By Mani Martinez ’13

I have come to understand that in the world we live in, there is a periphery and a core. As people grow up, they oscillate toward one or the other. While the core features normalcy, white hegemony, and heteronormative existence, the periphery is made up of those who are marginalized. Those in the latter group – like me, an undocumented immigrant – have been marginalized because of our identities. We have been taught to hate and feel ashamed of ourselves because we threaten dominant norms.

Over time, I have slowly begun to move from the periphery towards the core. My identity has been integral to this transformation. My sense of belonging in either the core or the periphery informs my thoughts as I enter spaces of privilege, power, dominance, and intellectual discussion – all of which have long been legitimized by people who do not look like nor care for me, and who have created a story of my life and heritage without consulting my people.

In this process, I have had to confront the fact that my undocumented parents are working class people who work in factories – not because they lack the intellect or ingenuity to do otherwise, but because they live in a society that scares them away from working in most other places. That negates their right to live by refusing to recognize their present and historical contributions to our society. I am the product of that undocumented migrant reality – one that has torn my working class family apart.  I am also a young person who left home and became homeless because I am gay and wanted an education.

Unfortunately, the promise of a less burdened existence is an impossibility in a country and system that thrives at the expense of its working class. It is this toxic situation that led my parents to separate, that robbed me of the opportunity to understand and love myself as a gay male early on, and that hindered my educational development. It wasn’t until I found a community that cared for me at my community college and at a homeless shelter that I accepted myself in a way I am not sure I would have otherwise.

At this juncture in my life, I now have a clear understanding of who I am. Indeed, I have re-appropriated from others my ability to articulate myself in the way I choose – as a person deserving of agency, deserving of humanity. And while I am mestizo(indigenous and European), people must recognize that I am brown, that I love my skin, and that I reject conventional, Eurocentric aesthetic values as a way to feel validated. And while I am proud of my Mexican heritage, I am patriot of no nation because the trauma I have experienced from a transnational existence has rendered me nationless.  This is a very real consequence of forced displacement.

We must resist the normalized ways in which we are taught to see the world, which have often silenced and exploited those like me because of our identities. My critical understanding of the world does not create a sense of hopelessness, though, but rather a desire to transform it. After all, while we need to be grounded in reality, we must also be able to see a world transformed and contribute to its construction.