A New Home: America as a Land of Queer Opportunity
Many people assume that all Mexican immigrants come to the United States in search of economic opportunities. While that is undoubtedly true for some of us, for others, we come for an entirely different reason—because we want to live in a more liberal society. I am one of those people. As a teenager, I left Mexico and immigrated to the United States because I yearned for the freedom to be my true self and live a life that was sexually and romantically unrestrained. Thankfully, since my arrival, I have been able to build precisely this kind of life, due in no small part to the American values of freedom and equality.
I was raised in Mexico City by my grandmother, who is a Jehovah’s Witness. Even though she is a good person and loves me very much, her religious beliefs often caused her to say hurtful things to me. “God doesn’t approve of queers,” she would say. “When are you going to get a wife and start having children?” Because of these attitudes, I struggled with shame, guilt, and fear as I came to realize I was bisexual. I knew I might marry a woman, but that I also might not. Either way, I knew that I certainly wouldn't start having kids at a young age. However, I never felt like I could talk to my grandmother about any of these things because, despite her emphasis on procreation, sex was such a taboo topic that we never even discussed it.
Because of this upbringing, it was difficult for me to process my feelings surrounding my sexuality. I wanted to enjoy a variety of different experiences, but doing so was challenging without the tools afforded by a proper sex education. During my teenage years, I had two different girlfriends with whom I tried to broach the subject, but when I alluded to my same sex attractions, their reactions were both somewhat negative, which made me feel even more insecure and self-conscious. When I encountered other queer men, they often seemed to be wearing a mask and were mainly preoccupied with trying to prove they were "real men” because of the way that masculinity is often tied up in heteronormative behavior in Mexico. I, too, was afraid of being perceived as less of a man, so I was only able to explore my same-sex attractions under the influence of alcohol at various dance parties and raves around the city. All in all, I was a mess living under those conditions. Over time, however, I gradually overcame the sex-negative attitudes of my childhood and started to think differently for myself. By then, I had accepted the fact that I was bisexual, but I was still afraid to come out to friends and family in Mexico City.
During my teens, I also began listening to lots of music. The Beatles and Pink Floyd were my favorites. As a young kid, I had studied English in private school, but eventually my mom (who lived in the US) stopped paying for my education and I had to switch to public school. I was devastated, but I continued to teach myself English by looking up the words to the lyrics of my favorite rock bands. It was in this way that I fell in love with American culture, which struck me as distinct from Mexican culture in many ways. In particular, I loved how introspective and individualistic Americans seemed. The lyrics American musicians produced made me dream of a freer life, where I could be my true self. My mom and her new husband lived in Southern Oregon, United States. In my late teens, I had the opportunity to immigrate and move in with them, and to go to school there. Of course, I was grateful to my grandmother who raised me (and who I still see as my mom in a way), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to move to the land I had come to love from afar. It was a dramatic change in my life, and I had high hopes going in. But, as it turns out, moving to the United States changed me even more than I could have imagined.
In the US, my peers in high school were far more accepting of sexual and romantic diversity. Even my straight friends were more comfortable in their masculinity. They didn't feel the need to perform an exaggerated kind of manhood (or “machista” as we call it in Mexico). They understood, for example, that being less athletic or more artistic didn’t mean they were any less of a man. This struck me as obviously true, even though my old friends in Mexico wouldn’t have seen it that way. In this new social environment, I finally felt free to come out as bi. The struggle didn’t go away over night, but being in a less restrictive environment helped me work though my issues. I was able to see myself as both queer and as masculine in a way that was extremely liberating.
Of course, not everyone in the United States holds the same set of liberated, sex-positive views, nor do those that hold them all embrace them to the same degree. Similarly, not everyone in Mexico is swimming in queerphobic sex-negativity. Nevertheless, the contrast I experienced between these two places was instrumental in my coming out process because it revealed to me a broader range of acceptable attitudes. Mexico City is one of the most progressive places in Latin America, and yet the small town in Southern Oregon to which I moved was far more accepting of expressions of gender and sexuality that fall outside the confines of traditional heteronormative behavior. It amuses me to reflect upon the fact that rural Southern Oregon, which was almost entirely White, proved to be a more accepting community for a brown queer adolescent.
I believe this cultural difference has roots in America's strong foundation as a liberal democracy. I have learned that the founders of the American republic enshrined in their constitution the right for all individuals to live and worship in their own way, which explains the greater diversity of opinions I have encountered with regard to sex and sexuality. No wonder American values such as these have spread far and wide. They are the reason that I immigrated here. I came because in my heart I am an American, because America is an idea to aspire to, not merely a patch of land. In America, I am free to openly be myself, and I can finally remove my mask.
Sometimes, I feel like no one really gives queer people enough credit for the years of hiding behind a mask. It is not cowardly to hide when one is in danger. It takes strength to give up years of one's life, the majority of one's youth, and in some cases, even much more than that. It isn't shameful to be afraid. What is shameful is the fear that was instilled in us by society for far too long. It is human nature, perhaps, to be afraid of those who are different from us, but it is especially harmful when we are made to be afraid of ourselves. Moving to America helped me accept myself and, eventually, to forgive my grandmother for holding me back.
Any mentality of “us versus them” only divides people. We are all human. Our similarities are greater than our differences. Democracy is about coming together, finding common ground, respecting difference. While it is true that a stubborn minority of Americans hold theocratic views akin to those their ancestors fled from in Britain, and akin to those I faced in Mexico, it is my hope that the majority of Americans who believe in freedom and equality for all people will stand up for the rights of immigrants like myself to come to America and be free like them.