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, Fernanda Marroquin shares her story with Drop the I-Word. Marroquin is a 22-year-old  sophomore at Eastern University, where due to her immigration status, she is forced to pay out-of -state tuition. Fernanda leads DreamActivist PA an undocumented youth-led organization in Pennsylvania that fights for immigrant youth and immigrant rights. Last November, along with other youth and parents, she participated in a civil disobedience in Alabama against the harsh anti-immigrant law HB56.  

Fernanda is a leading voice in the new NIYA project,  UndocuQueer. The project  aims to create a safe space for stories like Fernanda's, bringing together the undocumented identity, queerness, and the struggles faced in society. As part of UndocuQueer, the NIYA wants to "build visibility regarding the intersections of Immigrant and LGBTQ communities. As well as build visibility in immigrant rights and queer rights organizing spaces, in hopes of narrowing the gap between LGBTQ and Immigrant communities in order to foster solidarity."

We are very grateful to the NIYA and the storytellers sharing with us all week. Stay tuned!

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My name is Fernanda; I am UndocuQueer, unafraid, & unashamed!

By Fernanda Marroquin

My family and I have been living in the state of Pennsylvania for 12 years, ever since we moved to the U.S. in 2000. I'm 22 years old and a sophomore at Eastern University. Growing up, I always knew something was not quite right when my parents were constantly afraid of telling anyone that we "don't have papers." I saw them get home late and tired from working long hours at crappy low-paying jobs. They would tell me that I needed to be as quiet and as invisible as possible to avoid any trouble, or else we could be deported back to Peru. I remember the fear that they had to even have close relationships with anyone else or to make new friends because they couldn't trust that others would keep our status a secret. Even though I knew my life was different from that of my friends, I didn't know how much my status or sexual preferences would impact my future. I made up excuses when my friends would ask me why I wasn't getting my driver's license, getting a part time job, or traveling with them before graduation during trips. I felt frustrated, ashamed, and scared that they would judge me, and my family, if I told them that I couldn't do all those things.

I remember the first time I felt attraction to a girl when I was a kid in Peru. I didn't know why I felt that way, and since I was really shy, I didn't talk about it or give it much thought until I was older. That same attraction happened again when we moved to this country when I was 11 years old; it was like I felt something more than just a friendship but I didn't know what it meant. When I was 14 years old and a 9th grader in high school, one of my best friends and I started experimenting with smoking and drinking a little. We had a secretive relationship but somehow, other people found out and made fun of us. I didn't want anyone to know about it, so I denied that anything happened between us. And I didn't tell my parents because I didn't know how they would react. I was afraid they would yell at me, ground me, or stop talking to me altogether. After that year, I kept that part of my life hidden from everyone.

I didn't want to have to live with double shame. Shame in my school and around friends for being undocumented, and shame around my family for being queer, I didn't want to go through it. In 10th grade of High School, I started to lose interest in everything that I once enjoyed doing. I felt worthless and disappointed at the fact that I couldn't make my parents happy. I not only had to deal with being undocumented, but also with the pressures I felt during high school for being queer. I didn't know how else to deal with the emotions that I felt, and began to numb myself by drinking heavily, smoking, and using drugs. During this time, I also had really low self-esteem and began to have body issues and started to go on diets. I remember I would become desperate for any way to suppress my increasing self-hatred and also harmed myself physically by cutting. I felt out of control.  If I talked to my friends, they would only tell me that things would get better and things would change. But things were not okay, things were not better and I didn't want to hear it.

Christmas break, one of my best friends threw the regular weekend party at her house since her mom was usually away. Throughout the years I had been drinking, I grew tolerance towards alcohol but I also began to blackout more often. That night was no different, and one of my friend's friends took advantage of that, and he raped me. I don't really talk about this part of my life openly because I've subconsciously buried it, but it's something that really hurt me and it's part of my story. All I remember is that I said "no" twice and told him to stop before I blacked out, and once I woke up in the morning no one was in the room. Only my shoes were on the side of the bed. And it's something that may seem a little dumb to remember, but my shoes being off my feet meant that it had actually happened. As I made my way to my friend's room, I thought of ways that I could tell them what had happened. But they didn't believe me, telling me he was not the type of person to do something like that; I felt betrayed. After that day, I made myself a promise that I would completely stop drinking and learn how to love myself.

Things didn't get better, but I did get stronger. Once I stopped drinking and abusing drugs, I began to do better in school. I stopped hanging out with friends that would constantly put me down, and I began to build better and stronger relationships with my family. I began to accept my queer identity; I started to do things that made me happy. I began to love myself as a person. After high school, I worked to save money for school because here in Pennsylvania, undocumented youth like me have to pay out of state tuition rates. I'm currently in school and it's been a long road to get to this point. There are different aspects of my life that I had to overcome. As an UndocuQueer person, I not only face challenges because of my immigration status but I also face daily struggles that people encounter.  It was a long process for me to come out of the shadows for both identities. 

Today I embrace every part of my being. I am not afraid and not ashamed of whom I am. I can say with pride and strength that; my name is Fernanda I am UndocuQueer, unafraid, and unashamed!