Undercover at a Conservative Wedding
I was recently invited to a wedding as a plus one. While I did not personally know the bride and groom very well, they still knew of my LGBTQ+ status and were totally accepting of my choice to participate in the festivities in a dress, heels, and makeup. While I had to temporarily put aside some of my own qualms with the wedding in order to not ruin her day, such as the fact that everyone went without a mask, I still enjoyed myself thoroughly. As someone who has been a big proponent of wearing masks throughout the last year, I thought I would be more opposed to the idea of going bare for an extensive period of time around about two dozen people from several different places in the United States. However, after a few drinks and conversations with the bride’s family, I eventually opened up and began enjoying myself without restrictions. Was it unsafe? Yes. Do I regret it? Yes and no. I do wish I was more resilient to peer pressure, but at the end of it all, being able to see the expressions of those around me after a year of hiding behind a mask felt incredible, a feeling that I did not expect to miss as much as I had. Once everyone arrived and we were all asked to get to our seats, the wedding properly began.
Here, I sat next to my date and three members of the groom’s side of the family. While I had started to open up to the bride’s family, the groom’s side were still strangers to me. We began conversing, and for very little reason at all, the topic of politics came about. Now, I did my absolute best to pass as female and, as far as I could gather, the groom’s family were none the wiser to my LGBTQ+ status (and I intended to keep it that way). While I certainly did not assume they were bad, malicious individuals, years of bullying and dissent from those I previously thought I could trust taught me to be cautious, especially around new people. So when talk of politics came up, I made sure to defend a centrist position in order to not offend any party. In fact, I genuinely do consider myself a centrist. While my social politics are heavily leftist, my economic politics are more centered and slightly right of center. I used this as my in-road to the conversation with these unfamiliar, middle-class white folk.
“I personally identify as a centrist, so I agree, Biden has his fair share of problems,” I offer.
“Me too! I think most identify as centrist! The media just likes to show the extremes! But if you were to ask most people, they would likely say they’re centrist. See, I don’t care who you love, that’s none of my business. But we need to take care of America first!”
“I absolutely agree! We can’t be expected to help other countries with their problems if we can’t even help those in our country,” I replied, a position I genuinely believe.
“Exactly! We already have so many homeless people that we need to take care of, we can’t be expected to take care of illegal people as well!”
This is where my line was drawn, and where our beliefs began to differ. I greatly appreciated the openness to my right to love. I especially appreciated the comment because I believe it was truthful and not filtered through the knowledge that I am in fact a member of the community they were supporting. “Don’t worry, I have a gay friend” for example, would have been an easy tell that they could see right through me and my disguise. However, this was not the case. They never pointed out my status and did not elaborate further into this side of their beliefs for it to have become an issue.
Still, this single word, illegal, rang in my ears as though a heavy gong had just been stuck. I immediately flash back to all the recent uses of the term I could recall. My mentors discussing illegals and how they were better off in their own countries, because ours was not suited for them. Politicians working to remove illegal families from our country through ICE. Debaters from seemingly progressive programs casually using the term when discussing topics of immigration policies.
“Well, I actually come from a slightly different perspective…” I shyly muster. “I am a first generation immigrant. I wasn’t born in this country, and so I actually appreciate being helped by the government, even if I am not initially from here. I think we should really help anyone within our borders.”
“Yes, but you came here LEGALLY, right?”
“Then that’s all that matters! You took the necessary steps to become a citizen, so of course you should be helped! Plus, we’re all first generation at this table anyways. My mom moved here from Russia, his parents from Germany. We’re all first generation immigrants!”
Instead of correcting her incorrect claim of the title, and her inappropriate use of my argument, I simply sat there quietly. I sat there because I knew that to some degree, she was right. I did come here legally. I was privileged beyond belief as my mother had the slim opportunity to come to America, two children in tow and one in her belly, leaving her impoverished little village and abusive boyfriend, our father, behind. Yes, we were in fact privileged as she left most of her belongings and all the money in her pocket to start anew with her parents in one of the most expensive states in the nation, Hawaii, sleeping in a single room, bunked beds, her two sons (at the time) on the top, her and my sister on the bottom. Yes, we were privileged. Even as my mother’s resumé was filled with false employment history just so she could get a job and our pantries lined with the bare necessities just to keep us alive, we were privileged. I say this, not with jealousy towards those born with more. No, I say this with appreciation for this country and its opportunities for legal immigrants like me. But that’s just it. For its legal citizens. As we never worried about having a social security number, never worried about being deported, never worried about the implication that we did not belong here because we came here LEGALLY… we are eternally privileged.
It was not until I was in high school did I really have something to compare my privilege to. Before then, I was depressed over the many misfortunes that immigration brought to us: the loss of a father I hardly knew, memories from a time I was too young to recall, and the inevitable poverty we undertook as foreigners with little experience in this incredibly different country. However, after joking to some friends about being immigrants and mockingly threatening to call immigration services, I learned something that I would have never expected. Two of my friends were in fact undocumented. They attended the same magnet school I had, competed at the same extra-curricular events, dreamed to be more than their status. They succeeded in ways I could never succeed and pushed themselves further than I was motivated to push. After learning of their position in this country, I realized why. I clearly remember one of my friends pushing me down to the ground on our school’s front lawn. I thought it unnecessary of her, asking her to get off with annoyance. She simply told me to “shut up” and that the topic was not something to joke about. I tried to defend myself, arguing that I am an immigrant so I can joke about the topic. “But I’m not. Not in the same way” she whispered as quietly as possible, as if the school officers would overhear and contact the appropriate authorities. I began to blush and apologize profusely. She got off of me and we never spoke of it again. Today, she fights for immigrant rights. She speaks openly of her status, less afraid. She continues to do more than I could ever dream of accomplishing, including meeting, talking, and collaborating with another immigrant celebrity, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Still, I recall her frustration at not being able to go to college immediately after graduation. Her, as well as my other undocumented friends’ frustrations, in fact. As I faced the realistic but unwanted problems of student loans, they weren’t even able to get the education they desired.
The question then is, why do they not attempt to immigrate legally? Well, there are several reasons. For many, this requires going back to their home country, filling out papers, and waiting endlessly to potentially not even be approved. This is even more difficult with COVID-19 worries. For many of those same individuals, the conditions of their native countries are less desirable than the conditions in America. While my experience may differ slightly, I do still acknowledge that being impoverished in America was significantly more preferable than being impoverished in my home country. There, we lived with very little technology, poor living conditions, and inadequate medical aid. While my country has certainly developed greatly today, it is still leaps and bounds from the standard of living in America. This does not even include the process of seeking asylum and the fear or being rejected and forced to return to an abusive or even deadly situation. At the point in which one discloses their status, they cannot return to a position of secrecy. In this way, I heavily empathize with my undocumented companions as non-disclosure as a means of safety and protection is an incredibly important and life saving measure for both the LGBTQ+ and undocumented communities.
While I do believe that America has an obligation to take care of its own people as resources are finite, I also believe that the obligation exists to all within its borders, rather than based on a status of legality. I happenstantially was approved of citizenship. I did not deserve my spot in America any more than my friends. I used to make the following argument all the time growing up, as I found the distinction to be incredibly silly: My younger sister was born in America. I moved here when I was two. She does not have any more justification to becoming president simply because of where she was born. Arguably, I would be a better president than her because I am more versed in politics, but that is besides the point! She is no more American because of where she was born and undocumented immigrants don’t deserve less of our resources and care because of where they were born either. At the end of the day, we all reside within the bounds of the great United States of America, so how about we start treating each other like such?