by Lisa Moore and Karma R. Chávez
Immigration continues to be one of the most contentious political issues in the United States. Although some might assume that the crisis only heated up with the overt xenophobia and exacerbated attention to refugees and the southern border during the Trump administration, of course Trump drew from a playbook that was centuries in the making. If the past six months of the Biden administration have shown us anything, it’s that Democrats and Republicans alike are unwilling to deal with the root causes of immigration (racial capitalism, climate change, and US imperialism); have failed to view immigration as a human rights issue; and have yet to make bold and progressive policy decisions. Perhaps most obviously to the point: the child migrant prisons that Trump inherited from Obama are now Biden’s problem, and neither he, nor his immigration proxy Vice-President Harris, appear willing to change this inhumane course.
This issue of QT Voices centers queer and trans migrants in this volatile context. The field of study called “queer and trans migration studies” is a vibrant arena of scholarship, activism, and art. It emerges from a recognition named by Eithne Luibhéid in 2004: gender and sexuality structure every aspect of the migration experience. Early immigration scholarship imagined a rational man leaving his home to seek a better life or a politicized man fleeing his home because of persecution. In both instances, early scholarship made very little of the gender of migrants, how their familial relationships influenced their migration, or even how this view of an ideal migrant constructed a reality that left out of view the experiences of many migrating and impacted by migrations.
In the late 20th century, feminist and queer scholars of migration began intervening in this limited and even damaging scholarly bias. These scholars, including Lionel Cantú Jr., Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Eithne Luibhéid, Martin Manalansan IV, Mary Romero, and others, not only began to put women, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people at the center of their studies, but they also took great pains to show the inherency of racialized gender and sexual normativity in immigration laws, policies, and practices. For example, this work showed that the earliest anti-immigrant laws in the United States were not merely about fears of the racialized other, but they were imbued with concerns about the gender and sexual practices of those perceived others. If not for concerns about Chinese “bachelor” men’s ability to attract white women and a belief that all Chinese women were prostitutes, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act would not have been what it was. The examples go on and on.
While scholars have begun to shift the terms of the debate, queer and trans activists and artivists have made equally important interventions into the ordinary practices of immigration justice. Since the “awakening of the sleeping giant” that manifested in the massive immigration protests of 2006, queer and trans undocumented young people have become the most visible and effective voices for immigrant justice, thwarting a perception (and sometimes reality) that immigrants and immigrant-rights efforts have been not only profoundly heteronormative and patriarchal, but homophobic and sexist. Since 2010, these activists and artivists (including several featured in this issue), have come out of the shadows as “undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid.” While their strategies and rhetoric have shifted and grown in the past decade, their unrelenting efforts have assured that the issue stays front and center in US public life, and they have demanded the queer and trans migrant lives are loud and proud in these debates.
Our signature podcast in this issue is Karma Chávez’ lively, fierce, affectionate interview with artivist Julio Salgado, who exploded into national consciousness as the creator of the “I am Undocuqueer” series of posters that became the visual rhetoric for the battle for the DREAM Act in the early years of the Obama administration. Also in this issue, we feature a cluster of pieces spotlighting an innovative LGBTQ Studies class taught by Professor Lauren Gutterman. Dr. Gutterman’s lead essay, “Austin’s Queer Migration History,” situates the oral history interviews her students did with Austin LGBTQ elders in the context of the queer migrations so many undertook, whether leaving one country for another or a small town for a big city, in order to live their gender and sexual identities. Another standout student contribution comes from our LGBTQ Studies Intern, Isaac James, who worked through the last legislative session—perhaps the most anti-immigrant as well as the most anti-queer in Texas history—with the LGBTQ+ Caucus of the Texas Legislature. Our “Ask a QT” feature visits with Quỳnh-Hương Nguyễn, Assistant Director of UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center, asking, “What does Queer and Trans Migration Mean to You?” We have a sizzling summer playlist of Filipinx popular music selected by Professor James Gabrillo and stunning art pieces by Carlos Motta, Myisha Arellanus, Felipe Baeza, and Rommy Torrico. Finally, Dr. Nakay Flotte, a new postdoctoral fellow in Latino Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies offered an excerpt of her work on trans migrant caravans from Central America, and incoming MALS PhD student Stefanía García wrote a summary of her master’s thesis, recently completed in LLILAS, on queer migrants in Oregon.
So whether you’re looking for incisive political critique, cutting-edge research, or visual and audio pleasures, we hope you’ll enjoy learning from queer and trans migrants and their allies about the importance of thinking migration through a racialized queer and trans lens. The pieces compiled for this issue provide a glimpse into the vast intellectual and creative worlds of queer and trans migrants and the ways that they can help all of us envision a life and relationship to land, people, and environment outside the dominant discourse in the United States.
Karma R. Chávez (she/her) is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, and a member of the LGBTQ Studies Advisory Council at The University of Texas at Austin.
Lisa L. Moore (she/her) is Archibald A. Hill Professor of English, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Director of the LGBTQ Studies Program at The University of Texas at Austin.