Luis Serrano grew up in Los Angeles, CA. He emigrated from Sonora, Mexico at the age of 7. He is a multimedia artist-commentator who advocates for immigrant and human rights. He currently attends community college and aspires to one day become a history teacher.
Los Angeles is a beautiful city instilled with high expectations and unforgiving standards. It is also a densely populous Latino/a-based community whose youth are readily at risk for becoming lost youth. Many of us, including myself, come from broken homes headed by single parents who work two jobs. Economic struggles make it difficult for them to be actively present influences at home. This is the reason some youth seek comfort in the streets, in gangs, and so on. In this vacuum and because the school system is heavily affected by No Child Left Behind, teachers are set up to fail the youth tremendously. The power of outside and at-times perilous influences shape our friendships, romances, and professional lives as young adults.
While growing up, my parents provided me with a roof and a food supply as parents should. However, they failed at being affectionate and loving parents. They had come to the U.S. In 1993, though we had been separated, I later reunited with them in late 1995. When I got here, they lived in North Hollywood–a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. I enrolled in the 4th grade, and quickly adopted the American English language. My impression of my new environment was that it seemed to me to be a not-so- different culture from the one back home in Mexico. Eventually the lack of affection and love at home would lead me to construct unique relationships with individuals. I happen to get attached quickly and am emotionally driven not just towards people, but towards everything I put my heart into.
My mom became a single mother at the age of 16 and my Dad went back to Mexico for a few years. Consequently this left our mom to fend for us, which to this day I admire her for. However, she eventually gave me what we like to call the “BOOT” — getting kicked out at the age of 19. All of these early life events would have a major influential impact contributing to my depression and they way I treated relationships in my early to mid 20′s.
Fast forwarding to today, I live in Valley Glen, work an okay job, rent out a room, and pay for whatever college units I can. However, I’m not happy with this, and at the end of the day it completely takes a toll on me. I know this may make me sound selfish and completely ungrateful, but I’m not. I’m just fed up with this robotic life.
What added to this is the fact is that I sadly lost a long-term relationship several months back, a pretty rough break up, and again this was due to the early comfort my parents seemed to fail me on. I quickly became attached, found a family in hers, and when it all hit the rock bottom it was as if someone removed the floor right from under my feet, completely exposing everything under that I’m truly not happy with.
I then experienced several months of mild depression, but being Undocumented it was hard for me to find the same treatment others get. Buying liquor was cheaper than seeing a therapist/psychologist so I did that instead. Again this was not spontaneous, it was as if built-up pressures from previous years just landed back on me, just like when I was 16 and tried to commit suicide right after my parents got divorced, and best friend Orlando Lopez passed away. It was almost as if the tunnel did not have a light at the end..
Slowly I began to crawl out of this mess, not just me, but with the help of friends, and what I like to call a moment of STABILITY, a moment when you realize this shit is not that bad. Sort of like a moment of balance between the transition from being completely down, to rising above.
A recent moment of stability happened for me a couple of weeks back when I was heading to class. My friend Jon gave me a call telling me to come with him and our friend Isaac to pick up an Undocumented kid named Irvin, who is here with no place to stay while he is receiving dialysis treatments. He happens to be from Georgia, a state that is denying him assistance even if paid. Though I was supposed to attend class, I said to myself, “screw it I will miss class.” I headed out with them.
Irvin is a shy kid at first and despite the fact he was born in Mexico, he has a thick Southern accent that I found warm and humorous. It seemed odd to me, a Latino with a southern accent? He says very few words but always chuckles when you say or do something he finds funny. Other than the fact that he has been physically ill, he also comes from a very shaky background does not say much about it and despite it all he seems to be young and full of positive vibes, almost as if he is not ill or not coping with very difficult issues.
