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For many Chicagoans Market Days is the biggest event of the year. It brings together many wonderful features of what it means to be a Midwesterner. A sense of belonging, block parties, homegrown artists, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs come together to celebrate our town. It is a celebration of homepride and the best part of it for me is that it is in the city’s traditional epicenter of LGBTQ life. I must say that I am blessed to live in a time when I can say that there is such a thing as a traditionally gay community. Me and my husband can visit a historically gay neighborhood in our city. We are no longer relegated to hidden bars that used to be routinely raided by the police. Yet, during the same weekend, as we were rejoicing in our freedoms with our beloved friends in a beautiful summer evening we read of breaking news from Charlottesville, VA. There was a nazi rally and a nazi plowed through counter protestors with his vehicle. He murdered and hurt people holding signs that read “Love Wins”, “Love is Love”…
The moment you realize you are afraid
After two days of celebrating to the fullest I needed Sunday to recover. I missed 10,000 Maniacs at the fest, and as a Xenial I was not happy about, but I needed a night with my husband to cuddle on the couch and watch CNN’s “The Nineties”. While watching the previous episode about homegrown terrorism, I was scrolling down on my Facebook feed and I saw a post with Heather Heyer’s beautiful face. It read:
“This is 32 year-old Heather Heyer. She was killed today while protesting neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rest in peace, Heather, and thank you for fighting against hate. We will continue the fight for you.”
I said to Matty, she is a Martyr, Heather is our Martyr… Suddenly my hands became numbed and I could no longer talk. I began to sob and I could not stop. I began to cry and I allowed my body to let my emotions flow. It was strange because my hands were shaking so much and the pain in my chest was inexplicable. I then realized that I was afraid. For a moment I had a flashback to my days as a security guard at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. I remembered being yelled at by wealthy people because I had a “hispanic accent” and they needed someone who “spoke English”. I also remembered of my time as a teacher in the suburbs of Milwaukee. During the 2012 election cycle I experienced some weird events in New Berlin, WI. There is a nazi group based out of this suburb and I assume that I might have run into people who are part of it. But I do not know for sure. I never experienced racist behavior against me at this community but I knew my principal did before and those parents were held accountable. New Berlin was always welcoming to me. However, a few times in October, 2012 as I walked to my school site from the city bus I had racist slurs shouted against me because of my “Asian” or “Mexican” appearance by people in trucks with the U.S. flag plastered on their license plates, and with Romney/Ryan bumper stickers. I was confused because they did not know me, but they assumed I was there to hurt their community. In reality I was just going to my classroom to support my student’s academic journey as a special education teacher. I was in their neighborhood trying to help children with great challenges. I was thankful for it because without teaching my resilient students I would not be the person I am today.
Patriotism… I am a citizen!
I became a citizen last February 7th. My husband and several of our beloved friends were there. We shared that special moment and I will hold these pictures close to my heart for the rest of my life, especially because my family is in Los Angeles and Mexico and they could not be there that day. An Asian woman with a thick accent leaded the ceremony in downtown Chicago, and that made it so much more special. Foreigners are the fabric of our country. Diversity and love of diversity is what we keep fighting for to be the social American experience. We welcome everyone that wants to contribute to the country and to give a better future for their families, no matter what their assets, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or education are.
That day felt like I was getting married again. I pledge loyalty and love to you, The United States of America. I was asked to give you unconditional love and I said “I do”. While in the waiting room before the ceremony I had mixed feelings because of our currents president’s rhetoric against people like my father (he came undocumented in the 70’s). For a few minutes I had cold feet and I felt compelled to run out. I was so nervous, and I was trying to come to terms with this moment; but I knew I was there because so many people believed in me, and they carried me across that immense river. I had to do it. I pledged loyalty to America and love overcame my soul…
As we walked out of the building I understood that is now my job to keep this country a place that I can be proud to call home. No election is too insignificant. This land is my land and I will protect it against nazis, racists, prejudice, hate and injustice. I owe it to my parents, my husband, our doggy and our dear friends. This is my land and you nazis will not take it away from me. We, the diverse will raise above you because our love flows far and wide. We are afraid at times, but we are passionate to love and build and grow. We are here for the long haul and there is nothing you can do about it.
Heather, our Martyr, our Angel
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in 2016, 1,046,539 immigrants became citizens (USCIS, 2017). The number for 2017 is expected to be much higher. Becoming a citizen is not an easy feat. The process of citizenship is filled with years of yearning, uncertainty and high hopes. When someone becomes a citizen it requires a willingness to compromise, give up a bit or reconstruct one’s identity. The mental state that comes with crossing that threshold of “human legitimacy” in the United States cannot be explained, but for some of us it is a change that can be felt to the core and that defines new paths in our lives. Even with such struggle there are great rewards. I was reminded about these invaluable gifts this weekend. People like Heather who gave her life for love and justice are the people who make me remember why I love this country. She gave unconditional love to us. She made the ultimate sacrifice.
So I plead that you remember the following:
Remember that when you demonstrate on the streets it is a chance you take to speak up and rejoin your freedoms with your dearest values for social justice. I love and commend you for it. I’m thankful for Heather. I am a gay man, I am a Latino, I am a teacher. Heather chose to love me over hating me, even though she didn’t know me. Thank you Heather for your sacrifice, and in return the least I can do is to continue to be me, and to stay here. I will make sure yours and the many that sacrificed their lives for our communities will not be go in vain. Thank you and your family because they’ll endure this very public pain so that we all learn that “Love Wins” and that “Love Is Love” and that there is no rest for social justice advocates. Heather, you and many beautiful role models like you make us better human beings. Now more than ever, no matter how steep the hill seems, we will keep climbing it and we will never stop working.
With my most heartfelt love to you and your family, Thank you….
Naturalization Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2017, from https://www.uscis.gov/news/fact-sheets/naturalization-fact-sheet