Moises Serrano is an impressive young man – courageous, driven and engaging. Serrano is also queer, undocumented and lives in a small North Carolina town. He is the subject of a 2016 documentary about his life as such – which recently screened at the Outfest Fusion Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The documentary, titled Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America, puts a lot of the politics behind the ongoing immigration debate aside to give us a personal take on what it’s like living in the United States under the constant threat of deportation – all the while trying to pursue the American Dream it has promised despite the road blocks that come with being undocumented.
In the United States, the term “undocumented” refers to individuals born in other countries who immigrated to the United States without going through the application process for citizenship, permanent residency or a work visa. These individuals live and work in the United States, but don’t have a government-issued Social Security card and aren’t eligible for government assistance – though they can receive medical care and schooling.
Whether as adults with their families or children with their parents, undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States anywhere from a few months to a few decades.
Serrano came here with his parents and older sister when he was 18 months old – which we find out early on just as I was starting to wonder why he was undocumented in the first place. The answer to the next question as to why he’s still undocumented even in his twenties is far more complicated and forms the crux of the documentary.
In short, Serrano would have to go back to his country of origin – Mexico – for ten years in order to re-apply for re-entry into the United States. Keep in mind that he hasn’t lived there or even visited since was a baby, so there’s nothing for him to even go back to. And keep in mind that even if he leaves the United States in order to come back “legally”, it’s not guaranteed that he’d actually even be granted re-entry – especially under the current regime.
There are four other story threads branching out from this personal take on immigration. We see a lot of Serrano with his family – which, of what we saw, consists of his parents, an older sister, a niece and a nephew. We see a lot of Serrano’s activism work: marches, demonstrations and speeches in front of a wide variety of small groups ranging from women of a certain age to college students. We’re with Serrano and his boyfriend as they move in together, talk about marriage and are then separated by Serrano’s acceptance into Sarah Lawrence College. And we’re with Serrano throughout his process of applying to Sarah Lawrence despite his undocumented status.
Additionally, Serrano and his boyfriend were still living in rural North Carolina – which is hardly a bastion of gay liberation and self-expression. Though the documentary does give you a sense of their life there in that regard, it is a very minor story point – and rightfully so as it would just be too much story to tell without taking away from the greater story of the effects of immigration on individuals and families.
Regardless of which side of the wall you fall on as it relates to the topic of immigration, Forbidden does a wonderful job of presenting a more personal perspective on the topic as well as debunking myths about undocumented immigrants in this country, challenging long-held stereotypes about undocumented people and highlighting the far-reaching effects of the convoluted immigration policies in the United States.
As for Serrano himself, he is not only a great documentary subject but also a great advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants – even as one himself. As more and more people see this documentary – and I hope many more people do, Serrano and the film itself should do quite well in not only generating a more broad-based discussion of immigration but also in opening up a few minds beyond what they’ve been led to believe about it.
For more information on the issues surrounding immigration reform and LGBTQI rights:
To donate to the documentary and its ongoing campaign to fight for immigrant and LGBTQI rights:
And to find out what actions you can take in support of immigrant rights:
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Tiffany Rhynard