When you are little, pretending is a matter of fun, but for me, it was a matter of survival. I’ve always tried to avoid telling my immigration story.  You know the one, the sad one immigrant writers and artists tell. But the older I get, the more I remember, the more I am grateful for. 

It’s an early morning in Acapulco, Guerrero Mexico. My hands are much smaller than they are now and “Toy Story 2” plays on the TV but in Spanish. “¡Al Infinito y Mas Alla!” Buzz Lightyear and I say. My sister is nearing her 2nd birthday and my father is already here in Los Angeles, building a business with my nino.

The phone rings, my Ama walks around the kitchen holding the large white wireless landline, and this too is as exciting as a movie to me. Is it my Dad? Is it my primos who are always at Disneyland? 

By then, the lore and dreams of visiting the resort were already deeply implanted in me. I’m seven years old and I miss my Dad and want to see Mickey Mouse. So when my Mom told me I was gonna go with my sister to do just that, I was ready!  

Before I ever even knew it was a daring and even scary journey, it was a fun one, where at the end I’d be able to see my Dad. 

I remember it this way and possibly only this way. My Mom, sister and I take a flight from Guerrero to Mexico City and they give us huevos rancheros on the plane. This is where my Mom tells me what the plan is: I will need to pretend to be my uncle’s son and that is how I will cross the border. 

Before I met him, however, Mom, sister, and I walked around Mexico City and shared ice cream and took lots of photos together. Once night struck, I began to see that my mom looked strange. Her face was stuck on my sister and I wondered why. 

We got to a bus station and I remember the surrounding bricks and how the lights struck my Mom and I. Before I began to board the bus, my Mom had introduced me to the bus driver and two ladies that were her friends. Right as we put my sister to sleep and the bus driver started the car, my Mom held me close and told me she would see me later. She explained she couldn’t come with me. 

She handed me an envelope of money, a notebook with phone numbers, and a De La Rosa mazapan candy. As the doors shut and the warm lights on my Mom grew distant, the mazapan in my hand grew wet from my crying and I could feel it returning to my throat. 

My two uncles

We woke up in Tijuana with two men waiting for my sister and I. 

My uncle, Ricky, and his partner, Juan (names changed to protect their identity) were the kindest that they needed to be for two kids who just left their Mom hundreds of miles away.

I remember them comforting us and how my fear quickly escaped me as they reminded my sister and I that they related to my Dad and that they would help us get to him as soon as possible. 

In what I can call a theatre-like rehearsal, we practiced phrases in English questionioning. Is this your Dad? What is your name? What is your dad’s name? Where do you live? Why did you come to Mexico? 

Ricky was now my Dad. And in the days in Tijuana, I became his son as much as my sister also became his daughter. Here is the kicker … Ricky has two kids, both the same age as my sister and I. Ricky just so happened to be my uncle Juan’s long-term partner, too. I don’t ever remember that ever being an issue.

Every year, we try as a family to make it to their birthdays. And the older I get, I believe the more emotional I become at my thank yous to them both. 

I’ve confirmed they never did it for money nor did they have a complete idea of who we even were. This was just something easy that came to them and they even get shy about me bringing it up. 

For me, Pride is about my own journey but it is also about the constellation of queer people around me who make up who I am. My Mom never failed to remind me that Ricky and Juan put a lot on the line in order to help my sister and me cross the border and that they were two gay men.

There was never the sense for me that I needed to be a specific kind of Latino male. I’m an immigrant, a queer immigrant at that. Sometimes when I felt forced to play sports I did, but my father simultaneously supported me in the arts when I wanted to take acting and dance lessons. Growing up, I played baseball from around 3rd grade all the way to 8th grade. I attended dance and theatre classes around that same exact time. My parents embraced my multitudes at a young age and it has given me the courage to be bold and loud about changing my mind and pursuing multiple passions at once. 

That experience of freedom, of support and patience, however, isn’t common among Latino families. Studies continue to show that Latinos have some of the largest LGBTQ populations in the U.S. and continue to struggle with the effects of homophobia in their families and communities. Latinx LGBT adults are more likely to be unemployed and to experience food insecurity than non-LGBT Latinx adults.

When I was in high school, I heard of two back-to-back suicides of two Latino gay boys from my school. The school did nothing to address it at the time and there was little to no understanding of who the two boys were by the larger campus. I’m about 10 years away from my high school graduation and have known of more than five Latino boys who came out across the LGBTQ spectrum and I’m one of them. 

What remains is the reality that several institutions from the cradle to the grave need larger overhauls to support queer Latino people. Organizations like De Colores in Orange County do this by facilitating conversations with family members across generations. These intimate solutions exist whether they are funded or not. 

But for me, it’s about organizations and institutions funding larger interventions for Latino communities. What would it look like for channels like Univision to spend a week during Pride month tackling large issues like trans identity in Spanish? Or for let’s say Catholic parishes to truly embrace LGBTQ people? 

As I wrote this, thousands of Catholic devotees protested the Dodger Pride night.  While news outlets document the march as “alt-right conservatives,” a brief look at the footage would help us see that there are hundreds of Latinos in the crowds of all ages. Do they follow the lead of Pope Francis who has been in support of LGBTQ Catholics?? Latino Catholicism is incredibly complex, but nothing about forcing Latino LGBTQ people to feel less than is. 

Overall, there has been progress in this country in embracing LGBTQ people but with conservative political interests hyperfocused on proxy culture wars against the community, there has been a rise in changing attitudes towards queer people. It is up to the news editors, cultural leaders, influencers, executives and more in our community to look past traditional political praxis and force larger conversations based on questions on what is best for the larger community. 

francisco aviles pino is a Mexican writer whose work has appeared in Vogue, The Intercept, The Nation, Netflix, and HarperCollins. They are alum of the Macondo Writers Workshop, the NALAC Leadership Institute,...