Creative Director: I Am An Immigrant
Now, more than ever, it's important we stay united. I’m extremely proud to be part of the #IAmAnImmigrantmovement. We all have our piece in the American story, whether as a new immigrant, native to this land, a descendent of slavery or those who came to our nation seeking a better life. Join the movement at IAmAnImmigrant.com!
#IAmAnImmigrant honors each of our families’ sacrifices, struggles and successes – America’s strength is reflected in our diversity built over generations. Join the movement at IAmAnImmigrant.com
Stand with immigrants at #IAmAnImmigrant.com to celebrate the monumental contributions immigrants have made — and continue to make every day! #IAmAnImmigrant
I was undocumented in this country for 19 years. I will protect my undocumented brother's and sisters! You are not alone and you are here to stay! #IAmAnImmigrant
I've shared my story in a lot of places, but never thought I'd share it on a wall in Herald Square and see my family's picture up there too!
Today, October 11, 2016, is such a special day for me because it is a day when I celebrate coming out of the closet...twice. 10 years ago as gay and 5 years ago as undocumented. I thought I would be writing more, but to be honest I have shared so much over the last couple of days that all I can say is thank you to all of those who have fought for my freedom. Those who came before me that paved the way to ensure that one day this undocumented, gay Latino kid from Venezuela could be married to the man of his dreams (Dom Tyler Leon-Davis), have an amazing job where he gets to tell stories (SOZE), and be part of so many communities that continue to fight for justice and freedom (LGBTQ+ / Immigrants / POC). Today, I celebrate my family.
Today, I celebrate my community.
Today, I celebrate our lives.
The reality is, we all have to make a choice, and every single day undocumented immigrants around this country make the choice to be brave.
That is why I see so much of the beauty that lies #BeyondTheWall. I see the stories that continue to drive this country and I see the human lives that exist beyond the metaphor of a wall that keeps everyone out.
As this country continues to grow, it is imperative that we accept the amazing contributions of undocumented immigrants in this country. That we come to understand that behind each of us there is a story. That this country should not be tearing families apart but instead bringing families together.
What are you doing to be free?
self•ish in brooklyn
Learn to be the most authentic version of you. peel away all of the layers that tell you that you have to follow the same path as anyone else.
On November 23, 2013 I got married to the love of my life, Dominique Tyler Leon-Davis in Central Park NYC.
#BeyondTheFear: Being an artist and a creative.
Growing up in a hyper-masculine, immigrant community of color it wasn’t exactly celebrated when “men” decided they wanted to be artists. You see, in my community “men” were taught that the arts were a sign of weakness. Why? Well, arts are an expression of one’s emotions and “men” had to be stable and strong. Clearly, all of those concepts are bullshit.
The first memory I have as an artist is actually my birthday in 1998. I was turning 9 and I wanted to show all of my family and friends a dance I had made to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente.” I stepped into my living room with everyone’s eyes on me and for 4 minutes and 28 seconds I was free. I’ve never forgotten that day and I don’t think I ever will. It was at that moment that I experienced what I wanted to feel for the rest of my life, the joy of creating art.
Well, as the years passed creating art definitely became part of my life. From joining choir with Michelle Bendett, to dancing on Kings of Dance with Krissy Williams, to my position now as the Senior Creative Director at SOZE with Michael Skolnik, Paola Mendoza, and Zackery Stover. But one thing changed, I wasn’t free.
Yeah, for moments in time I would feel free, like when I learned the full routine to NSync’s “Pop” and performed it in front of my class in 6th grade. But all in all, art had found a way to become a source of pain for me. Art was the reason I questioned myself.
You see, being a young man in middle school who wants to dance and sing isn’t exactly what my family wanted. Joining choir meant I was probably gay (surprise! I am an happily married to Dom Tyler Leon-Davis), and wanting to dance meant I wasn’t athletic enough to do sports (since dance “is not a sport.”) And well, all hell broke lose when as an 8th grader I decided I was going to go to the Visual and Performing Arts Magnet High School. I didn’t stop there though. I went on to study music in college, while teaching dance at Edge Dance Studios, and vibing with DCypher and of course AUinMotion. I even painted a couple of visual pieces that I sold right after high school!
Although I always pushed to continue being an artist, I was always an academic first and an artist second. Growing up as an immigrant my family expected me to succeed, and even though my mom was a well known interior designer, the idea of me being an artist wasn’t what she envisioned for me. It didn’t help that I was a perfectionist and that no matter what I did I felt I wasn’t good enough. Yeah, I was an okay musician, and an good dancer, and I had an okay eye for design, but I definitely wasn’t the best. And I wanted to be best.
