Tag Archives: pqmas

Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Media Activism and the Politics of Representation

Lexi White

Queer and Feminist Film

Group 4 Post

In dealing with the complex narratives of citizenship, sexuality, and migration, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work provides essential representations for queer asylum, but also highlights the important function of digital technologies, communities, and arts with regards to creating visibility and representation for historically silenced and marginalized populations, particularly queer migrants and asylum seekers.  Her installation fragments of migration, a Spanish-English video project, combines video and audio in depicting interviews with four transgender women from Mexico and one from El Salvador who are seeking asylum.    This project in particular, questions the asylum as a United States institution largely based on gender identity and sexual identity. It depicts the normative narratives that characterize the asylum process which yield violence and exclusion for queer migrants.  Further, it creates what Enriquez calls a “collective counter-narrative” to the institutionalized narrative produced the Department of Homeland Security.

In an online interview Enriquez-Enriquez discusses how this project and her work in general allow for very real and personal emotions to be made public.  Enriquez-Enriquez suggests that when this happens, representations can “serve as a common point to resist oppression, racism, state violence, xenophobia, and queer phobia as a community or as a set of communities coming together.” While reading this, I am particularly interested in thinking about documentary and other media representations as creative tools of activism.  In “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum,” author Rachel Lewis claims, “to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture” (Lewis 428).  Lewis engages with the relationship between LGBT human discourses and rights, and more broadly, media advocacy.  I would agree with Lewis in that media is increasingly being used as a tool for human rights activism and globalizing social justice movements.  Lewis suggests, “Human rights organizations are repeatedly turning towards global communication networks in order to obtain and promote visible human rights victories” (Lewis 427). NGOs, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the NCLR all have used mini-documentaries to both document and distribute queer asylum cases in the United States.

While on the one hand, I recognize the manner by which documentary serves as a vehicle for enhancing representation, visibility as well as creating space where the personal can become political, I question whether or not there is a politics of exclusion present within the realm of documentary advocacy, distribution, and representation itself.  If the claim that to be visible is to be in the realm of popular culture is true, it is important to consider how documentary advocacy for queer asylum seekers can become more visible.  Who has access to these films?  Who gets represented? Is language itself a barrier in terms of terms of accurately representing and depicting the identities and needs of queer migrants and asylum seekers in a globalizing world?  How do we avoid universalizing certain identities and experiences while depicting them?  While more cinematic films like “Unveiled” enhance visual representation in the realm of popular culture, they do not always “build communities in the flesh” as Enriquez-Enriquez aims to do through real representation.  Likewise, advocacy documentaries do not always pervade “mainstream” audiences and venues.  Enriquez-Enriquez expresses recognition of the limits of certain types of media advocacy.  In an online interview, she admits having struggled and continuing to struggle with the concept of digital technologies, New Media, interactivity, and online communities because of issues of access and marginalization.  I question whether or not some of these mini-documentary video projects actually have enough of a following and platform to yield palpable political change.  According to Timothy Randazzo in “Social and Legal Barriers” Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States,” to some extent, they do.  Randazzo argues that documentary work by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and its Asylum Program have recently been the deciding factor in several successful asylum cases and in combating anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States. I do, however, believe many of these organizations have extremely limited resources in addition to limits in their capacity to reach out to and represent a diverse range of queer asylum seekers and allies both nationwide and globally.

Crossing Borders in the Digital and Flesh: Monica Enriquez-Enriquez!” Interview. Weblog post. Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. Margaret Rhee, Apr. 2010. Web. Apr. 2013.

Lewis, Rachel (2010).  “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum.”  International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3, 424-443.

Randazzo, Timothy.  “Social and Legal Barriers: Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States.”  Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings.  Eds. Eithne Luibheid and Lionel Cantú Jr.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.


Quick Queer Glances at Immigration

Monica Enriquez-Enriquez’s work brings up a lot of ideas about the intersection of queerness and nationality, but very specifically, it deals with the process of changing nationalities as a queer person.  That issue seems to be really generally overlooked by both immigration reform activists and gay activists.

