Following the Lead of Black LGBTQ Migrants
In this LGBTQ History Month episode of Solidarity Is This, guest host Anna Castro talks with Rose Berry, co-director of Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project about abolitionism and centering Black queer and trans migrants.
LEARN MORE ABOUT the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project
BLMP envisions a world where no one is forced to give up their homeland, where all Black LGBTQIA+ people are free and liberated.
Any police that exists is considered over policing because really we have learned that these systems do not work period.
As long as they exist, black people will continue to be the most impacted the most harmed by these systems.
Anna Castro: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the October 2021 episode of the Solidarity Is This podcast. I’m Anna Castro, and I am your guest host. Welcome to the vibrant world of change agents, their campaigns, and their stories known as solidarity is this. I am the manager of Solidarity Is at Building Movement Project, and for this month’s podcast, I interviewed Rose Berry co-director of Black LGTQI Migrant Project, a black Afro Latinx queer migrant organizer who has been doing this work for 20 years. Rose is committed to continuing the legacy of black resistance until we achieve a world where all people are liberated. During our conversation, we trace the roots of white supremacy and forced migration back to the enslavement of African people and how that legacy is laid bare in the violence black migrants face today, not just in the US-Mexico border, but around the world. We examine what this means for our movements in the US with a focus on the immigrants rights movement. If this conversation leaves you energized and ready to act in solidarity with black LGBTQ migrants, please share and subscribe now onto the podcast with Rose Berry.
Hi Rose, thank you so much for joining us here at the Solidarity Is This podcast.
Rose Berry: Hi, thank you for having me.
Anna Castro: First of all, how are you taking care of yourself these days?
Rose Berry: How I’m taking care of myself? I think moments of solitude, just sit and decompress and process, which I’ll actually have some time to do this weekend. I think various forms of self care, which for me, looks like giving myself a facial looks like time spent with the ancestors during spiritual practice. And it also looks like, connecting usually over the phone these days with family and friends and, and comrades.
Anna Castro: Thank you for sharing that absolutely rest and reconnection is important. And, you know, I would, first of all, want to ask you to just kind of bring in some of your own personal experiences into this space. You know, what has brought you into doing the amazing work that you are doing at Black LGBTQI project BLMP what brought you into movement?
Rose Berry: It’s so funny and funny as in interesting as an organizer over the years, you know, I’ve been organizing for more than half my life at this point. And you get asked this question so many times, and I feel like over the evolution of my own practice and work that my response to this kind of shifts in and changes over time. But I always like to start with the folks who came before me. I am a daughter of a black migrant woman who was the daughter of a black migrant woman. And so I am third generation migrant to this country, but I’m also the first generation of my family to be raised here or part of the first generation. And so my grandmother came here as a domestic worker. She left her seven children back in Honduras and migrated here to secure a better life or what she perceived as a better life back then for her children and where they’d have access to better of jobs and education.
And, eventually all of her children, my mother included migrated here also. And then I watched my mom, a single mother of three children, work three jobs, trying to make ends meet and also worked towards her own dream. I also watched many of my family members, those same uncles and aunts that migrated here shortly after my grandmother. I watch many of them, all of them, except for two, actually pass away at early ages because of preventable and treatable health conditions. And so I start with that context because these are the people who came before me. These are the people who sacrifice so that I might have options, might have more access to resources than they had. And, the reality is that they moved to a country for that promised opportunities and access, but that actually denied them many of the freedoms that they migrated here to achieve.
Right? So as far as what inspires me, you know, my people inspire me, the folks who came before me, the, the comrades that I fight alongside the migrants who migrate all over the world, both willingly and forcibly. You know, the fact that I watch many of my family members die while still trying to secure, you know, an American dream that was never intended for them in the first place. And the fact that even as the daughter of a US military veteran, which was the only reason I was born outside of the US in the first place, I still remained undocumented and under documented for the majority of my life unable to attend college or access healthcare through standard avenues. And these are the very reasons that my people migrated in the first place, right? So that I might have access to these things that they didn’t have in our home country.
And I still spent 25 years of my life trying to access those things. But it’s really because of these experiences that I’ve, personally experienced and also witnessed my loved ones experience that brought me to movement work in the first place. And really just acknowledging that it wasn’t a coincidence that as a migrant and, an underdocumented person that I was facing, many of the barriers that, you know, black folks who were born in this country were facing, right? Whether we’re talking about over policing and criminalization, lack of access to healthcare and reproductive health, these were the same barriers.
