Day of Silence speaks to UIS community: ‘Undocuqueer I Exist’ sheds light on LGBTQ students and the immigrant experience
“As an artist, it’s about the visual – it’s about honoring with images of real people and that was part of it, what inspired it,” Julio Salgado said. “Another part of creating these images was about honoring the fact that a lot of the folks that were doing the civil disobediences, who were doing a lot of the actions: the organizers were undocumented and queer. And as we have learned from movements, a lot of people who are queer are told to be silent, because you don’t want to alienate people who are homophobic and not on your side.”
Twenty-nine year old Salgado was born in Ensanada, Mexico and raised in Long Beach, Calif. Upbeat and outspoken, this young artist’s raw, bright-colored portraits of undocumented students with quotes have resonated with the immigrant experience, especially those students who are members of the undocumented LGBTQ community, including himself. Salgado, joined by Chicago-based Immigrant Youth Justice’s League Arianna Salgado, spoke at an ECCE Series event, “Undocuqueer: I Exist!” as part of the UIS Day of Silence.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Day of Silence is a student-led event across the country which brings awareness to the bullying and harassment faced by LGBTQ students. This year, UIS’ LGBTQA Resource Office made it a point to message Day of Silence as not only for gay, undocumented students to be heard, but also students with disabilities and marginalized in society.
Jasmine Torres–Gonzalez is a junior criminal justice major. She sat down while Julio sketched her earlier last week and spoke about why she’s passionate about the undocumented experience.
“It just hits the heart, you know…. I put myself in their position. If I was them, what would I do?” said Torres-Gonzalez. “I have sympathy for them, even though I’m not in their position; it still affects me because the people I love and care about are in that position.”
Torres – Gonzalez has several members in her family who are undocumented and added that witnessing their struggles, including serving jail time, is difficult for her.
Julio stressed the importance of telling stories when shaping immigration policies. “There’s constantly this talk about need to change immigration policy, but we don’t talk about our personal experiences,” he said. “And a lot of the personal experiences are not the ones you are going to see in the media because in the media, you are going to see somebody crossing the border – criminals – and that we should not belong, that we are the other.” The Day of Silence, he said, is a chance for people to speak up and engage in dialogue on these issues.
Julio and Arianna shared their fears, hopes and challenges about their undocumented status. Arianna spoke about the time she and five other undocumented youth were arrested in Cook County while demonstrating against the Secure Communities program. An audience member asked about how Arianna was released after spending one night in jail.
“When you create this kind of chaos, they [authorities] freak out because they know that while they have to protect people, they have to meet a quota and they don’t want to talk about that, the profit that’s made off detention centers,” Julio said. “Imagine students getting deported how they would look at the eyes of the rest of the world. It’s about playing with the media and trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Arianna also shed light on the dangerous conditions faced by undocumented people in the immigration system. “The important thing about these detention centers is not only that people profiting from our people being in these detention centers but also the fatalities and the working conditions they face,” she said. “People don’t realize they have these centers where everyone is treated horribly but [especially] people who are queer, people who are trans. Most of the time people who need medication don’t get their medication. This is going on in the United States but the media doesn’t cover it so it’s really important we talk about it here and you talk about it amongst yourselves.”
Araceli Ariza, a freshman criminal justice major, attended the event. Some of her family members are also undocumented and struggle with things like finding jobs and driving. “I found it very interesting because the two issues [undocumented and queer students] are both controversial to talk about and there was time dedicated to that and learn what undocumented and queer people are going through,” she said.
Freshmen computer science major Miguel Ruiz said he also learned from Julio and Arianna’s stories. “I was raised in Mexico and I had problems here at first so my family and I can relate with the experience,” he said. “I come to the events so I can hear about how others react to the stories.”