Watching him insert bags of medication directly into his kidney every four hours has completely made me realize that I should be more like him. Here I am Undocumented and dwelling on things that sink my mind, and next to me is Irvin who is also Undocumented and living with an extremely expensive and potentially fatal condition. Both of us cope with health problems that we as Undocumented youth have more of a problem seeking treatment for. Hanging out with Irvin while we grab a bite and picking him up from the hospital, has led me to a completely new understanding of myself as an individual and I hope to provide the same for him.
As I reflected on our commonalities, I came to to comprehend that we as Undocumented youth need to realize that while outside influences play a heavy role in our lives, there is always a community bound together by shared experiences. We may not have access to fancy medicinal practices, but we do have one another and believe it or not that goes a long, long way. I guess you could say it’s ironic in a way. Luis from L.A. growing up seeing how the system fails Undocumented folks and working class minorities in general; Irvin from Goergia moving to this state to seek help and comfort…Out with the bad, and in with the good I guess.
When I was five years old, the last thing I wanted to do was to migrate to the U.S. I was a very happy content child, and from what I remember I excelled in school. I was madly and deeply in love with my grandmother who was my main caregiver. Unfortunately my father couldn’t find work and moved to the states when I was two. It was then my parents decided it would be best if we all moved to the United States.
Leaving my grandmother and my life behind was heartbreaking. I didn’t fit in at school, and felt I was an outcast. I wasn’t black or white, I was brown. On top of that I didn’t speak the language. The first few years were miserable. We lived in a run down apartment, and I missed my grandmother more than anything.
Eventually I picked up the language and was happy with my life. I did pretty well in school and starting earning friends. Although it was very apparent at a young age that I was different, I didn’t really wrap my head around it until later on in life. I was your typical tomboy. I wore only boys clothes and begged my mother to allow me to have short hair. I felt no sexual attraction to either gender but assumed I would inevitably grow into liking boys.
I learned of my two biggest differences the summer I turned fifteen. After a decade of living in the states my mother decided we would be better off living in Mexico. She realized our lives without documentation would be too tough. I was still very much a tomboy and it was apparent in my town in Mexico that I was in fact gay. After several alarming incidents that proved dangerous to my safety, my mother quickly realized that my life was at risk and that we couldn’t live in Mexico.
To read Ro’s full story click here.
For more Undocuqueer stories click here.
Irvin has been in the United States since he was only eight months old, when his parents brought him here. He was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 13 and although his prognosis was very dire, he is still alive. He had been receiving dialysis treatment in Georgia until he discovered that, at age 18, his immigration status disqualified him from further treatment.
Irvin was forced to move to California in order to continue receiving treatment and is now away from his mother in a place completely new to him. He has received great help from Isaac Barrera of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) and his family, but he is unable to work because of his medical condition and, of course, the cost of living in California. Irvin goes for dialysis treatment every day for nine hours.
Friends of his in DreamActivist Georgia (DAGA) went door-to-door in their community to raise funds to help Irvin, but they were only to collect a small amount. Please donate to help defray his costs until he can be reunited with his mother in Georgia. Whether it is a one-time donation or a regular contribution, it could be life-changing for Irvin.
We have all heard of the daily struggles in the South. In addition to being kicked out of schools and denied basic necessities, undocumented immigrants like Irvin are even being kicked out of hospitals. The saying “fighting for our lives” has become literal for so many undocumented people.
Ubel Perez faces deportation on May 13 due to a DUI he committed while suffering from depression. Ubel fears gang violence in Guatemala and wishes to remain in the United States, a country he has called home for the past nine years.
Since arriving in the United States, Ubel has lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ubel is currently enrolled in a GED program and wishes to become an electrician. Ubel has become part of his community in Cincinnati, is active in St. Charles Church, and in the community soccer league coaching a women’s soccer youth team. Ubel has worked to support himself and his family since 2003, most recently in the meat-packing industry.