And so I became politicized at a really young age. And, eventually as a 16 year old went on to become a founding member of a nonprofit young women’s organization who was creating safe space for young working class women in Boston, and then also fighting for the decriminalization of youth of color in the Massachusetts juvenile policing and incarceration system. And then I’ll just kind of jump to my current work at BLMP and my years of working within the migrant justice movement, I see black migrants want to remind me of my ancestors, want to remind me of me who are facing similar and different journeys in search of the same freedoms that my people migrated here for, and still facing the same barriers that my people died before ever seeing their dreams come to fruition. So clearly we’ve not achieved our freedom yet. And so that’s why I keep fighting.
Anna Castro: Thank you so much Rose. And so much of what you said goes to the heart of just in these last few weeks and think about what has happened. The horrific treatment of Haitian asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, the continued attacks on black folks in the United States and just the continuing conversations, debate it seems, that people still have about over policing. But what I find really interesting about what you said, you’ve blended together, immigrants rights organizing, and decriminalization, abolitionist, like approach to your work. What was your inspiration behind that? What has given you the tools to be able to do that in your work? Because it’s not something that we necessarily see blend so beautifully as you’ve put it in the mainstream immigrant rights movement.
Rose Berry: I think it’s a really good question. And it’s actually a perfect example of how black folks in particular are alienated from the more mainstream or broad migrant justice movement, because we don’t have the luxury of compartmentalizing, our identity, right? We’re black, we’re black migrants. Many of us are black queer, trans, and non- binary people where many of us are black women, black men, black non-binary like many of us have many identities, right? But we don’t have the luxury of separating out those identities, we’re all those things all of the time and whether we like it or not, you know, many of us are very proud to be black. And it’s the first thing that people see about us in terms of our identity. And because of that, a lot of times we don’t get the other parts of our identities acknowledged.
So, as far as over policing, you know, the long history of over policing of black communities in this country that extends all the way to the enslavement of black people, right? The literal structure of policing in this country comes out of the structures of enslavement and recapturing enslaved black people on these lands. And when we hear folks say things like, oh, the policing system is broken or the prison system is broken. And we have to remind folks that no, it’s not actually, it’s doing exactly what it was created to do, which is over police and over criminalized black communities and over incarcerate black communities. And I’ll also add that, BLMP being an abolitionist organization, you know, we really, any presence that exists is over incarceration, right? Any police that exists is considered over policing because really we have learned that these systems do not work period.
As long as they exist, black people will continue to be the most impacted the most harmed by these systems. I also add that we are opposed to all extensions of the carceral state. And so that also includes the deportation system that also includes migrant detention facilities, which really we are just cages, cages to lock up migrant folks again, disproportionately black migrant folks, right? Again, disproportionately impacting black queer, trans and non-binary migrants in particular who have even less access to resources, reproductive health, medical, et cetera, inside of youth detention facilities, and who are at the highest rates impacted by sexual assaults impacted by various forms of violence and harm within the detention facilities, and more broadly along the immigration journey in general.
So when we’re talking about, the over criminalization of black people, it really does extend across the black diaspora. And we’re not just talking about the US because unfortunately, because of US imperialism, the US has taken these structures and imposed them on the black communities all over the world through over militarization of black communities through forced and false democracies. And has taught these systems to other countries in terms of how they treat black folks as well. And so it really is we call it an extension, but really it’s an overarching reality. Anti-blackness is a global reality for black people. And you see that and it’s glaringly apparent in how black people across the world are treated by governmental systems.
Anna Castro: That is, I think exactly where I feel the conversation around immigrants rights has missed the boat in the last few weeks. And in the last few weeks around what is happening to Haitian asylum seekers, black Haitian asylum seekers, and even just noting that even in the last decade, this has happened before. It’s actually a continuation of a crisis that has existed for quite a long time. With, as you’ve mentioned, the exportation of white supremacist tactics across the globe, by the us government and the forced migration of black people, journeying, you know, from the African continent into Latin America and having to make the journey up from Brazil and to the US-Mexico border. And I think it’s really important that you named that these, these conversations cannot happen in separate spaces. They have to happen in one space, a reckoning around the legacy of anti-black racism as a global issue, and what migration in the US and how it is framed needs to reconcile that as well.
I wanted to ask you, because I know that some of the work that Black LGBTQI Migrant Project BLMP has done has actually led to the creation of spaces in which these conversations can happen at once in which Afro Latinx migrants, Afro Latinx, LGBTQI migrants can have the beauty pain, all the, nuanced experiences held in one space. And I think you have been an integral part in creating that. So can you tell me a bit about, like, what did you gather in terms of both people, political analysis, history in order to create spaces in which Afro Latinx folks could be the center and their folks in control of their own narrative?
