Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America, exclusive interview with Moises Serrano

Moises Serrano stars in the Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America documentary

Logo’s documentary Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America is the story of ‘dreamer” Moises Serrano who has flourished and made a named for himself in a country that does not count him a citizen.

Add to being undocumented, Serrano is a gay man in the deep south.

With President Obama’s DREAM Act and the American Hope Act of 2017 under threat from Donald J. Trump, the timing of this documentary is more poignant than ever.

At stake are the lives of 800,000 young undocumented immigrants awaiting legal status.

Serrano’s journey is where LGBTQ rights and immigrant issues intersect.  Despite the current dismal state of immigration reform, Moises is an intrepid activist whose work is far from over.

The film received kudos from the 2016 Newfest Film Festival in New York City and the 2016 Outfest Film Festival where it received the Freedom Award.

Forbidden is produced by Heather Mathews and Tiffany Rhynard, and is directed by Rhynard.

Monsters and Critics spoke to Moises Serrano about this film and his work:

Monsters and Critics: Have you completed your education at Sarah Lawrence College in New York? If so are you in graduate school or working?

Moises Serrano: I am currently starting my Senior year at Sarah Lawrence. Afterwards, if Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remains in place, I do hope to start working.

M&C: Outsiders see Yadkin County as a perfect example of Trump – Pence land. How do you describe it and have the politics shifted there?

MS: I believe politics have shifted in Yadkin county. De-industrialization, a growing minority population combined with the worse economic recession in recent history have altered the political landscape immensely. We must see that using immigrants as a scapegoat for economic grievances is not a new tactic.

M&C: Are you still undocumented and if so, do you fear Trump’s policies will harm your status here and your family as well?

MS: Only Congress has the ability to provide a pathway towards citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Immigrants do fear Trump, and for good reason given his rhetoric. Add on his seeming political and personal instability, we never know what is going to happen.

M&C:  What can the average person do to resist and fight back, do you recommend getting involved with local politics to students and people older?

MS: I believe that anyone can be involved in politics regardless of their age. Americans must realize that every minute of their lives is political whether they like it or not. The best way Americans can fight back is to get involved locally. Find an immigrant rights organization near you or build one of your own. Most of the policy that affects an immigrants life is decided at a local level; in-state tuition, 287(g), Secure Communities – both are partnerships between local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – and Drivers Licenses for immigrants like myself.

M&C: If so how is the easiest way for someone not political to engage?

MS: The easiest way is to donate to a local immigrant rights or social justice organization. The other is to reach out to your local politicians. It can be as easy as making a phone call or writing an email asking them to support Immigration Reform.

M&C:  Have you married anyone yet?

MS: I have not married anyone quite yet.

M&C: How did you meet Tiffany and Heather (filmmakers)

MS: I met Tiffany quite serendipitously. I was having my story filmed for a project for Wake Forest University. The videographer brought her friend, Tiffany, to help her and we immediately connected. Something that Tiffany has always said that sticks out to me, is that she considered herself a pretty woke white woman, yet she didn’t realize she hadn’t thought about a different layer of privilege, her citizenship. Heather, who curiously enough is an SLC alumni, then joined as a friend of Tiffany’s.

M&C: You seem to have a lot of women around you in your fight for justice, Addy Jeffrey and Ann Marie Dooley, can you talk about them specifically (and any others) and how they have helped you?

MS: My whole life I have been surrounded by strong women. In my family, I had my mother and two older sisters. In producing Forbidden, here too, the project was led by strong women, Kathi Barnhill, Tiffany Rhynard and Heather Matthews. It is because of all of them, their sacrifices, love, and support that I am here today.

M&C: Is it harder or easier for any young person to come out in a small town like you did? When did you come out to your family?

MS: I actually came out first as undocumented and later as queer. I think coming out in any circumstance is especially difficult but the small knit communities that exist in rural spaces tends to make it harder. I came out to family in person, and my mother cried, which I think is a normal reaction. But I remember her saying, “Regardless of what my family or church says, I just want you to be happy.” She had already crossed a border for me, I do not think this was equally as difficult.

M&C: When you saw and heard your mother’s story about her three times that she came across the border, how did you process this? How is she today?

MS: It was hard to process but it’s even harder to watch over and over again with each screening that I go to. Who likes to see their mother expose her wounds and pain in a documentary in order for people to be able to recognize her humanity? She is still hanging in there, but she, like millions of other moms, live in fear under this administration.

M&C: How does your rational and impassioned argument and presentation sit with hardliners and the religious right in the audience? Any converts to your side or are they a hard bunch to crack?

MS: Actually, we have had incredible receptions from every audience that we have screened with. I think Americans are so ill-informed about this issue, that their most common statement is “I just didn’t know.” When you deconstruct the stereotypes and lay out the facts, this turns into a non-issue.

M&C:  It appears that Catholics are far more accepting and open to immigrants and the undocumented based on Pope Francis’ edicts. Do you find this to be true in your dealings with faith-based communities? 

MS: In North Carolina, and nationally too, faith-based communities have mobilized for immigration reform and immigrant rights in the past. I think the precarious situation undocu-queers have to navigate in the South is to balance which story you want to share. Oftentimes, in faith-based communities, I could openly come out as undocumented but never as queer. In the queer community that I was part of back home, I could be out as LGBT but immigrant rights were not seen as an LGBT issue.

Many say Pence [a Catholic] is worse than Trump with regards to the LGBTQ and immigration issues. What is your hope and who are you counting on from the left of center to champion rights for all in this country? Are you helping to find a candidate who can beat the GOP ticket in a few years?

M&C:  What can families of undocumented folks do to protect what little rights they have now, and how do the rest of us help them be protected?

MS: Undocumented immigrants need to know their rights. American Friends Service Committee, ACLU and United We Dream all have resources for Know Your Rights trainings. Most undocumented immigrants are caught through Drivers License checkpoints or for driving without a license. Allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for Drivers Licenses is a great local campaign to get involved with that would save many people from deportation.

Forbidden aired September 1 at 8 PM ET/PT on Logo.

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