Society is run by stereotypes. The color of your skin, your mannerisms, the accent with which you speak all lead to assumptions about what you can and cannot do. These labels do not have boundaries, once you have been categorized, a process begins where you start to notice just how impactful this aspect of you that apparently everyone else sees and that cannot be change actually influences life. Gay, Latinx, Woman, Able-Bodied, etc. there is no point at which you can say, ‘ok, this is the boundary at which I stop facing discrimination because I am going into a space where this other aspect of me is more relevant’. However to find a place where this happens means to erase the complex set of issues faced by those whose experience don’t fit into the neat little boxes of suffering that come with being stereotyped. Being a woman of color means achieving gender equality will take a lot more than what white feminism is fighting for. Identifying as LGBT in the US is a different experience when your family is Latinx or you’re a person of color because the culture you come from has a different set of values and beliefs about what that means, and you have to navigate that difference when looking for representation and equality. People are not monotone, and their experiences aren’t all the same. Trying to understand them under a single way of thinking is like giving them a guideline for what pain they can experience and what pain shouldn’t affect them at all. Learning to see the different and complex ways in which discrimination works within these different categories will lead to a different narrative, one that acknowledges the pain of those who have been lost. Research into intersectionality has done an effective job of conveying this importance, but can this tool be effectively used by a population whose very existence has been conditioned to staying in the shadows? Undocumented people in the US face discrimination, that is not in question, but how does it affect someone who also identifies as LGBT? What does it mean for their mental health? My research question focuses on intersectionality within the undocumented community, specifically those coming from Mexico.
Method and Methodology Section
The methods I will be using include: literary analysis, media analysis, and interviews. I will interview a minimum of 12 people. They will be between the ages of 18-40, who immigrated from a country in Latin America and are either undocumented or have become citizens. Gender does not affect participation. My other primary source will be a survey through which participants will be asked to self identify and share some of their experiences/viewpoints on sexuality and mental health. I chose to use interviews and surveys as my primary source because a lot of times undocumented people are presented under a single narrative, they become a group and I want to put a focus on the individual. I’m choosing to use interviews as my primary method because of the way history has privileged the written over the spoken. Like Linda Tuhiwai Smith points out in Decolonizing Methodologies, “Research of this nature on indigenous peoples is still justified by the ends rather than the means, particularly if the indigenous peoples concerned can still be positioned as ignorant and undeveloped (savages)” (pg 26). I want my research to reflect true stories and not the destructive narrative perpetuated in mainstream media. Likewise I am using Blackwell’s Chicana Power, to demonstrate the way different perspectives have been erased/glossed over in history in order to maintain power. This interrogation of history is important because history is not objective and neither is research. To believe so is to ignore the struggle of those who are not given a place to express their voice. I also chose this author because there is a cultural connection to my topic. “Although some of these young women’s lives had been circumscribed by traditional notions of family, patriarchy, and Catholicism, at college a wide range of life experiences informed them and contributed to their political vision and activism” (46). This idea of family and the patriarchy are very applicable to the immigrant experience and it offers a contrasting view of what things were like back then compared to now. I chose to focus my research on the way sexuality is expressed and the views on mental health in the undocumented community because those are things that I myself have experienced. When doing this type of research I feel like I can better understand because it’s something I’ve gone through, however I am still as student and this limits who I will be able to reach for interviews/to fill out surveys. I am hoping to work with the undocumented services at school when it comes time to actually do the research.
Hypothesis and Theoretical Framework
RQ: What are the ways sexuality and views on mental health emerge within the undocumented community? With a focus on those who come from Latin America.
I hypothesize that the cultural attitudes surrounding discourse within the undocumented community help perpetuate a narrative of fear when it comes to discussing sexuality and mental health. There is a greater struggle that exists in identifying as LGBTQ when there is a cultural pressure to identify a certain way. It is a different struggle when it comes to talking about mental health and getting access to resources when you do not have papers.
To help frame my research, I will draw on the intersectional theoretical concept touched on by Maylei Blackwell in Chicana Power. This intersectional framework works for my research because being undocumented is not something separate from the other identities a person holds. It is critical to understand what it means to identify as LGBT when your legal status is undocumented. When looking at views on mental health as well, there is a cultural process at work and to do good research you have to look beyond what can be seen. Blackwell defines intersectionality as “the interlocking nature of oppressions”(Blackwell, 208). The way this author uses and explains the concept of intersectionality will help my research because it is the same type of interrogation I will be making about the way identities work alongside each other to inform an undocumented persons experience as opposed to just looking at how their life is just through the lens of legality. It is also helpful because the book is about Chicanas and there is a shared history with what I want to research.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2007.