In March 201 l, Ubel was stopped driving while intoxicated while suffering bouts of depression. Ubel spent 20 days in jail before being released on bond. Regretting the actions of the night, Ubel completed the six hour alcohol program. Other than the March 2011 traffic incident, Ubel has never had any other problems with the police.
Ubel is a DREAM Act eligible youth. According to the memo issued by John Morton, Ubel is not a priority for deportation and should be granted favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
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 I could see 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 and 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 its 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 be 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 mt 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!!
Several callers as well as guests Fernanda Marroquin and Santiago Garcia made the first show a huge success. You can join the show every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 8 p.m. ET.
Santi and Fernanda talked about NIYAs (National Immigrant Youth Alliance) new project “UndocuQueer”. NIYA’s UndocuQueer goal is to create a space to highlight the stories and experiences of undocumented and queer people to Empower and Educate.
I am speaking to you today to share the experiences I have as one who battles with both depression and an undocumented status. It is difficult enough for one to live with this condition, let alone doing so with frustrations that come with being undocumented.
I was diagnosed when I was 14, a year before I discovered my undocumented status. It is important to note this because just like any person, we all go through problems; we are so much more than our situations.
With that being said, my undocumented status places limits on virtually all my actions, including my thoughts. No matter where I am, I feel the need to look over my shoulder. Given the fear and uncertainty in which I live, I alter my behavior to survive in a misinformed society which villifies us by claiming that we have come here solely to leech of the government, steal jobs, and cause crime.
Growing up, I faced hopelessness and disappointment. I was raised to believe that if I studied hard in school, and waited patiently for my residency application to be processed, i would be rewarded with the papers I can use to get a good career. I filled out the forms just as the system asked, and waited for more than ten years. nothing happened. I fell into an even deeper depression and began to question my own value. Perhaps I was somehow not good enough…perhaps I’m just not wanted here, regardless of my character.
Undocumented immigrants do not wish to be simply granted my papers. We are asking for a reasonable and timely opportunity to earn them, in order to have have legitimate access to rights and employment. We want to work. We want to reach out full potential in this country, just like any American.
Deporting Yanelli only enforces a set of outdated and broken laws. Deporting her will solve nothing. Deporting her will cause her to be sent to a country which is foreign to her, and will only further aliennate her while she is in this fragile state. This is not what she needs. She needs proper treatment.
We ask not for pity and false promises, but for humanity and reason. Treatment for people in this situation is sorely needed, and above all, a change of law in order to prevent this, and similar situations from reoccurring.
Antonio is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Born in Mexico, he was brought into the United States at age six. He was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at age 14, a year before he discovered his undocumented status. Today, he finds support and camaraderie within the Immigrant Youth Justice League, a youth activist group focused on undocumented immigrants. It gives him a positive way to cope with his status.”
Well things did not turn out as we had hoped, yesterday Yanelli was deported back to Mexico. We’ve been in touch with Yanelli and, even though she was deported, it does not mean our work ends. We’ll continue to work with her to see what support she needs and, if she decides to come back, we’ll help her with that too. Our community is too important to allow any of us to be lost in this fight.
We want to take a moment to recognize and thank you for all of the work you and your friends were a part of in the last few days. In just three days, as a group we made over 4,000 calls, we gathered over 7,000 petition signatures and, most importantly, we got the message across that, regardless of your challenges, you are not in this alone.
Yesterday, in honor of Yanelli, we launched a new effort called UndocuHealth.org. In doing this work and just being a part of this struggle we recognize that many of us go through so much and so much of that time we are not able to share it with anyone. It builds up and eventually comes out in one form or another. Many of us suffer from depression. Many of us have attempted to take our own life at one point or another. Many of us suffer or suffered at one point through something and UndocuHealth.org is our stab at trying to create a community around our struggle and to help each of us recognize that we are not alone.
