The National Immigrant Youth Alliance is at the helm of this year's National Coming Out of the shadows week of action. With events scheduled across the country, the NIYA has developed a toolkit and coming out guide for undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic community members and activists at all levels of involvement that includes: How to tell Your Story; Taking Action Online; and Why Come Out?Continuing our I Am storytelling series, Julio Salgado from Dreamers Adrift talks about his identity, what makes him happy and the people and movement that inspire him to create Undocu-Queer and Undocu-Love images.
Julio Salgado: Creating Undocu-Love and Undocu-Queer Art
By Julio Salgado
My name is Julio Salgado, I am 28 years old and I am queer, undocumented and unafraid. Or an unafraid undocu-queer! I moved to the U.S. in 1995 when I was 11 years old. We came here with passports, but while in the U.S., my sister's kidney disease got worst and she was dying. My mom gave her one of her kidneys and doctors urged my parents to move to the U.S. permanently because going back to Mexico could put my sister's then-recent surgery in jeopardy. Any parent whose child is almost dying will make the obvious and responsible decision to stay in the country and save their life. So we did. Our passports eventually expired and we became undocumented. We tried getting our status fixed, but this meant going back to Mexico.
Sure, college was a pain in the ass without financial support from the government, but there were a lot of generous folks who didn't care about my status as an undocumented student and granted me a few private scholarships. I also worked my ass off as a dishwasher, construction worker and freelance caricaturist. I eventually graduated with a degree in journalism from California State University Long Beach. A degree ICE can never take away from me. During that long journey of figuring out what it mean to be an undocumented individual in this country, I also tried to make sense of my queer identity, which I kept hidden from a few folks. I eventually realized that I had to connect the two and try to educate others about the intersectionality of being queer and undocumented.
Why the images: I draw because that's what I am good at. I studied journalism because I wanted to tell stories. But I also had this passion for drawing that I used the basics of journalism to tell stories via illustrations. When a lot of undocumented folks started coming out, I just had to document the folks that were at the forefront of this movement. A lot of them were fellow queer brothers and sisters that made me feel like I wasn't alone. They were definitely the key inspiration behind many of the illustrations I made in 2010.
Undocu-love: We live in a broken immigration system. Families get separated all the time and couples are forced to have long-distance relationships, not knowing when they'll see each other again. I've met some queer bi-national couples that wish that they can marry their partner to keep them from deportations and they can't because our queer relationships are not recognized by this country. At least not in the "traditional" sense that would save some from deportations. So with this set, I honor those couples, whose love is bigger than any man-made fence.
As an artist, you hope that your work makes a difference in someone's life. When I began making some of the drawings that people were sharing in Facebook in 2010, I did it for selfish reasons, really. I did them for me. I did them because art has been my true escape from this reality we call undocumentedness. But as I began to see how others really saw themselves in the illustrations, it became more of a mission I just had to do. Like, if I have this ability to draw, why not share it with the community. Why not make these illustrations available to them and have them use as a tool of empowerment. If folks can do that, then I am a happy undocu-queer!
About the photo above: It was taken by my mentor and friend Favianna Rodriguez at Stanford University. She will be teaching a class about story-telling via poster work in various movements at Stanford. Because of the work I've done, she invited me to come and assist her with the class. I am nervous and excited. I am also looking forward to making sure that folks are checking their privilege up in academia!