“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.