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May 4, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 18
 
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Tour De Life by Beau Burriola
Immigrants
"I'm not going," Andy said firmly, leaving me to go to the May Day rally on my own. As the only Gay person in my workplace whose politics I can easily guess without engaging in long conversation about it, I had hoped he would be willing to make the short walk from our office down to the rally so I wouldn't have to go alone. I assumed, incorrectly, that immigrant rights were something that most of my liberal Gay friends agreed with.

"I feel bad for illegal immigrants and all," Andy conceded slightly after I tried to convince him a second time with some weak argument about the life they ran from that sounded more melodramatic than I intended, "but remember Micah? Those people who jumped him were no more welcoming of the Gay cause than a lot of other immigrants are."

Of course, he was right. To Andy, the issue isn't about whether immigrants are legal or illegal, or even what life they left behind. When Micah Painter was attacked on Seattle's Gay Pride by transplanted Russian youths who were used to a more homophobic society, our community was reminded of how proximity is no guarantee of integration. Images of Eastern Orthodox religious followers protesting Pride in California in recent years and stories of North African immigrants attacking hand-holding Gays in Amsterdam all serve as a cautious reminder that "being welcoming" doesn't always lead to peace. Does being accepting of migrant families from Mexico and supporting their right to live a better life mean the Gay community can expect more homophobia?

I went to the rally by myself in the end. I had to for personal reasons. The family name I carry, "Burriola," is passed down from Pete Burriola, the Mexican immigrant who brought our family to Texas. Growing up poor among the children of rich oil families, I found natural allies in the children of illegal immigrants. From blocks away, I began to join up with crowds of immigrant families going toward the rally. I first noticed the children. It seems to me that no matter which group that people might have disagreements with, children are the great reminder of how similar we all are. They haven't yet learned the biases of their parents, haven't absorbed their words of hate, and haven't been told what makes them different from any other children. They are really the only ones with open minds. The rest of us struggle.

At the rally, when the speakers finally started, it was moving. People held American flags, many with more of a hope for the future than as a statement of the present. The language was a mix of English and Spanish. It felt a lot like it did back home. Though I cannot say with any confidence at all that any of these immigrants seemed ready to embrace Gay rights, it didn't seem to matter. To me, these are people who need a break and I just can't see a good reason to deny them, especially given the breaks Gay folks are denied.

In the fight for equality, given the choice between changing the minds of people who have fought for nothing and changing the minds of people who have fought for equality, I'll choose the latter. To me, the world seems far too full of many different types of people to select who acceptance should belong to and who it should be withheld from.

So even if Mexican-American immigrants don't integrate well with my Gay community, as a Gay man I still can't imagine denying anyone the right to exist as I do. I cannot believe that equality should be conditional. As the great grandson of a Mexican immigrant, I'm going to do my best to make sure it isn't.

Beau Burriola is a local writer making homemade cascarones (confetti-filled eggs) for Fiesta this year. E-mail him at HYPERLINK "mailto:beaubrent@gmail.com" beaubrent@gmail.com.
visit Beau at www.beaubrent.com

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