Son, did you see what happened in Orlando? A lot of people died. Son, we share the sadness with you and may our love fill you with peace.
This was the text I received from my dad Sunday morning. I was barely awake, and still a little buzzed from a previous night of drinking and dancing at the Castro. I immediately took to Facebook and tried to make sense of the horrible attack that had occurred at Pulse, the nightclub in Orlando. Like many of my fellow queer and trans people of color, all I kept thinking was:
That could have been me.
I also kept thinking about an art show I was part of at SoleSpace, called “Xotalicious.” It was a night to celebrate fellow queer people of color with art and music, and to remind each other that we exist — despite others not wanting us to. The rest of the artists in the show and I wanted to be intentional because, although June is pride month, it feels like mainstream pride celebrations don’t really take into consideration the unique challenges that queer and trans people of color have to deal with in this country every single day.
As an undocumented and queer immigrant, it’s infuriating to see a Wells Fargo float during a pride parade, knowing that they invest in and benefit from for-profit immigration detention centers. So, we needed a place like “Xotalicious” as much as the folks who lost their lives Saturday night needed a place to come together and celebrate their lives.
A Latin night at a gay club is not just a place to dance cumbia and salsa. It’s a place for Brown and Black bodies to come together and dance the night away, to try and forget, at least for one evening, about the bullshit that we deal with every single day. Every time we go out and be our full queer selves, there’s a fear in the back of our heads that someone will harm us.
What happened Saturday night in Orlando is a nightmare that became reality for fifty people (as of now, since there’s still folks in critical condition) who are no longer with us.
When I came out to my dad a couple of years ago, he cried. The first thing he told me was that there are people out there who will want to hurt me because of my queerness. He told me to be careful. His tears were not so much because he was ashamed, but because he was afraid.
Whenever I travel the country and share my story as an undocumented and queer immigrant, he worries about me. He worries that someone will hurt me because of who I am. I always tell him that I will be OK. That the reason me and others share our stories is to remind this society that our people are resilient. I tell him that my art is about celebrating that resilience.
But after this weekend, that fear in the back of my head is trying to take over.
As Sunday rolled by and the names of the victims and the shooter were revealed, my heart ached with heaviness, sadness and fear — as the last selfies from these victims were shared on social media.
Then there were the politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who used this opportunity to blame an entire religion for a homophobic man’s actions. There was a sense of relief to know that many of my fellow queers know better than this. We were quick to warn the rest of our community not to convert this act of homophobia into acts of Islamophobia. We need to remind these politicians that this country — with its anti-migrant, anti-Black, transphobic, and homophobic laws — is just as responsible for fueling hate as the man who took all those lives at Pulse.
It was beautiful to see the many pictures of vigils across the country, people coming together. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends Sunday night at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, and I know that we are a strong community.
There is nothing I can say to my father, mother, and sister to convince them that I will be OK. Shit, I don’t know what to say to myself to make sure I will be OK. Mostly because I don’t know. I’ve convinced myself that I am undocumented and unafraid, and I truly believe in that statement.
But I also think it’s OK to let vulnerability sink in. I need to sit with this fear. I’m still walking the line between those feelings. And that’s OK.