He was brought to a place where he would not be allowed to attend college, get his driver’s license, obtain loans, or even work legally. He began his senior year of high school undocumented, not knowing any English and gay. His classmates and friends assumed he was from the valley, like everyone else, and he was usually too scared or embarrassed to correct them.
Ronnie Veliz is currently a California State University of Northridge student and came to the United States with his family when he was only a teenager.
Veliz distinctly remembers his parents telling him to make sure he never gets into a fight or into any trouble at school. They told him that if a cop ever has to write his name down, it will decrease his chances of ever becoming a full citizen. Veliz understood why his parents needed him to be careful and silently endured the disrespect and bullying in hopes of a better future.
In addition to Veliz’s undocumented status, he already knew when he arrived in the United States, that he was gay. Veliz knew he would never be able to marry the person he loved in this country or become a citizen by marrying his partner.
Veliz’s mother found out that he was gay a few years earlier. She had stumbled upon love letters that Veliz had written to a boyfriend. Her automatic assumption was that someone much older, was molesting him. After Veliz explained the truth to his mother, Veliz says, “She cried so much. It might have even been easier to for her if I HAD been molested. After that, she just chose not to talk about it and pretend it wasn’t real.” Veliz and his mother decided it was best if his father did not know. “I was way too scared to tell my father,” Veliz says, “because from a very young age he taught me that I needed be a man. He made it clear that I had a gender role and it was my job to fulfill it. I knew he would be extremely disappointed in me.”
“Being undocumented as a kid can make you feel really lonely sometimes,” says Veliz. Coming out as gay helped prepare Veliz to fight other types of ignorance, like the misinformation that often surrounds undocumented people. Sometimes when I was young, it was little bit easier to celebrate being gay, while being undocumented was purely holding me back, says Veliz.
No federal agency documents LGBT sexual and gender identities. However, based on the Pew Hispanic Center’s estimate of 14 million undocumented immigrants and the Williams Institute’s assessment which states that almost ten percent of the United States population identifies as LGBT, it is estimated there are over one million undocumented LGBT- identified immigrants currently in the United States.
Veliz has recently gained full citizenship status and has almost finished his BA at California State University of Northridge. As a way to give back and help other young people who are part of minorities, Veliz has created a club on his college campus called Matadors for Equality.
Matadors for Equality welcomes everyone, especially those who are part of more than one minority. Veliz founded the club because he thought it would be much more effective to fight for equality alongside other people who are facing the same ignorance and discrimination. Veliz has found that the more people he can get to fight with him, the stronger the army will be. “So why not create the biggest, strongest army of minorities we can,” Veliz says.
The purpose of Matadors For Equality is to empower unity and rise above social injustice among Matadors (CSUN students). The Matadors for Equality members share their personal experiences about issues that directly affect CSUN students whether they are undocumented, LGBT, part of a racial minority, have learning disabilities or are disabled, or treated as any kind of inferior class of people on campus and in society. They also discuss current events, community service, and common interests. Their meetings and activities try to make CSUN a safer and friendlier environment for everyone.
Veliz has learned from his experience that “People are not always who you think they are. Some of us pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college, and some write the news articles you might read. People are always so much more than they appear to be.”