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May 29, 2018

Daring to Dream

One young man dares to dream of a good life, despite the many barriers in his way.

By: 
Cecily Knobler


Speaking out about LGBTQ rights can prove challenging for anyone navigating the often polarized political and social American climate. But doing so, while also an undocumented citizen, is downright courageous.

Meet Moises Serrano. His family made a decision two decades ago to leave their impoverished life in Mexico and migrate to North Carolina, where they didn't speak English or understand the culture. The documentary, Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America, which premiered at Outfest and aired on Logo, is not only his story, but a story about anyone who lives in the metaphorical shadows.

The film, co-produced and directed by Tiffany Rhynard, begins with a snippet from one of Donald Trump's presidential campaign speeches wherein he describes Mexico as sending their "worst." This is interspersed with shots of young children holding signs which read "I need my Mommy home" while a "build that wall" chant drones on in the background.

This sets the tone of both heartbreak and hope, two conflicting emotions felt by Moises and others like him. They are often intertwined, these feelings, and battle each other for dominance. But for Moises, it's hope that wins out.

Anne Marie Dooley, an immigration attorney, speaks to the fact that Americans are connected, as so many have ancestors who immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life. This is nothing new - and yet, the war rages on. Generation after generation, it doesn't seem to be getting easier.

Moises discusses all of the things he was told he could not be. "It wasn't okay to be Mexican. It wasn't okay to be undocumented. It wasn't okay to be gay. So I felt like every single aspect of my life was under attack -every single day."

Rhynard cuts between beautiful shots of Yadkinville, North Carolina where Moises grew up: open fields, his parents in a modest kitchen, tractors, junkyards, tree-lined gravel roads. It all sets a somber tone of confliction, of feeling like an outsider who needed to assimilate.

He shares that some Latino friends would call him a "coconut" because he was "brown on the outside, white on the inside." At the same time, some of his white friends weren't accepting of non-straight people, which led Moises to stay in the proverbial closet: both as an undocumented citizen and as someone who was/is gay.

Other challenges presented themselves as Moises got older. Simple tasks like getting a driver's license and attending classes at a community college were becoming increasingly more difficult for undocumented citizens. But because his, as he describes it, "enchantment with Lady Liberty" was so strong, he decided to become an advocate for dreaming instead of a victim of circumstance.

His family very easily could have given up. His mother describes the harsh journey of getting across the border and how hard it was to fit in with the community. And although Moises was grateful for his job at a local factory, he saw people there who needed a voice.

He begins using that voice after he's introduced to El Cambio, a grassroots immigration rights advocacy group. He soon realizes that his needs to step out of the shadows as a citizen are not dissimilar to his struggle for LGBTQ equality. The common thread is his belief that he - and everyone- deserves equal rights, no matter their sexual orientation or citizenship status.

Moises, with a great sense of honesty and humor, discusses how being gay in the a small, southern town can feel quite lonely, almost as if they're "mythical creatures." But after being introduced to Brandon - someone who at the time had also not opened up about his sexuality - he begins to feel a sense of belonging.

Moises and Brandon build a strong and loving relationship, making each other laugh, swoon and above all - challenging one another to live authentically and speak out for those who have no voice.

Moises doesn't only talk about his own experiences. He discusses what has to happen to affect change. He says, "power is holding people accountable once they're in office." He gives an example of a meeting with his local rep, Virginia Foxx, where she candidly tells him she did not support the Dream Act. When that bill failed, Moises describes feeling "small and disposable" after realizing that so few people make decisions for so many.

In June of 2012, President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), allowing some relief for undocumented citizens. But because there are those too old to be eligible, like Moises's parents and older sister, it's important the conversation and the fight for even more progressive immigration reform continue.

Brandon and Moises, while dealing with these issues, are concurrently shown discussing marriage and all it entails. Not only does same-sex marriage still raise conflict for much of the country, the ability to join in a union would be twofold for them. One, if/when they're ready, it would honor the love they wish to express to the world. And two, if recognized legally, it would make Moises a documented citizen.

Regardless of their marital status, Moises realizes that in order to open up a true path to success, he would have to fight harder for a higher education. Some of the laws which forbid undocumented students from attending college have lifted slightly through the years, although they still present challenges. For example, because an undocumented citizen is considered an "out of state" student, their education is much more expensive.

And that's only a small portion of the challenge. Immigration rights activist, Addy Jeffery, discusses the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program (ICE) and how it combined local law enforcement with homeland security to often unlawfully detain citizens through a congressional quota program. This instilled massive fear in the undocumented community.

This inspires Moises to speak out even louder and demand an inclusive immigration reform that doesn't "leave anyone behind." Rally after rally, he galvanizes the community to help spread the notion that lack of inclusion is no longer an option. He continues to meet resistance, from representatives who voted against DACA and propaganda claiming an "objective" view of its danger.

However, like a beacon of hope, he receives an acceptance letter from Sarah Lawrence University, welcoming him to the school. But with this letter, comes a bill with a $120,000 price tag. This doesn't deter him, and he appeals his financial aid request and receives a full scholarship.

As Moises, his mother and Brandon make the trek to Bronxville, New York for the next part of his life to begin, his mother sums up his journey. "When one crosses the desert, it's very sad. You can cure it materialistically, but spiritually, it leaves a mark. But it's worth it."

Moises continues to ascend the ladder by educating others and by the sheer will to continue dreaming and hoping for a better future. And with all this hard work, he continues to break down barriers for millions.

At a time when the security of LGBTQ rights and the path to citizenship for so many remains in flux, Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America is a wonderful and timely addition to the Television Academy Honors.

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