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Editor’s Note: The image of Dreamers portrayed in the media is most often one of valedictorians, proud “undocuqueers” or brave protesters. But for many young people who are undocumented and gay, everyday reality is defined by struggle, uncertainty, and hardship. That was the case for Diego Sandoval, who after living for a year in Florida, moved with his family to Merced, Calif. Since the fourth grade, Diego has attended five different grade schools and four different high schools. After being kicked out of his last high school for having too many absences, he is now working with his mother at a local motel and pursuing his GED. Diego wrote the following letter to his 15-year-old younger brother, who like himself is undocumented.
As you know, I came out to you before our parents. It was only because I trust you. Because growing up, we always had each other.
When we lived in Florida, remember how Mom didn’t allow us to go out? How when everyone went to work, we would put our swimming trunks on and get our bikes and go to the swimming pool, even though we didn’t know how to swim? That’s where we met that guy who taught me how to swim, and then I taught you. And we did it for weeks. Every day we would go back home right before Mom got home from work. She caught us one day when she came home early but she just laughed — she was proud we had learned how to swim so fast.
You might also remember that I was always getting us into trouble. I tried to protect you from evil the best that I could. When our friends started doing bad things, I would always tell you to go home. I always stayed behind because I thought that no matter how good I could be, or how successful, the world was always going to go against me because of my sexual preference. Whenever I saw a gay guy or girl, whether he or she was rich or poor, they still all got discriminated against. Even now, in most states, same-sex marriage is illegal. Some people say it’s a sin, because it says so in the Bible. Well, the Bible also says it’s a sin to eat shrimp and you don’t ever see anyone protesting against eating shrimp.
Growing up, I had so many responsibilities and one of them was you. I can’t say it was much work — you were always a good kid, and smart too. You had time to actually concentrate on your studies. I was always very tough with you. I kept you in line in school. It was only so that you would grow up to be just the way you are now, on your way to success. You graduated middle school with the most awards! I just barely graduated.
We grew up very differently, you and I. For me, things started to get out of control. I started abusing substances. I was dealing with problems at home while trying to be myself, but not wanting to be criticized at school by all my friends. Most of them were guys because I always liked doing guy things. It felt like I was being attacked from all different directions at once.
So when I met your future brother-in-law, what I felt for him made me come out to Mom and Dad, and you, of course. He helped me stop abusing substances and even told my mom about it. For the past two years, I can’t even take a Tylenol without her knowing because she keeps them all in her room now. He’s been very pushy about me stopping, so I knew I had to stop.
When I came out to our parents and all my friends I felt like a million pounds were lifted off of me. I felt so relieved but at the same time I hated it. Most of my guy friends turned their backs on me, some girl friends too. I lost so many friends but I’m glad I did, because I don’t need anyone to bring me down.
Our family is now much closer and in better shape then ever, and I couldn’t ask for the best brother because I already have him. I’m glad that you will end up doing something with your life. Keep doing well in school. You won’t regret it.
And just because you’re undocumented doesn’t mean you can let someone violate your rights. A lot of immigrants who are in school feel like they can’t say anything. Believe me, there are teachers and principals that do not like gay people or people of color. They can get you in trouble for everything. And one way or another, you end up getting kicked out of high school, like what happened to me. I don’t want you to ever have that experience.
Sometimes I feel like the world is out to get us. But I know you won’t get caught up in it. And I know in my heart that no matter how long it takes me, I will end up successful, like you.
Diego Sandoval is a member of We’Ced Youth Media, a youth publication founded by New America Media in Merced, Calif.
This open letter was produced as part of New America Media’s LGBT immigration reporting fellowship sponsored by the Four Freedoms Fund.