The Future is Unrestricted
Sweet, quick witted goofball, fierce protector, coastal baddie
When I left for college, I don’t think I’d even turned 18 yet. It was scary, but I just knew I wanted to build something for myself, something that could really be mine. At home, my default is to be a caretaker. As the oldest child, I’m the second in command, so whatever my mom needs, I’m like, okay. I’m gonna do this. I’m not gonna ask questions. Going away to school, suddenly nobody was telling me what to do. I had to figure it all out on my own.
I started going to the undocumented student group on campus. I had a friend there who was organizing deportation defense campaigns in San Francisco and they invited me to come along. We went to sit in the courtroom together to show the judge that the person who was detained was not alone. I remember feeling scared that first time. I was like, can’t they stop us or something? And my friend was like, no, we just go in and say that we’re their family.
I put my fear aside because I knew that if I were in the same position, I’d want somebody to sit with my mom in the courtroom. I’d want somebody to come and talk to me after my hearing. And I’m so glad I did because I remember looking around at all the other undocumented people packing the courtroom with us, people who were putting themselves out there to support someone in a worse situation than themselves. I realized, wow, we’re so freaking powerful! We take care of one another.
It was really empowering for me to feel like I had agency in that way because for so long I’d felt like I was doing everything out of obligation, either for my parents or to be this perfect immigrant at the top of their class. For the first time in my life, I started asking myself, who am I really? What drives me outside of all these obligations?
Before I knew it, I had a whole community of other queer and undocumented folks. Being around them, I felt safe enough to explore my own identity. I remember I was confused by all the different terms so I asked one friend of mine, hey, what does queer mean? And they told me, queer can mean a bunch of different things. It’s really personal to you. That had a huge impact on me. It felt liberating.
Before college I’d barely met any queer people except for this one middle school classmate of mine. I remember feeling really threatened by them. I didn’t want to talk to this person and when I did—it hurts me to admit this—I was really mean. At that time I think so much was new: new country, new teacher, new language, new peers. I pushed them away ’cause I didn’t want to consider what it would mean for me to have to navigate the world the way they did.
I started seeing a therapist in college and I came to realize that I had really bad anxiety and PTSD. When I was younger, I’d ask my mom, where are we going? How long does it take to get there? A couple minutes later, I’d ask the same thing. She’d get mad and say, I already told you. Sit down, put on your seatbelt. So now I’m trying to have intentional conversations with her like: hey, when I used to ask you those things, that was me feeling anxious. And even if you’d already told me the answer, I needed you to tell me again. Anxiety is not something I can control. I am learning to manage it.
I want a world where we truly value young people. It makes me emotional because I think a lot of the really tough experiences I had growing up were when people had more power than me and exerted that power to diminish my own experience. My mom was an oldest child too. Like me, she always felt a duty to take care of those around her and oftentimes, forgo her own needs in doing so. But because of that, I know neither of us were given the grace and encouragement we deserved to follow our own hearts growing up. Now I try to be very cognizant of how I engage with my younger sister and even my younger cousin, to show them that I care about them without trying to control them.
If I have my own therapy practice one day, maybe it could have a view of the water. Water, the ocean in particular, means a lot to me. I see my future children feeling comfortable swimming from a young age, like my mom taught me. At my practice I’d have a food bank or a stocked fridge where people can come and take whatever they want. In a dream world, my practice would be a place where we all took care of one another. Where we actively made an effort to honor our interconnectedness.
There was this woman from the pack-the-courts community who always brought her kids along and whenever she’d see me and my friends, she’d invite us over to eat. The first time I ever stepped into her house, I was just like, wow. Her kitchen was green. Her living room was orange. Her hallway was purple. Her bathroom was blue. I just remember feeling so much joy being in that colorful house eating those home cooked meals.
I want my future children, and young people in general, to be surrounded by color and by lots of people who love them and tell them that they’re proud of them. They should get to choose how they want to dress. It doesn’t matter whether it’s masculine or feminine. They should decide how they want to wear their hair, even if they look ridiculous. I want young people to feel happy in their bodies, to know their bodies are doing what they need to do, and for that alone, we should be grateful.
It’s taken me a while to own the fact that just because I wear pink it doesn’t mean I’m not non-binary. Just because I like flowers doesn’t mean I’m not non-binary. And just because sometimes I wanna shave my body hair doesn’t mean that I’m not still a baddie who also wants to present masculine. I’m still figuring out some things about how I like to present myself to the world because unfortunately, sometimes it can put me in danger. But I think as much as there is fear, there’s also joy. It’s the same with being undocumented. At a certain point you’re just like, well, I know no other way to live my life. This is who I am, this is how I honor my heart.
Something I learned from the people I organized with, is that we don’t have to wait for the future to be here. We can actively create the reality that we want to live in. I may not have everything I want in the world right now, but I have so much possibility in my friendships and in my life, and I’m so glad I get to build upon that for the people that come after me.
About the Storyteller: Born in Mexico and now living in Los Angeles, Dani is Immigrants Rising’s Mental Health Coordinator and was a featured speaker at our 15 Year Anniversary Celebration. Find community and connection through one of the Wellness Support Groups Dani organizes.