Of course, the HRC has no stance on the issue, but what I think I’ve found most surprising was actually how resistant to it most immigration reform organizations were.  As Timothy Randazzo points out, “While it is still difficult for many gay, lesbian, and transgender immigrants to find support and advocacy from gay and lesbian rights organizations, neither can they always rely on immigration organizations and attorneys.”  Major organizations like FAIR ignore queer people almost entirely.  In fact, I’ve personally had many conversations with leaders of immigration reform organizations who have said explicitly that they would not include queer people in their platform or even acknowledge support from queer organizations, because they felt it damaged their campaigns.  (The strategy has for a long time been to focus on highly religious communities, because they tend to have the most power in the South where immigration is most relevant.  Queer acceptance then posed a threat to relationships with those communities.)  Obviously, that’s terrible and it’s bullshit and it’s yielding to the politics of respectability and it’s not equality and it’s something that no reasonable social justice activist should support, but it’s real, and in the eyes of straight people, it is a good thing.

In class we touched a little bit on how being queer will almost certainly negatively affect a person’s chances at asylum, even though it’s a reason to be granted asylum.  If you aren’t the right kind of gay or the right kind of beaten, you probably won’t be able to stick around.  Extending the conversation further, though, immigration is hard for queers, period.  Certain paths of citizenship like marriage and childbearing are basically non-options for queer people, and the discrimination in housing, healthcare and employment that queer people face will make it significantly harder for them to carve a path.  Finally, the “invisibility” of the queer community may make it more difficult for queer immigrants to find people they can relate to, in a way that is not true for, say, African immigrants.  So then the issue for queer activists (or immigration activists, or anti-racists, or feminists, etc.) is to recognize the common aspects of our struggle and work together.  Equality for some is not equality.

Randazzo believes that LGBT activists should be concerned about immigration reform because “even seemingly neutral policies… have a disproportionately harsh impact on gay, lesbian, and transgender asylum seekers,” and because the inclusion of queer discourse in immigration brings “issues of sexual orientation and gender identity to the forefront of legal and public discourse.”  Additionally, in Enriquez-Enriquez’s piece, un/binding desires, the voiceovers reveal the way that oppression of queer people is frequently compounded by insecure national identity.  One interviewee reflects on his reluctance to embrace his sexual desires because of the judgment or shame he originally felt for his difference (though he did ultimately learn to appreciate difference).  Another interviewee expresses the difficulty of accepting her queerness while in a foreign country and realizing that in order to stay she would need to marry her transsexual partner.  This caused problems not only for the interviewee who was basically forced into marriage, but for her partner whose transsexuality was inspected in order to verify its authenticity, which is absurd and invasive.

Tackling further issues of intersectionality in immigration, Rachel Lewis addresses the issues of lesbians and queer women.  Because of cultural standards that deny many women access to public forums, travel, or autonomy, women around the world are often not given the credit that men are when trying to defend themselves in court.  Laws are inherently biased against women.  When trying to immigrate, and especially when seeking asylum, that misogyny evinces itself.  As Lewis explains,

“lesbians… file fewer asylum claims than gay men, making it more difficult for asylum advocates to invoke legal precedents in the context of lesbian asylum cases….  Unlike gay male asylum applicants, many of whom experience traditional human rights violations in the public sphere, the limited information we possess about lesbians internationally suggests that they are particularly vulnerable to abuse in the private sphere at the hands of non-state agents.”

This creates a serious dilemma and revelation in queer immigration (and queer rights, in general) of how we even define what an abuse is.  Is the economic disadvantage that LGBT people face not just as real as the physical abuse they experience?  Are private human rights violations less real than public ones?  Going back to the concept of seemingly neutral policies, we’re forced to understand that no policy in our world is really neutral.  The very foundational structures of our societies serve to advantage some people and disadvantage others; they serve to normalize some experiences and not others.  When you inhabit a marginalized body, you are essentially a foreign object.  Immigration and asylum is in a sense, the ultimate act of assimilation.  It is literally giving up one legal identity in favor of another.  But what if it didn’t have to be?  What if immigration could allow for difference?  I think that’s the ultimate queer thrust of this issue.

Lewis, Rachel (2010).  “The Cultural Politics of Lesbian Asylum.”  International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3, 424-443.

Randazzo, Timothy.  “Social and Legal Barriers: Sexuality Orientation and Asylum in the United States.”  Queer Migrations: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings.  Eds. Eithne Luibheid and Lionel Cantú Jr.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.