Rose Berry: I think I’ll actually start by just naming that BLMP exists because we had no choice, but to create it. We, and when I say we, I mean, black, queer, trans non-binary migrants, and first gen folks, we have always had to carve out space for ourselves, right? Including in, for many of us in our homelands, right? That the persecution that many black queer trans and non-binary folks experience who become migrants, many of those folks are themselves fleeing from persecution in their homelands of their gender and or sexuality. And so also wanting to recognize and uplift that. And then again, coming to a land where they’re expecting or hoping for refuge and actually being faced with anti-trans, anti-queer legislation and cultures that continue to dispute their humanity. And so BLMP again had to be created because these spaces didn’t exist anywhere else for us.
I start there because every part of our organizing every part of our programming, every fruition of our work comes out of that legacy. And the Afro Latinx gathering that we plans is, you know, no exception to that. I’ll also name on a personal level the Afro Latinx gathering was very transformative for me just as being a part of BLMP in general has been life changing just in the ways that it affirms every part of me and much like I spoke to earlier around my usual experience in migrant justice spaces, somebody who’s been doing migrant justice work since I was about 19 years old, constantly, constantly being in spaces where I have to leave a piece of me behind in order to be accepted in those spaces. And so Afro Latinx gathering was about being able to bring folks together where we don’t have to separate our blackness from our ethnicity and nationality, where we get to be full whole people and bring all of those parts of our identities with us.
That’s really what it was about, and it was no different than any of our other BLMP led gatherings where it’s a space where folks have to feel a little safer. And I say safer rather than safe, because we acknowledge that unfortunately, this world does not create is not a safe place for people like us. And so we just thrive to cultivate the spaces where folks can feel moments of freedom and joy, where we can engage in strategy conversations for sure around, you know, what we envision as a world where we can all be liberated, but also to just commune with each other, to be together, to build family together in those spaces, because the truth is, you know, many migrant folks struggle with the trauma of migration and what it feels like to seldom feel at home anywhere.
For many folks who migrate here either alone or were ripped away from their families or loved ones during their migration journey, who really don’t have a support system here. And so we work try in organic ways, build those relationships. So that’s what those spaces are really about. I was part of planning for sure, with a whole team of incredible, amazing people. So definitely not just me that helps cultivate that space. And I remember at one point sitting in that space and having an emotional moment where I literally felt like this was in these types of spaces, are the spaces that our ancestors dreamt about. And many of them never got to experience, including my own ancestors.
Anna Castro: That’s a really powerful and beautiful image to hold onto. And in thinking about that, you mentioned earlier that the concept of home is a difficult one to really think about when you have not felt safe anywhere that you’ve been. You can feel safer, but you have not felt safe. And it reminds me of just the current immigrants rights discourse. There is this hashtag we are home. And there’s also a lot of discourse around in general, who is being portrayed as the folks that are exceptional enough to receive these benefits of immigration relief. And you’re again, I think really apt interrogation of this concept of like, why is legalization the choice when this country has constructed the concept of legal status as a result of denying of others, that legal status. And so I wanted to ask you, what can be done to correct a movement that has adopted a frame, and that has a image that negates the very real experiences of many people who are directly impacted by not just US immigration laws, but global anti-black racism? What can be done to course correct this movement, if anything?
Rose Berry: I can’t pretend that I know that I have the magic, that I know that I have all the answers, but I can say that framing and strategy that uplifts and or centers, the idea that in order to be liberated, we have to assimilate to a society, culture, structures, and institutions that have literally been developed and evolved off the backs of our folks and created for the purposes, for the literal purpose, of our oppression, any movement that centers, that ideology is not a movement that I belong to. It’s not a movement that I can belong to because it’s dangerous and violent for my people. I think a lot of the more recent policies and legislation that has been proposed as some sort of savior for migrant folks, and that the only pathway towards freedom or liberation for our folks exist through citizenship. It’s not just missing the mark, it’s an actual historical inaccuracy that that’s what’s needed.
Like I mentioned earlier, specifically around the over criminalization, not just of black people actually, but of black and brown people in this country has proven that citizenship is actually not what is going to tear down the systems that have built to oppress and harm us and recreate the systems that we need in order for our communities to thrive that citizenship is not, what’s going to do that. I was naturalized now, like how old am I? I was naturalized now about a decade ago. As I mentioned, I spent over 25 years of my life under and undocumented. And I still, as a poor black person in this country still face the same exact barriers that I was facing as an under undocumented migrant. This is not a citizenship issue as brown and black folks. This is a white supremacy issue.
This is a US imperialism issue. The fact that conditions are created in our homeland that force us to have to flee in the first place, many of which that are created by US government foreign policy and US corporations, right? White supremacist capitalist structures that are imposed on our homeland. The fact that that is the root and that is what we’re talking about. And that is what is creating many of the conditions that force us to have to migrate in the first place. The idea that we’re going to come to the belly of the beast and achieve citizenship within the same place that is still causing those same harms. That that’s the answer is counterproductive to say the least. And so I’m being very candid because what happens a lot of times because black people are left out of the conversation because abolition is left out of the conversation in many migrant justice spaces.
