Ernesto Dominguez receives Youth Leadership Award at CC12 (by TheTaskForce)
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At this year’s Creating Change conference in Baltimore, Md., Ernesto Dominguez received the Paul A. Anderson Youth Leadership Award for his activism in Portland, Ore., with CHATpdx and with Advocates for Youth. Dominguez delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech in which he talked about the trials of being out both as a gay man and undocumented.
I would first of all like to thank you for the honor of accepting this award. I stand here today with the distinct privilege that many others do not have. I say privilege because I am aware of how many queer undocumented folks are not able to attend Creating Change. Had this award been given to me just a few months sooner, I would have not have been able to receive it. Had this award been offered to me just a few months sooner I would have had to decline accepting it because I am not a U.S. citizen and was not documented. I ask that we be more aware of the people not at the table. The voices that are silent, not by their own choosing, but by that of immigration law. This is why I do the work I do, because it is increasingly important for me to be aware of the empty space these community does not take up in our movement.
I remember first coming to the 2008 conference in Detroit. While many of my peers were struggling with what to pack, what to wear and what to make their status update on Facebook, I was busy practicing what I would say to TSA if I was questioned or how to explain the fact that I could not vote for president. I spent weeks making a plan in case I was arrested at the airport or if I lost my identification. I was worried about fitting in enough so I wouldn’t be searched or questioned. I was worried about losing my ID and not being able to board a flight home.
Coming out as gay has always been easier than the process of explaining what it means for me to not have the privilege of citizenship. Not being a U.S. citizen means that although I was born in Mexico, I cannot leave the U.S. to visit my mom and little brother or be at the funeral for my grandparents. It means that although I have a brother and sister only a couple states away they cannot travel to see me because they lack identification to board a plane or drive a car. As a result my mom and my brother have never been able to meet my partner of three years. My brother is unable to see my home or my life and as a result until last month he thought that my being gay meant that I was living my life as a woman and was moving towards a sex change. Because he had never met my boyfriend he only understood my sexual identity as what he has seen on weekend telenovelas. The social isolation, fear and distrust associated with being undocumented makes it difficult for me to assimilate my queer identity with my Chicano culture and my Latino family.
My activism career has created even more difficult situations than my identity has. As a non-citizen I have been consulted by my immigration lawyer to not sign petitions, vote, contribute to political campaigns or write my congress people. Any of these things can be seen as treason as defined in immigration documents and even things like protesting can jeopardize the conditional visa I was finally granted. A visa that was only granted because a U.S. born citizen committed a heinous crime against me. How then can I work on the social justice issues impacting my community while also balancing the reality that I may lose my ability to just live in the U.S. How can anyone in my position fight for marriage equality or reproductive rights when my protest can be a cause for my deportation from this country.
I am not the only one facing these issues and for our families that can’t attend this conference because they are undocumented or their identification doesn’t match birth records. So I challenge each and every one of you to ask yourselves: Who are the people who can’t be here? What are the stories and experiences that we are missing? Which groups are not represented? What are we missing?
We have a responsibility, and I hope I can ask that each and every one of you here can take on the challenge of figuring out how to make the information and resources here accessible to queer folks of color who unfortunately do not have the privilege to attend Creating Change. With a record number of folks being deported each year (even under the Obama administration) I ask that we work even more diligently to support and broaden the voices of our immigrant communities. Provide alternatives to travel so we don’t have to risk flying. Being aware of immigration laws in your state and educating young activists about their rights if detained. Acknowledge that not every activist can vote or sign petitions. Share our stories and asking how you can help and when you do ask, follow through with those asks. Be our voice in rooms that we can’t be in. Change how you speak about immigration like deleting the words “illegal immigrant” from your vocabulary. Interrupt your peers when they say the same, because although it may not seem like it, calling us “illegal” and criminalizing our basic existence does not do this movement justice. No human being is illegal.
I look forward to continuing to work on the intersectionalities of our identities because I believe that that is truly where the most amazing work happens. LGBT rights are immigrant rights and immigrant rights are LGBT rights and together we can achieve a more just and supportive society. As we move forward we must also engage young people in these processes. The Task Force understands the value of mentoring LGBTQ youth. The number of opportunities at this conference for youth is important to them. Personally the staff at the task force has always been available to me when I was in need of resources or positive role modeling.
Finally, I would like to plug two amazing organizations, Cascade AIDS Project and Advocates for Youth who both understand how important and valuable the role of young people in any social justice movement. Y’all make amazing things happen and have created spaces for me to gain the skills I needed to move my communities forward. Maybe this kind of change is the “end” that the Mayans prophesized for 2012.
I’d like to leave you with the words of Marianne Williamson from her book, “a return to love” in regards to our power-
“It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.”
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