As academic research and the mainstream politics examines our lives as undocumented immigrant youth largely in terms DREAM Act discourse, some undocumented youth have undertaken projects that move beyond examining our lives as students and activists, and instead explore how we navigate relationships of love. Perhaps most notably, online media producers DREAMers Adrift and Angy Rivera have tackled the issue of “dating while undocumented” through their respective YouTube videos. Southern California DREAM Teams and UC Santa Cruz’ Students Informed Now (SIN) have hosted community dialogues on the subject. In addition, Undocupick-up Lines has produced a slew of memes that meld political humor and silly romantic one-liners. Through witnessing these efforts unfold throughout the past couple of years, it’s clear to me that the undocumented youth community is invested in having more focused conversations on the topic of love and intimacy. Thus, “Realtalk/Feeltalk: A Community Dialogue on Undocumented Love” was formed.
“Realtalk/Feeltalk: Undocumented Love” is an event I hosted last Friday (April 5, 2013) at the Center for Latino Policy Research (CLPR). The idea was simple: let’s bring together local undocumented young adults for an earnest group discussion on how we experience love – romantic love, kinship love, platonic love, self-love, etc – in relation to our intersecting identities of race, gender, sexuality, and migration/displacement. A small mixed-status cohort participated in this cathartic exercise – we consisted of undocumented students, DACA-certified workers, and U.S. citizens from migrant families. I was inspired to find that individuals were willing to be open and vulnerable in their sharing, and I believe this shared vulnerability not only helped strengthen community bonds, but to also allow for healing work to occur.
I write this post in an attempt to share the collective knowledge that emerged through our conversation. My intention here is not to exploit or even broadcast the stories that emerged during our talk, but rather to share my interpretations of some themes and key points that were raised during our talk.
One moment that stuck with me was when a young man posed the following questions: “does being undocumented affect how we receive and/or give [romantic] love? Does being undocumented affect how we imagine what love is and what it’s supposed to look like?” In response to these questions, folks shared a variety of experiences ranging from what it meant to grow up in a mixed status family to the type of frustrations one might endure with their citizen partner. While we did engage these questions together, we did not arrive to a final collective answer to these questions, though I don’t think we even intended to given their complexity.
Nevertheless the questions haunted me, and ultimately I concluded for myself that perhaps it’s not our conceptions of love that are disturbed by undocumented status, but rather the concern is how we experience emotional intimacy uniquely as undocumented migrants. As youth, we are inculcated with the same cultural narratives of love; being undocumented does not exclude us from being fed the same Cinderella stories. Indeed this Cinderella story is later complicated because our status is an inevitable factor in our relationships – for example, I was once in a relationship that failed because my then-girlfriend’s parents did not believe I could provide for her or protect her due to my legal status – but I don’t believe our status forces us to reconceptualize our notions of love. Instead, I believe that undocumented status shapes our experiences with emotional intimacy, for being undocumented informs our sense of whom we can trust and who we decide we can be vulnerable with; it often pushes some of us into secrecy or into telling white (maybe grey) lies; and while many of us have claimed “undocumented and unafraid”, many of us remain ashamed and very much afraid of telling our friends and partners about our identities and lived experiences of being undocumented.
These delicate navigations of intimacy that go unspoken are what I refer to with the title of “undocumented love”. “Undocumented” love doesn’t simply refer to how we experience love in relation to our political identities as undocumented migrants, but rather it also refers to how our experiences of love go undocumented, silenced, and not talked about. Therefore, through sharing our testimonies with each other, the event served as a simple yet powerful exercise of documenting those experiences for ourselves, for our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.