I wanted to be the best at something so much that instead of following my heart I just did what I was good at…school. As I watched my friends pursue their dreams I stood on the sidelines and basked in the praise I got as an academic, because I knew no one could take that away from me.
Well, here I am years later and realizing what it means to be free and that’s accepting myself as an artist and as a creative. It’s funny because I grew up always being told that I was the “jack of all trades and king of none” and it pissed me off. But it’s also what got me here. No matter how far I tried to stray from the arts I’ve always ended up back in the mix.
Yeah, I might not have a bachelor in the arts and I might not be good enough for some people, but today I accept that I am an artist and a creative. Today, I thank my mother who has come full circle and now proudly calls me “her little artist.” Today, I thank all of the people in my life who saw the artist in me when I couldn’t (You’re probably tagged here). Today, I give a shout out to all of the young people of color who are some of most amazing artists and creatives in the world and are my source of inspiration.
Today, I dedicate my life to being free.
Today, I dedicate my life to being me.
Today, I was free.
First time on the South Lawn at the White House.
South x South Lawn #SXSL
Every day, I wake up knowing that I am blessed to do the work I do. Every day, I am reminded of the sacrifices so many people made to get me here. Every day, I am reminded that life is about purpose, not position. #TooBlessedToStress (📸 by Joe Penney)
“I came to the US when I was six, with my mom, and essentially my whole life I didn’t know I was undocumented. I went to school, I had a family, friends, I was a good student. So to me, I was just as American as everyone else was.”
This interview first appeared on Welcome.us as part of Immigrant Heritage Month.
I came to the US when I was six, with my mom, and essentially my whole life I didn’t know I was undocumented. I went to school, I had a family, friends, I was a good student. So to me, I was just as American as everyone else was. When you grow up in the U.S. since first grade, you consider yourself an American. The education system here shapes who you are in a lot of ways, and so this education system shaped me to be this American scholar, essentially. I remember finding out that I was undocumented during my senior year of high school when I got accepted to a number of colleges and universities. I thought I was this kid who was going to go to this top school, all my friends were getting into top schools, but instead I found out that I didn’t have a social security number. My mom didn’t want me to work throughout high school, and I thought it was because she wanted me to focus on school. But I couldn’t legally work even if I wanted to. At that time people weren’t speaking publicly about being undocumented. I didn’t know who to talk to about it, and my mom didn’t know who to talk to either. So I ended up not going to school for over a year.
Throughout community college I was still not out about being undocumented, I felt like I was in the shadows of America. I was trying to act as American as I could, I was in school and I had gotten a job. It wasn’t until I went off to American University that I decided to come out as undocumented because I had become so politicized by the issue.
I think I grew up being so Latinized. Even though I didn’t know I was undocumented, I definitely knew I was Latino. I grew up in Miami and then Orlando. For one, my mom only speaks Spanish. But then also at parties with my family, you didn’t hear hip hop, you’d heard meringue and salsa. I grew up with that my entire life. Now thinking about it, even in NYC, Dom and I don’t really think about it. I mean, clearly our heritage has impacted the way we think about certain things, but for the most part I think that Dom and I are light-skinned who look like mixed individuals. People often confuse us thinking we are mixed, so we don’t deal with the interracial stuff that many people in interracial relationships do in America.
I was born in the U.S. My family has been in the U.S. for generations. I am African American, and so, I don’t consider myself an immigrant but I do consider myself to have immigrant heritage because my family on both sides were brought to the United States unwillingly. There are so many different aspects of being a light-skinned African American male, and knowing where your family comes from beyond the U.S. I consider myself an American but there is a part of me that wants to know where my family comes from. I did have my genealogy and DNA tests done a couple years ago. It showed that my family comes from some part of West Africa but other than that, I have no sense of where my family is from. I don’t even know how many generations of American I am. My family just knows America is home. I think my whole family has that desire to know where we come. I have a great aunt who wrote a book about African heritage. She and I have talked about it, but it’s not something that is really talked about in the family. We can accurately trace my heritage back to sharecroppers. That is where the lineage and our discussion of our heritage stops. It is frustrating for me at times, but it is not something I really dwell on. I realize that heritage is a fluid thing and as time goes on, knowing where your family came from centuries ago becomes less and less important. It is about the traditions that you create as you move forward based on where you are.
For the first couple years of our relationship it came up a lot with my mom, who is a single black mother. People like her kind of expect you to marry within your race, and so for my mom when I was first starting to date Daniel, all of the things that go with the fact that he is undocumented and Latino turned into a lot of conversations. Internally, I identified as a progressive, not knowing what a progressive was. I felt for people who were undocumented but I didn’t know anything about the experience or policies. Meeting Daniel, walking through his experience with him, being by his side was incredibly eye-opening. Besides just the customs and traditions, there are a lot of real things that come into play with a person who has that real immigrant experience. That is one of the more life changing experiences I have had.
