Activist Moises Serrano shows the intersection of queer and undocumented immigrant issues in his documentary “Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America.”
The film screened at SUNY Plattsburgh in Yokum 202 last Tuesday for an audience of about 93 people.
The film opens with audio of President Donald Trump giving his presidential campaign announcement speech in June of 2015.
“When Mexico is sending their people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump said. “Its coming from all over south and Latin America and it’s got to stop and it’s gotta stop fast. We’re gonna win at the border, were gonna build a wall. Mexico will pay for the wall; 100% we have no choice.”
This audio played over footage of the pro immigration rally held by the Faith Action House International, an immigrant advocacy group in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is where you meet Serrano, leading chants and giving a speech in both English and Spanish.
Next, the audience is introduced to his childhood home, panning over a large collection of traditional mexican religious figurines, with a figurine of the Statue of Liberty in the center. Serrano’s home town, Yadkinville, is a town of 2,818 people in rural North Carolina.
According to data collected by the World Population Review in 2019, 86.2% of the population of Yadkinville is white.
The KKK holds weekly meetings near Yadkinville. Serrano has received dead rats in his mailbox and white crosses have been left on his porch. A woman in his town told him she was once taken on a date to a Klan rally as a date.
The film took four years to make, premiering in July 2016 at Outfest, an LGBT-oriented film showcase and festival in Los Angeles. Serrano has traveled to many campuses to screen the film in states such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Nebraska.
“This is a rural film. A lot of work needs to be done in rural spaces educating people about migration issues,” Serrano said. “Often times this is where a lot of immigrants congregate, but it also where immigrants may face a lot more discrimination.”
Alemta Cable, a junior social work major, believes it is important to show films like this in small towns.
“There’s not much cultural diversity and a lot of closed mindedness,” Cable said. “Films like this help show another perspective and put a light on many people whose voices aren’t listened to.”
Serrano and his family migrated from Mexico in 1991, when he was 18 months old. His mother spoke in the documentary about what it was like crossing the border. She described having her children taken away from her after walking through the desert for days.
It took Serrano’s mother three tries before she was able to successfully crossed the border.
Serrano’s parents worked on farms in North Carolina harvesting products such as tobacco and strawberries. When these operations became more industrialized then they worked in factories.
As a child Serrano describes being forced to assimilate to American culture by white friends, which led his Mexican peers to label him as “too white” and calling him “coconut” meaning white on the inside, brown on the outside.
He graduated high school in 2007 but could not attend college right away because of his undocumented status. He worked from 12 hours in a factory. He said he thought of a lot of his ideas for activism during these hours.
Serrano didn’t come out as undocumented or gay until 2010.
In 2011, one of Serrano’s friends said he had a friend named Brandon who is also gay, he thought he would like. Serrano friended him on Facebook and messaged him that he wanted to go on a date. He said he wasn’t looking to play around, he wanted a relationship. They met soon after and began dating.
Later in the film the two of them discuss the possibility of marriage soon after the Supreme Court repealed the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Serrano also brings up how getting married could benefit his path to citizenship.
Toward the end of the film Serrano is accepted to Sarah Lawrence College. However, even with the large financial aid package, he is still expected to pay about $30,000 per year for tuition. He was able to appeal this offer and get a full-ride scholarship. He graduated with the class of 2018. He said he values education but feels you learn just as much when you’re not at school.
“We glamourize and romanticize an education,” Serrano said. “But our educational model is seen as only learning from a book, when I learned out in the community not in a cement building with fluorescent lights.”
After the film had been shown Serrano took questions. During this discussion time he asked the audience if anyone had heard “the immigration system is broken” before. The majority of the crowd raised their hands.
“The immigration system is not broken,” Serrano said. “ Our immigration system is working perfectly how it was set up to: to exclude people that we deem racially and ethnically inferior to us.”
Susan Mody, the chair of gender and women’s studies, was one of the many community members in Plattsburgh and surrounding towns that was instrumental in bringing the film to the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. The film hit close to home for her because she moved to India in her 20s and lived there for 20 years. Her younger son moved to the U.S. with his wife, an Indian citizen.
“I think about my grandchildren. I think about the children taken away from their families at the border, and I have no problem seeing how wrong that is and thinking that is not how our country should be,” Mody said. “These are not our values, so how do we fix this.”
Serrano said his main point with the film is to educate audiences and motivate enough people to work to pass immigration reform.
“The system is so unjust and I just can’t be silent anymore. The system is trying to kill people like me,” Serrano said. “I don’t want to believe that anyone is innately racist or homophobic, I believe everyone is just ill-informed.”