketing terms, but if there was a graphic identity or symbol of some sort that indicated one’s view on this issue, it would help a lot of others publicly express their support. I am sometimes happiest with HRC when I am traveling somewhere remote, far from any visible LGBT culture, and I see a car with their blue and yellow “=” sticker. It is, to some extent, an expression of values that makes a statement to the broader public.

    One of the aspects of Dan’s “It Gets Better” campaign that was brilliant is that it inspired people who perhaps might not be donors and might not be likely to call legislators something tangible they could do to publicly express their support.

    You and Jose have the admiration of many.

    Sean

  10. June 23, 2011 1:43 am

    I want to know more about your asylum case. Every detail.

  11. June 22, 2011 7:52 pm

    Wow. Very honest and moving story Carlos. I commend you for continually being the brave soul that you are. Keep up the good work. Stories like these need to be told. It prevents the public from simply abstracting the issues being discussed around us. Immigration issues, migration issues, HIV, discrimination… All of these things affect our friends, family, our neighbors, our communities, and thus can’t be ignored or passed over in indifference.

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  1. Elektrische Zahnbuerste
  2. Carlos in DC (Blog): “visiting scholar” for 2 years at NMAI – an amazing story « Indigenous People’s Literature Weblog

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