My hope for the next generation is that we continue to see the strong, fearless people continuing to come out as undocumented and tell their story. Just humanizing that experience for the rest of us who don’t know. There is real power behind stories and personal narratives. Even when the most conservative-minded people, my mother included, hear a family’s real story, they are connected on a personal level and it helps them better understand the struggle even if they disagree with it fundamentally. It makes them realize that they are human beings.
Daniel’s and Dom’s story
Dom and I actually met on Grindr in Washington D.C. I had just come back from a conference for 400 undocumented young people all over the nation. I was in the process of going home from Baltimore. I was going to school at American University at the time, and I turn my Grindr on, and Dom came up. The next weekend we had our first date at my dance recital at American University.
I remember pulling up to the restaurant area at American University and looking for this guy who I thought was a big guy – a dancer. Instead, I came across this short bald guy with a purple jacket and purple duffle bag. We got into the car and we started talking. I went to watch the show and I remember thinking, “Oh my God! This guy is an amazing dancer.” All the people on the stage clearly loved and respected him. We went back to our friend’s apartment where I was staying, and we just talked, and I remember falling in love on the first date. I knew that proposing was in the cards when we did a pre-proposal proposal during D.C. Pride in 2012. I got on one knee and gave him a ring pop. He said “yes.”
It’s really funny because Dom and I had both bought Out Magazine because Neil Patrick Harris and his husband were on the cover. In the story, NPH talked about the fact that he and his husband did a double proposal because they both wanted to experience what it was like to get down on one knee. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the most extroverted person who could possibly be on planet Earth. But after he had proposed to me, I had kind of forgotten that we had talked about doing a double proposal.
So I surprised him. We had already begun planning the wedding—it was underway—but I surprised him by proposing back to him. For me it was kind of a return proposal, and surprisingly enough I got hella nervous and was stuttering once I got down on one knee. I said something along the lines of, “I’m really crazy, I don’t know how you’re with me, and I love you for dealing with me and the fact that you feel the way I feel about you and for wanting to be with me forever.” I remember bringing him to the top of the rock, because NYC was our new home, and it overlooked where we were going to be getting married in Central Park.
I am American. I am an immigrant. I am the future.
This blog was originally posted on medium.
Normally, I don’t freak out, but I am freaking out!
Four years ago I opened my email to find a personal invitation to the White House’s Cinco de Mayo reception hosted by President Obama and Michelle Obama. Of course, I freaked out and got so excited! However, I also new that being undocumented chances were I would never be able to get in. Regardless, I decided to send my information in to Secret Service in hopes that I would somehow be cleared.
Low and behold, just days later I received an email that I was cleared! As you can imagine, tears started flowing down my face. I called my mom and screamed at the top of my lungs “I’M GOING TO THE WHITE HOUSE!!!”
I’m actually never going to forget that day because I was jumping up and down so hard that I spilled water all over my research.
Anyway, you all get it, I was hyped!
Well, Cinco de Mayo came and I started getting ready in my fly outfit I had gotten just to go to the White House. And just as I was about to leave, I get an email letting me know that I was no longer cleared to attend because undocumented individuals are not allowed into the White House.
I burst into tears and this time tears of pain!
It had been less than a year since I had come out publicly about being undocumented. I knew I was a privileged DREAMer but I still felt the pain of rejection. The same pain so many people feel every day when this country trys to tell them they aren’t American.
Well, 4 years later, I am typing this up on my phone as I stand in line to get into the White House for President Obama’s last Cinco de Mayo at the White House.
And again, there are tears flowing down my face. But this time, they are tears of both joy and pain.
Joy because as I was typing this I walked into the East Wing where the first thing you see is an exhibit for AAPI Heritage Month that happens to feature a piece of art that the Sons & Brothers team commissioned.
Joy because as I walk into the White House I am rocking a shirt that says “I Am An Immigrant” that will launch as part of the third annual Immigrant Heritage Month which I have had the privilege of working on since its inception.
Joy because I get to see Sophie Cruz mesmerized by all the history in the White House.
Joy because I get to have a spicy margaritas inside the White House.
Pain because as I stand here knowing how many millions of lives are still being impacted by a fucked up immigration system!
Pain because we still have so much work to do.
I am writing this now as I watch Mana and think of my mom, my sister, Dom, Michael, Paola, Alida and all my family and friends that literally did EVERYTHING to get me here. I am here because you believe in me. Because you invest in me. Because you would give your life for me and I want you all to know that I would do the same for you all!
I am here to represent and to always fight for families!
I am American. I am an immigrant. I am the future.
Sometimes you just have to remember that #LifeIsBeautiful! 📸 by Jenyfer Martin