The LGBT community, and the country in general are looking for people that we can truly consider a hero. We have found one in activist and documentarian Moses Serrano. He is the face behind Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America. The documentary follows Serrano who fell in love with a country that refused to recognize his full humanity; both as an undocumented immigrant, and as a gay man.
An illustration of the intersection of queer and immigrant issues, Forbidden relates directly to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. and LGBT individuals fighting for equality and civil rights. It chronicles Moises’ work as an activist traveling across his home state as a voice for his community, all while trying to forge a path for his own future.
“It Is My Responsibility As An Undocumented Gay Man To Be As Loud A Voice As Possible”
I chatted with Moises about his living in this country both as a gay man and as an undocumented immigrant, living in an American where the current administration makes it even scarier to live out loud, and what is to come next for a young man that is in the truest form, an American.
Michael Cook: What you are doing with undocumented immigrants and speaking for those that cannot have a voice or afraid to have one is something to be commended. Where do you think that willingness to be such an advocate comes from?
Moises Serrano: Honestly, I really don’t know. I think a lot of it comes from my mother. She is a very wise and eloquent person. I think often times it’s about our parents; the gifts our parents gave us. I think it’s also about what my parents were denied in terms of potential, being denied the education and the opportunities that I am able to have and the privilege to work and to obtain an education. I feel like the strength and the ability to speak up I got from my mother. Other than that, I think it was in 2010 that I really hit rock bottom. I was working at a factory starting at 7:00 am every morning. I was dealing with depression and the fact that I really did not feel that I fit in anywhere. I was not safe at home because I was afraid to come out to my parents, and I did not feel that I fit in at high school, because being a Mexican-American is definitely stigmatized in many ways. Just not feeling like I was at home or at peace anywhere; my community, my school and in my home. I think for me, I just hit rock bottom, and there is only one place to go from there. I decided to simply speak my truth and just not be afraid any more.
In many Hispanic communities, homosexuality is looked at quite differently in some ways for a variety of reasons. Did you find that to be true in your family when you came out or were you pleasantly surprised?
MS: You know, I find that homophobia is pretty much the same in all communities. It is entrenched, often times, through religion. I think that the immigrant community is just as religious as any other community. Because of that, that was definitely the biggest obstacle and barrier to try to come out to my parents. It did not actually go the way that I thought it would .I was ready for my parents to reject the person that I really am. At a very young age, I had comprehended that I was different from everyone else and that at one point, I would have to leave my family. I had been preparing for it for several years. When I did finally do it, that was not the reaction that I was met with. It did take them a couple of days to digest it, but my mother said, “At the end of the day, regardless of what my family and my church says, I still love you”. She also let me know that she just wanted me to be happy. And that she regrets the loss of grandchildren (laughs).
How do you think, as a country, we can reconcile religion with both people’s gender and sexuality?
MS: You know, for me as a non-religious person, I did go through Sunday school and church. I think we as Americans need to understand that the Bible is often times used to perpetuate the agenda of ignorance and hate. I believe that no religion should be used as an excuse to spread hatred towards another human being. I believe that is what we should focus on. What can we do to spread our understanding and love to each other instead of using religion as a way to divide people?
Immigration has become such a hot button topic, especially with ICE arrests becoming more prevalent, and now today with the news on DACA. Is it frightening to be part of American in the current situation you are in?
MS: No, not for me. I have been openly out for almost seven years now as an undocumented immigrant, what does make me constantly fearful though, is the safety of my family and of my community. For me, there is no going back. Especially with this documentary now, I cannot go back into hiding. Especially since i have been so public, under this administration where it may be even more difficult for even more undocumented students and people to come out, I think it is my responsibility to be that loud voice. What worries me is whether undocumented immigrants should continue to do this? I mean, will the same pressure tactics used during the Bush administration going to work again during this administration.
During the Obama administration, they were quite terrible with immigration. What we are seeing now is Trump continuing this massive escalation enforcement, but he is just such a wild card. At least with Obama we knew the things like civil disobedience and sit ins would pressure his administration not to lose faith politically. With this politician in the White House, I can almost guarantee the same tactics won’t work, based upon his inflammatory rhetoric, especially against undocumented immigrants and Mexican Americans. That is what is really scary.
Do you think you can now turn your projects into a message for people when you create?
MS: Yes it is. It is what I feel compelled to do and what I have been doing the past seven years. More than anything I love the connections that I have built with regular people through film screenings, community screenings and invitations to speak. I think I really see the true American public when I go out and speak at these events. What they are telling me is that they really just did not know. The American public is so ill informed on undocumented issues for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest ones is that the right has actively framed our narrative. They have so perfectly created a portrayal of immigrants that are simply just breaking the law that it is very hard to break that stigma. What I wanted to do was focus on the simple narrative of an undocumented person, and really focus on their story.
I think the director and producer/co-writer Tiffany Reynard, and (producer/editor, co-writer) Heather Matthews did such a fantastic job interweaving a story of documenting a young person, but an adult immigrant narrative, which as far as I know had never been done before concerning this issue. They interviewed my mother and sister, and they also have an immigration attorney speak on the immigration system. I think with all of these variables put together, I think it brings together a very compelling message.
What do you want people to know about the undocumented experience? I think there is so much that is being misrepresented, or that people may not know at all.
MS: I want to highlight that our immigration laws have always been exclusive. I think one of the biggest problems is that we as Americans do not know our own history. If we knew that undocumented immigrants can’t “get in line” for citizenship, there is no way Congress can provide a pathway towards citizenship.
Back to my original point, Mexicans and undocumented immigrants fit into a larger cycle of discrimination and exclusion. We have always had a ruling class or ethnic part drawing boundaries, and drawing lines in the sand with our immigration. Our immigration system has been used as a way to exclude people that have been deemed undesirable. People have barred queer people in the past, and they have barred LGBT. We have barred homeless, vagabonds, ethnicities, nationalities. Our very first immigration law was used to exclude the Chinese, the Japanese, and then they excluded all Asians until 1965. This is not a new issue. That is what people need to understand.