I was born in South America in a little house in a little village in a little country that most Americans can’t place on a map.
My parents came to the U.S. with nothing but two children. They worked. No matter how degrading or disgusting the job, they worked. They were always at work. They put themselves through school while they worked so they could get better jobs where they could earn a little more, but they never worked any less.
I was in my twenties before I ever saw my mother get a pedicure or take a vacation. The entire goal of their entire lives, they told us, was to get us to this country so that we could go to college so that we could make something better of our lives and not have to work as hard as they did.
The thing is, when you give up your whole life for someone else, the only way they ever feel like they can pay you back is to give up their whole life for you. So when exactly would have been the right time to sit my mother and father down and tell them...
It’s not as if I’ve never disappointed them before. Sometimes I think the pressure of being The Future breeds its own ironic resentment. I skipped school a lot. I hung out with the wrong kids. I moved out at 17. I was all pierced up and tattooed and mouthy and ready to live my life only for me. It would have been the perfect time to meet a nice girl and figure myself out.
Hell, half my friends were queer or in some stage of exploring their sexuality. I knew I was attracted to girls and had even had encounters with girls when I was younger, but my ultra-conservative upbringing had no words for what I was feeling and no one to ask. By the time I ever really contemplated what I liked or what I wanted, I was pregnant, and what I wanted didn’t matter anymore.
That first generation immigrant guilt is like a sleeper agent that activates when shit gets real.
As soon as I had my daughter, there was no doubt in my mind that she was all that mattered in the world. She was The Future. I had to do whatever it took to give her this mythical better life I had always been told was out there.
So I worked. I got married, finished school, had a couple more babies, bought a big house, became an attorney. I made up for everything I had ever done to disgrace my parents so that they would take me back, just so my daughter would have her grandparents. It crushed me on the inside, but it was for her, so it didn’t matter. I just kept working.
I don’t expect a lot of my American audience to understand. I grew up in the States, but inside our house, we were still back home. You could have grown mangoes in the living room.
We were raised to believe that the way my parents bent their backs every day to do better and be better was because of our culture. I was always warned not to be like “these Americans,” lazy and complacent and wasteful.
While I didn’t take on all of my parents’ disdain for American culture, I did understand that the extraordinary strength and discipline of my parents had everything to do with where we came from.
This is even more amplified by the fact that I have dark skin. When immigrants come to the U.S., we are sorted into racial categories which eventually play a big part in how we are integrated into American society.
Being declared black in the U.S. comes with so much baggage, so many stereotypes. People look at me and make assumptions about my sense of morality, the way I would raise my children, the way I spend money, my work ethic, my intelligence, etc.
Having a tangible link to our culture, including real stories about their ancestors and participation in cultural traditions, helps protect my children from internalizing the negative stereotypes people will throw at them.
I am American, but I’m not. Never quite fitting into either world, I could look at both from different angles and see that I couldn’t raise my children just one way or another. They needed their roots, my parents’ roots. I would be a bad mother if I didn’t give them every opportunity, no matter what it cost me.
I could tell the story of how my ex-husband and I rarely had sex or how I always felt like there was something missing or how I was always a little in love with my close female friends and felt trapped in the knowledge that they would never really know me. Yadda yadda yadda. Isn’t that everybody’s mom’s coming out story?
The fact is, I’m lucky in a way. I am probably as attracted to men and as I am to women, so I haven’t had to choose between hiding my relationships or totally forgoing intimacy. I am a terrible liar, and I hate the idea of loving someone and then asking them to hide. Rather than putting a woman I care about through that, I just date men.
Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes I wonder what if. This is not enough to change my mind, though. My grudging alliance with my parents has afforded my children a huge extended family in multiple countries who love them and teach them about who they are.
My parents also contribute to the college fund and pay for dance and music lessons, neither of which I could afford on my own. My plan is working. I can give up titties for that.
I can hear the groan of disapproval already. I have had this conversation with my queer friends before. They have all given something up to be their true selves. Most have tenuous relationships with their parents, if any at all.
Those who have been accepted by their families still can’t express themselves the way their straight siblings can like bringing their partners around and talking about dates. I can’t say enough how much I admire and appreciate that they get up and tell the truth every day, making it a little more possible for other people to do so.
Honestly, I have never even been to Pride because I don’t feel credible. I feel like I’m letting them down, but I have made my choice.
I felt like I had to write this because the increasing support from the government, media, and corporations creates the perception for a lot of people that it suddenly got easy to be queer, much the same way the election of Barack Obama allowed too many people to assume racism had ended.
If you think “it gets better” for everyone, you are naive. Homosexuality is illegal in my country. If someone murdered me for it there, my death would be considered my fault and no one would go to prison.
People coming here from other countries do not automatically get the benefit of America’s new-found progressiveness, not when most of your family and your heart are still back home.
Even here in the U.S., it’s still harder to do things like obtain employment or advance in the workplace, get custody of your own children, and participate in community organizations if you’re queer. Forget queer AND a racial minority AND not rich. Asking a person to give up acceptance by their countrymen and not even have it fully in the new land is sometimes too much. At least it is for me.
So this is where I am. This is where I’m staying, at least for as long as it benefits my children to do so. Could I have gone another way? Of course! My hat goes off to the brave men and women who do.
For me, Pride, titties, and maybe even the love of my life will have to wait, perhaps indefinitely.