An open Letter to our “Allies”: Stop Telling Us What We Can and Can’t Identify As

by Luis Nolasco and Yessica Gonzalez, two bitter illegalz 

Yessica Gonzalez and Luis Nolasco.

Yessica Gonzalez and Luis Nolasco

“No Human Being is illegal,” allies like to shout at the top of their lungs when we choose to reclaim our identities as “illegal”.  

First and foremost, we are tired of being apologetic. We are reclaiming the use of the word similarly to the LGBTQ community reclaiming “queer” and “faggot.” We know and understand the history behind the words and agree that their function has been to oppress us as people of color and as immigrants. Yet why is it socially unacceptable for us, as directly impacted individuals, to use the words as a means of identity reclamation? What do you, as an ally, have to lose by me calling myself an illegal? 

Telling people to stop calling themselves illegal comes from a place of privilege and access to knowledge, whether academia or your politicization process. You see, we’ve always been illegal. Growing up, the first time we told our status, we weren’t undocumented. We were fucken illegal. We’ve been “coming out of the shadows” to the vecinas and the people in our communities. This is the word that has been accessible to us. And in identifying as “brown illegal queers,” we are saying fuck you to the status quo and other systems that have been used against us as individuals.

In a sense, when we reclaim these words in an affirmative way, we give the middle finger to white supremacy. In the words of Assata Shakur, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

We believe that if our aim is to reach liberation, we can’t get too caught up in words that have temporary value. Is it not true that our oppressors will just come up with new words to keep us down? But more importantly, what is the true difference between calling ourselves “undocumented” or  “illegal”? The former gets you the approval of liberals and the other gets you called “militant.”

So… dear allies. Thanks for standing with us but don’t get it twisted. You don’t get to dictate the labels that we choose for ourselves.

artwork by Julio Salgado

artwork by Julio Salgado

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