Remember Joaquin Luna? Well his family really stepped up and went all out to try to also help Yanelli. Their main motivation is just to make sure their son’s tragedy helps others. Join us as we thank them and others for their support of Yanelli. They joined us in helping launch the first ever National Undocumented Mental Health day. We hope you’ll join us and share your testimoy or just read along.
No one fights alone, join us at UndocuHealth
P.S. On Twitter? Send this message to others who helped Yanelli: @SenatorReid @SenatorDurbin @SenatorMenendez Thank you for your leadership & help to save Yanelli @dreamact
Contact: Marco Saavedra January 31, 2012
Family of Joaquin Luna, DREAM Act Student Who Committed Suicide, Releases Statement in Support of Yanelli Hernandez and Launch of UndocuHealth.org
Activists race to stop deportation of a suicidal youth
Rio Grande Valley, TX—The family of Joaquin Luna has expressed their support for Yanelli Serrano Hernandez and for the Undocumented Mental Health Day campaign organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. The initiative is an immediate response to the deportation of Yanelli Hernandez Serrano, a DREAM Act-eligible youth who has attempted suicide while in detention. She is set to be deported Tuesday.
In conjunction with NIYA, the Luna family is releasing the following statement on Undocumented Mental Health Day, the launch of UndocuHealth.org and the imminent deportation of Yanelli:
As a mother, I am saddened to hear what’s happening to Yanelli. I hope that my words get to her and can help her find some peace and hope. It’s not easy for a mother to see her child filled with dreams…and then wake up to a harsh reality that they are no longer here.
When my son died, I kept thinking why, why him? I still wake up wondering why it had to be him. I find comfort thinking that what happened with Joaquin will serve as a lesson for those who keep holding hostages the DREAMs of young children like Joaquin. His biggest DREAM was to be an engineer; that’s all he wanted. Unfortunately, he lost hope. I keep thinking that maybe another young person will hear about my son and it will help them find a way out.
I hope that ICE and the proper authorities find it in their heart to release her. She needs to be out, with her mother. Only a mother knows how to take care of her child, and also what it feels like to lose a child after we’ve try everything to keep them safe. I pray to God that Yanelli is released soon, and I pray that she doesn’t lose hope, that she doesn’t take her own life. Losing a child is the greatest pain a mother can go through.
I hope that more people understand that these DREAMers need help; they deserve a chance. I hope my son’s story serves as an example of why it’s important to help them and to give them a chance to fulfill their dreams. From where I am, the only thing I can do is pray to God for the well being of Yanelli.
Luna committed suicide last November, succumbing to frustration over his immigration status. His death triggered renewed calls for passage of the DREAM Act, as well as a conversation among activists about how to address the apparent epidemic of major depression among undocumented youth. Yanelli, instead of receiving treatment near her family, was placed in solitary confinement after her attempted suicide. She was left naked with only a blanket and placed on Prozac.
Claudia, from the Inland Empire – Immigrant Youth Coalition, shares a very emotional account of how she battled with depression and attempted to take her own life. She also shares how meeting other undocumented youth helped her overcome the feelings of hopelessness.
On January 30th, we made a call to action through Facebook, Twitter, our personal blogs, tumblr, etc. We asked everyone to take a picture of themselves holding a sign the read “I am from (insert state). I stand in solidarity with Yanelli.” The response was overwhelming. We got pictures from all over the country, and from people we have never met before. It is so inspiring to see everyone taking the time to show support for Yanelli.
We hope that all the work and support you have all put into this campaign pays off and we can have Yanelli back with her family real soon. It is also our hope that we continue to work together to address the mental health issues that undocumented youth face every single day. Thanks for your hard work, and your awesome pictures!
You can still send us your pictures at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some sample pictures!
We start with a very special supporter of undocumented youth – Studs the Dog!
Here are other examples
Stephanie, from the Inland Empire – Immigrant Youth Coalition, shares her experience with depression, sexual abuse, and attempts of taking her own life. She also offers some advice for those who are battling depression. She also sends a message to Yanelli.