Yesterday at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Undocumented Students and Allies had their first Coming Out of the Shadows event on campus. Below you’ll find Antonio’s story, who is an alumni of IIT and IYJL member.
My name is Antonio Gutierrez; I’m undocumented.
I have had many challenges in my life: from learning English when I was 11 years old, to doing well in school, to staying up until 2 am studying in my room, to seeing my parents work so much and having to care for my younger sister when we were little, to coming out as queer to my friends and family when I was 16, to having to stay quiet about my undocumented status while I was at IIT due to fear of losing my scholarship. Fear instilled by administration. It was because of this fear, that I felt the same way that I felt when I was in high-school, like I was the only undocumented student. This not only kept me in the shadows but also feeling alone.
But one of the biggest challenges came 6 months after graduating from IIT in 2012 with an Architecture degree. I found myself in a nightmare. I had been working in an architecture firm for more than a year with a great salary. I was living on my own in one of the most gay-friendly and best neighborhoods for a gay young professional in the city. I was a young professional living a very comfortable life after the many years of studying and long all-nighters at IIT. I was on the path to becoming the famous architect I had always aspired to be and that my parents hoped for when they decided to bring me to the United States.
But one day my boss called me into her office. I remember I was worried because the tone of her voice was different. She told me to shut the door, then she asked me to confirm my social security number, so I did. She then turned away from the computer and looked at me and said that something was wrong. The computer program wasn’t letting her go through. She was changing payroll companies and it was then that she asked me for the truth. With tears in my eyes, I came out as undocumented. We talked for hours and even cried together but at the end, she had to let me go because there was no legal way to keep me in the firm.
I was sad, angry, depressed. It was so unfair after all of my hard work. After proving myself to the firm and my boss so many times, I was still nothing without a 9-digit number. That’s when I decided to stand up for myself. I came to the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) looking for a space to feel safe and empowered, a space that I wish IIT would have provided for me. In IYJL, I met some amazing organizers that inspired me everyday.
We can’t keep waiting for politicians or for others to change these unfair policies and just like we need to change the immigration laws nationally, we also need to stand up to IIT’s administration and tell them that we are here, we are IIT, we are IIT’s future and we won’t hide anymore. We need to stand up and organize.
My name is Antonio Gutierrez, I’m undocumented, queer, and I am IIT.
Photo Credit: Anthony Holloman.