The result of that is what’s seen as progress, but doesn’t actually get us where we need to go. And so I think that’s a moment that we’re currently in. Unfortunately, I mean, I call it a moment, but really it is the trend. It is the pattern, rather, that we’ve seen in these sorts of spaces. And if the types of solutions that you’re proposing do not center those who are most impacted, do not center those at the margins of the margins then, even if some sort of progress is reached for some folks, it’s going to be the people who already have the most access to power and privilege. And it’s going to continue to leave black queer, trans and non-binary migrants out of the equation.
Anna Castro: You know, everything that you said, I think leads to just this understanding of it is not enough to say that you are centering the most marginalized in your work if your work doesn’t actually reflect both the lived experiences and leadership of folks that have actually understand the intersections of different systems of oppression. It also seems like it’s calling for a redistribution of power into the hands of folks that actually understand what these different systems of oppression, how they interact and how our policies do not go far enough, or even this system rather assimilation into it, or accepting of working within the system is not actually what is going to lead to our freedom and our liberation of everyone. Thank you so much for all of those ideas Rose, I’m really just excited to see what other work BLMP puts out there and hearing more about the results of those surveys.
And hopefully seeing this actually implemented in terms of how nonprofit organizations, both doing immigrants rights work, migrant justice work, but across all sectors, really internalize this message of if black people, if black folks are not at the center, making decisions, giving input on how programs are implemented, then we’re missing something. So actually seeing the, just continuation of not just calling out anti-black racism, but proactively lifting up blackness and black expertise, black knowledge within our social change spaces. Thank you very much for joining us today. And I appreciate everything that you had to share.
Rose Berry: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Anna Castro: Thank you for listening. In our conversation, Rose beautifully articulated why understanding connections and building commonalities is necessary for healthy movements. Connections are a shared experiences of oppression and resilience. Commonalities are the values that we want to see reflected in the world. Connections serve as an entry point for developing our political consciousness. We create a narrative based on our own experiences. Our political consciousness grows, and that narrative shifts by drawing connections between our experiences and those of others. We do this well when we are able to create organizations, coalitions and movements that don’t require that people distance or hide the aspects of their experience that we don’t share. We move an alignment with deep trust when we build commonalities, our demand shaped by what we stand for.
Here are a few questions to guide your solidarity practice. How is my organizing space organization, coalition, or movement defining our connections to each other? What systems of oppression are we interrogating and dismantling together? And how is dismantling anti-black racism being practiced. Next, has my organizing space, organization, coalition or movement named what our vision is of the world transformed by our work? Have we named what our values look like in practice? How are we practicing living in this liberated world right now together? I want to close off by saying that my conversation with Rose reminded me of the grief many of us hold. We are fighting for the people we love to live in a better world, and some of them will not live to see it. This grief is sacred and our loved ones live on in our freedom dreams. There’s no easy answer for navigating grief, but acknowledging that it moves with us, yes, even in our organizing work is a start. Until next time, I wish you the love and support you deserve. I’m Anna Castro. See you on these digital streets.
Review these additional resources to deepen your solidarity with Black migrant communities, specifically queer and trans Black migrant communities.
- Rose underscores that their experience of being undocumented and under-documented to later being naturalized didn’t change the obstacles she faced as a Black Afro-Latinx femme in the United States. What is the experience of Black women and femmes in migrant communities and how should this shift our advocacy? Learn more about the experiences of people navigating race, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status by reading Black Alliance for Justice Immigration (BAJI)’s report: Our Stories and Visions: Gender in Black Immigrant Communities.
- Rose saw abolition as a critical goal, strategy, and framework to approaching immigration advocacy. What is your perception of abolition and the solutions it offers? Read an excerpt in Teen Vogue from Derecka Purnell’s Becoming Abolitionists.
- For Black LGBTQIA+ migrants, it is difficult to find a movement or organization that can hold the complexity of their lived experience and expertise. As Rose emphasized, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project was founded because they needed to carve a space for themselves. Watch this video recap of their first gathering.
- Rose explains that framing citizenship as the policy solution for the issues immigrants face is flawed and counterproductive. She adds, “This is not a citizenship issue as brown and black folks, this is a white supremacy issue. This is a US imperialism issue.” The Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform “End the War on Black Migrants” dives deeper into what other demands must be made.
- Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project will be launching a needs assessment survey for Black LGBTQIA+ migrants. Join their mailing list to learn more.