Anzaldua’s Borderlands is the defining work on intersectionality. Her account of what it means to be lesbian and Chicana and how those identities play off each other paints a picture not just of her story but one that is experienced by many others. She uses poems and essays to define the borders created by different identities and how they are navigated. Her writing is in both English and Spanish which creates the narrative she is trying to show, one of society’s expectation of choosing only one identity but constantly being caught in the middle. Her writing serves as a learning tool and a voice for these people who find themselves on the fringes of what others define as ‘normal’. This source works well in explaining what intersectionality is in clear language. By incorporating her own story, Anzaldua gives the reader an experience they can identify with and by doing this, a clearer understanding of the way different identities interact with one another.
Duarte, Cristina Chavez. Exploring the Intersectionality of Undocumented LGBTQ Latino Persons Aka Undocuqueer Latinos: A Quantitative Study. PDF. Long Beach: California State University, Long Beach, 2016.
Cristina Chavez Duarte conducted a study in which she aimed to uncover the experiences of undocumented LGBT folks through a series of interviews. There were seven participants in the study, each one who identified as part of both communities, and each with a background in higher education. The study is used to shine a light on the different injustices these people face and what it means when their two identities can’t be solved by one fix. She goes into detail about the way DACA has impacted these students and compares it to how they were impacted by the Marriage Equality Act. She also touches on the way their culture has shaped how they see other LGBTQ folks and what that meant in their own journey. This source rounds out my research because it provides a modern context for these issues since this is the reality undocumented immigrants face. These policies are ones that affect everyone in these communities and by putting faces and specific stories to those affected by it, provides a clearer understanding of intersectionality.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Zed Books, 2012)
In Decolonizing Methodologies Linda Tuhiwai Smith offers a critique on Western research and the way it has been used as a tool for oppression. She critiques how research done about indigenous communities serves not to understand them but to racialize and exoticize them as the ‘Other’. Western research is linked to imperialism and colonialism because it is used as a way to justify the conquering and killing of indigenous people. This source is useful because of the critique it offers. Doing research on a community requires a level of trust an access. My research is on the undocumented community, and from the way they have been villainized in the media, there are certain things I must be aware of/avoid doing in order to not cause more harm. This book serves as a guide and as a way to explain why research into this communities is important. It shouldn’t be about putting them under a microscope, rather it should be about connecting and working alongside them. The book also offers a critique on knowledge and who is allowed to produce it. Because I am choosing to conduct interview to use as my primary source, there are many who would invalidate that part. There is privilege attached to written sources, but that type of respect should also be given to oral histories/sources. Research should be conducted from the point of view of someone willing to learn and be respectful of what is found rather than just coming in to serve one’s own interests.
Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Univ. of Texas, 2011) pp. 1-158.
Chicana Power is about reclaiming of Chicana history. The women of the Chicano movement have been erased and their contributions ignored in the historical narrative. Chicana feminism did not lead to the downfall of the Chicano movement as many like to claim. In reality these two movements existed at the same time. Women were active participants in the movement, they weren’t just there to serve the men. They were not there just to show support, they were actually leaders themselves. Their mission was not about competing with the men, but about seeking equality for themselves and for all Chicanos(as). The book relies on oral histories to tell these women’s studies because that is the only record that remains. These women had their own agency, and by seeking gender equality, they weren’t taking away from the overall movement. In history, these women were portrayed simply as followers and this book counteracts that, it gives them the voice that has been taken from them. This book helps my research because it puts a focus on intersectionality. It examines the lives of these women through the lens of their race, family ties, and faith and the way these identities played out to create their identity as activists.
Michel Foucault, “The Incitement to Discourse” and “Method” in The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction (Vintage, 1990)
Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzalduá. This Bridge Called My Back Writings by Radical Women of Color. Albany: SUNY Press, 2015.
I chose to use this source in my paper because it drives home the point of what intersectionality is. Although I am going to explore some of the identities that are found in the undocumented community, I am not trying to show a hierarchy or pretend to compare the pain of some to the pain of others. Instead I want to focus on how these authors interconnect these identities and show the ways they play off each other. Some of the writings in this book are by Latina women, and while they are not undocumented, the experiences they speak of are universal for immigrants. The writing itself is like artwork and it presents intersectionality and feminism in a profound and beautiful way. It makes a great introduction to the topic of intersectionality because even though it is written by some of the most prominent names in the field, the language it uses is very accessible and easy to understand.
OLeary, Anna Ochoa. Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: An Encyclopedia of Their Experience. A-J ed. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014.
This series serves as a reference guide for the different experiences of undocumented people. It alphabetizes words of great significance for undocumented people, whether it’s a specific policy or the meaning of words that are found in the discourse surrounding immigration and legality. I chose this source because each term provides a history of why it is included in the lexicon associated with being undocumented as well as modern day context for how that term has evolved. Each term has at least a paragraph of information and some are longer essays. This book offers the labels undocumented folks use and how they try to assimilate to either disprove the negative ones or assimilate into the ones they feel are how they will be seen as ‘normal’. The use of these labels provides a good example of intersectionality and the way it shapes people’s experiences. The set is broken into two books because if how much information each volume contains as well as recommendations for ways to learn more.