The older I get that more that a particular quote from Audre Lorde speaks to me in my everyday life. In 1982 she delivered her address, “Learning from the 60’s” as part of the celebration of the Malcolm X weekend at Harvard University. Halfway through the address she says the following, which has resonated within me from the first day I heard it. “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not lead single-issue lives.” The entire address is worth reading, but this particular line is one of great importance to me.
Growing up as a Latino-immigrant in the U.S I never truly felt at home. Like many others I felt as if I didn’t “belong” neither here in this country or back home in Colombia.
Here I was always the outsider, the one with the thick accent, the one with the “exotic” lunch packed by my mother, the one with “weird” traditions. Speaking with family and friends in Colombia did not help me find a sense of belonging either though, there I was always the “americano”, the privileged one, the one with opportunities and the one who didn’t know what growing up a Colombiano was about. At 5 years old I was torn between two different worlds, two worlds that I lived and breathed but didn’t truly belong to.
While I struggled with my dual identity growing up, it wasn’t until High School when I came into the realization that I was different than a lot of my friends. I’m not talking about the fact that I was undocumented, even though I did come into that realization during that time. But I was different. From a young age I knew I was different but it was not until High School that I learned the word for it. I was gay.
If I didn’t struggle living as an immigrant in the US I sure did struggle growing up as a gay latino, immigrant. This is where that “single-issue life” Audre talked about comes in. Not only did I experience the oppression that comes with being an immigrant in this country but now I had to experience this as well as the oppression of living life in a heteronormative world. Not only struggling with homophobia in the U.S but also with the homophobia of coming from a very machista, catholic-centric culture.
Needless to say that I struggled with this. My identity, my entire sense of self was under attack from every direction I could think off. I had a very difficult time finding community. While I found some sense of belonging within the immigrant rights movement when I started doing community organizing, I never truly felt safe to be myself. My whole self. The immigrant rights movement at the time was very heteronormative. The odd thing though was that I knew that LGBT folk were there, leading this movement and driving it forward but their voices and identity were silenced and even erased.
What happens in society, also happens in our movements: organizations that claim to speak for our Latinx community constantly silence us and force us to fit into norms that aren’t our own. Like in high school, we’re made to feel different or that we don’t belong. We are forced to choose single-issue lives.
If we ever hope to dismantle the systems that oppress us we have to think outside the box. We cannot hope to achieve our liberation using the same tools and narratives that have been oppressing our communities for years. LGBT Latinx have existed since the beginning, they have lead our people and have been an integral part of our societies. They have been revered and even worshiped in different cultures.
It’s time that we bring a movement that is truly for and by our community into existence. It’s time that we fight for the liberation of all our peoples. From the initial conversations that lead to its inception, Mijente has had LGBT Latinx in the lead. It’s allowed us to embrace our whole identities and shed the notion of single-issue struggles. This is why I’m going to Chicago in December and that’s why I’m so excited about what’s next.
Miguel Andrade is an organizer in Philadelphia, PA. You can apply to attend Lánzate – The Jump Off, Mijente’s founding covening here.