Marginal bodies: queer migrants on transformation

What does it mean to be undocumented in the USA? Drawing from her own experiences of the asylum system, mónica enríquez-enríquez presents two short films on queer migration, violence, loss and finding identity in the margins. Contains upsetting content. 

mónica enríquez-enríquez
4 July 2013

aquí entre nos (2012) and reclamando espacios (2007) explore loss and dislocation, making these emotions public rather than private, collective rather than solely individual, politicized instead of imposed. I see transformation (rather than reform) as a place of possibility, where queer migrants can disagree with imposed nationalist institutions and desire other forms of belonging – forms that are not complicit with violence, the constriction of movement of bodies and the violation of basic human rights.

In aquí entre nos queer migrant survivors of violence speak among themselves (“entre nos”) about what it means to be undocumented in the USA and the devastating impact of law enforcement and immigration enforcement collaboration. Through intimate conversations aquí entre nos captures ordinary moments of resistance, resilience and survival. It is through these micro-transformations that queer migrants subvert marginalization and are able to imagine other ways of living.

reclamando espacios is a conversation with an undocumented lesbian activist who describes how it feels to not be legible to the nation she lives in and insists on reclaiming political spaces of dissent. Challenging the very definition of “being illegal,” this piece documents the urgency and transformative power of speaking out, claiming space and being visible against the odds.

My work underlines diasporic bodies, exiled identities, queer migrants and undocumented subjects but I am not interested in “giving visibility,” “giving a voice to the underrepresented” or even “speaking for the other.” Instead my art documents fragments of conversations, the complexity of the stories of migration, and the uniqueness of emotions such as loss, longing, melancholia, and belonging that are present in the collective affect of marginalized communities.

I draw inspiration from reflections on my own journey. After coming to the U.S. at age 21 and applying for asylum based on my sexual identity, I had to (as many queer migrants do) tell a narrative about my sexuality that rendered my sexuality nationally legible because it conformed to an accepted state discourse on (queer) sexuality. When you apply for asylum in the U.S. you have to write a 10 page biographical narrative, starting from childhood, passing through a stage of "coming out" as gay or lesbian (rather than queer), document your history of violence and trauma and conclude with coming to the U.S. and being finally safe and free - while at the same time demonizing your country of origin.

It is a complicated task and it doesn't allow for nuances, non-traditional narratives of coming out and non-homonormative expressions of gender and sexuality. I continue to grapple with the contradictions inherent in longing to be both “here” and “there,” but realize that it is only in the margins that all my identities can co-exist.

My artwork navigates the in between spaces of conflict and ease that are produced in the most everyday moments, in dialogs and conversations among queer migrants. Just like the lives of queer exiles, my art is dislocated and does not attempt to fit any one particular category. On the contrary, it aims to disrupt boundaries and established notions of representation, such as the ones practiced in traditional documentary making and other mainstream representations of marginalized communities. With these pieces, I aim to claim marginality as a productive space.

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