Despite attempts of the United States and other Western states to present themselves as progressive bastions of freedom, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez addresses the marginalization of those seeking queer asylum. As someone that had gone through the legal process and the experiences of seeking asylum as a queer woman, Enriquez-Enriquez’s work dealt with a very personal topic. She spoke of how convoluted and draining the process can be especially as an individual must explain and prove continuously how and why they have been persecuted in their home. The veracity of the narratives is constantly questioned as well as their loyalty to their countries; in one clip, the artist has her immigration story written all over her back and she explains how the process has reduced her to a story that satisfies the words of an immigration agent. Those seeking asylum must present their homeland as harmful and even backwards even when the countries that are supposed to be granting them protection are detaining them. Through this system, the United States exerts a form of colonial power as it presents itself as a savior to queer individuals while ignoring the problems of homophobia and violence that are present in the country. Enriquez-Enriquez has attempted to record the stories of those that have attained queer asylum in the United States without becoming another interrogator. Rather than questioning them, each story is taken at face value rather than being used to further victimize the individual.
What was most revealing from Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s experiences were the biases and prejudices that those seeking queer asylum have to experience. She talked about the privileges that she enjoyed as a lesbian that presented herself in a heteronormative way rather than being “too butch”. In the article, “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum: Angelina Maccarone’s Unveiled (2005) and the Case of the Lesbian Asylum-Seeker”, Rachel Lewis addresses the additional obstacles that lesbians seeking asylum must face within a legal system that is extremely heterosexist, “‘Straight until proven otherwise’, lesbian asylum applicants are frequently judged on the basis of Euro-American stereotypes about how lesbians ‘look’and ‘live’” (Lewis 430). Gay men have filed the majority of past cases of queer asylum thus the legal system makes extremely erroneous assumptions of the type of persecutions and conditions that govern the conditions of queer women such as acts of private rather than public violence. Monica emphasized that had she not presented a “brand” of lesbian that had correlated with the expectation of the judges, she would not have been able to attain her citizenship.
In the film Unveiled (2005), Fariba’s immigration status in Germany is constantly in limbo because she does not fit their idea of being a lesbian. Her relationship with a woman in her native Tehran places her in an extremely precarious situation. Yet because Fariba did not self-identify as a lesbian or fully disclose her motives for seeking asylum, her application is denied at the German detention center. It is not until she takes up the false identity of being a man that she has a semblance of normalcy and safety in Germany. She had to truly take up a queer identity as someone else to be free in this country. Fariba’s story complies with the narratives that Monica Enriquez-Enriquez provided as those seeking queer asylum must change or alter themselves if they do not already fit into immigration’s mold of queerness.
As part of the Queer Activism Series, Monica’s installations shed light on an issue that had before been completely unknown to most Penn students and me. Her work was not presented as a documentary but was rather a cathartic and emotional display of the challenges faced by queer individuals that seek asylum and protection.
Lewis, Rachel. “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum: Angelina Maccarone’s Unveiled (2005) and the Case of the Lesbian Asylum-Seeker.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 12.3-4 (2010): 424-43.