Yosimar Reyes tells his story about dual labels
“Please sign-in if you’re going to eat,” an event worker told students as they entered St. Cajetan’s on Feb. 5 for UndocuQueer, an event bringing light to the experiences of undocumented LBGTQ immigrants living in the United States. Around the corner stood an authentic Latino spread, served buffet-style, complete with homemade refried beans and deliciously fresh salsa verde. To the catchy beats of Latin pop, poet and activist Alejandro Jimenes engaged the audience with powerful, spoken-word poetry detailing his story of crossing the border as a child and learning what it meant to be brown, gay, and an undocumented immigrant in America.
Following him was Cara L. Lipford with moving reflections on being half black, half white, an artist, and a lesbian navigating today’s dating and professional world.
And then, Yosimar Reyes, national educator and poet, took the platform, winning the audience with his candid take on growing up in East San Jose as Mexican, gay, and undocumented. He told moving stories of his grandparents who raised him by collecting glass bottles and aluminum cans in shopping carts to recycle which was, at times, their only income.
Growing up Baptist with an affinity for writing, Reyes became a creative writing major at San Francisco State, and is now a successful poet and speaker across the United States. His lively story kept students attentive as he spoke of how undocumented people often do the jobs no one else wants to do and that they do them with pride and dignity. He proudly shared that he was raised being told that he could do whatever he wanted to do, and that pity wouldn’t do anything for him.
“Now there’s 11 million undocumented people—there’s probably more—and now we’re kind of disrupting this image that undocumented people are just Mexicans,” Reyes said. “Now in 2019, I think people are talking more about undocumented people.”
Since Reyes has benefited greatly from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he is advocating its continuance in the nation, as it is now under speculation. DACA is an immigration policy allowing individuals who were brought to the country as children and are still here illegally to apply for a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and the possibility of attaining a work permit in the United States.
As for Reyes’ grandmother, though she doesn’t fully understand his mission and the expanse of his platform, she now sells MaryKay and Herbalife and is proud of the grandson she worked so hard to raise.
The mantra, “We are all dreamers,” adequately summed up the event and left students with a positive outlook on the nation’s attitude toward immigration in general. As for how he became successful as a writer, he replied, “I think everyone’s a writer; you just have to find your own voice.”
Now 30 years old, Reyes believes his message is helping to decrease the ignorance toward undocumented immigrants. “I do a lot of work with humor and trying to be funny to try and lighten up the situation,” Reyes said. As for being gay, he comically added, “No shame to the straights. We love you, we support you, you didn’t choose to be born that way.”
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