By Christian Baeff
I fled from Buenos Aires with my mom when I was 21. Our neighborhood had grown increasingly violent and unsafe. I was robbed at gunpoint five times, couldn’t find steady work, and my single mother worked long hours as a receptionist, often not getting paid for months.
We decided to take a chance and come to the states, thinking that we’d arrive, find work, try our best to do everything right and not get in trouble, and start the permanent residency process.
We thought it’d be that simple. It was anything but.
We arrived at the Portland airport with no money and no one to greet us. I spoke no English and my mom barely spoke any. We managed to catch a bus to Salem, where we were to stay with friends of friends we’d never met before. I have a very vivid early memory of us walking down Market Street in Salem, getting a slushy at a 7-11, sitting on the corner and wondering, “Is this it?”
Things didn’t get easier after that.
We moved to Dallas and both worked a series of low-wage jobs. I worked in a cookie factory, as a caretaker for the elderly, and other temp jobs. My mom cleaned house for a family in Dallas. We experienced xenophobia, too. Someone once yelled “We’re in America, speak English!” to my mom as she and a friend spoke Spanish on the street. I’ve been followed in stores and asked for ID to use my debit card.
For me, it was my work in 2011 as LGBTQ coordinator through Causa that brought me to Basic Rights Oregon. Basic Rights Oregon and Causa have a long, deep relationship working for justice for LGBTQ and immigrant Oregonians.
After that, I joined Our Families, Basic Rights Oregon’s leadership program for LGBTQ people of color, allowing me to advocate for these two communities I was a part of: the LGBTQ community and the immigrant community.
Thanks to the immense work of people all across Oregon, including immigrant groups like Causa and PCUN, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional and my partner, Robbie, was able to sponsor me in 2013.
I was one of the lucky ones. But the truth is that there is no surefire way to immigrate. Reform would offer immigrants a safe, legal way to come into the country, because they want to do the right thing just like everyone else.
Today, immigrants across the country are facing intense fear and anxiety. Anti-immigrant organizations like Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) are spreading lies that immigrants are dangerous, a burden on the economy, and are not part of the fabric of our state.
Not only are these lies rooted in fear and mean-spiritedness—qualities that fly in the face of the values of acceptance and kindness that Oregonians share—but they are completely at odds with the real stories of immigrants, including mine.
And now it’s time for LGBTQ Oregonians to join me and fight for immigration reform in Oregon and nationally. I envision a future where LGBTQ and immigrant Oregonians march side-by-side against groups trying to disenfranchise immigrants.
And we’ve done it before.
Throughout the 90s, we faced down an enemy just as formidable and organized as OFIR—the anti-LGBTQ Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA). When LGBTQ Oregonians started their March for Love to Eugene, farmworkers joined the march and welcomed folks into their union hall. I want to see another March for Love, this time with LGBTQ folks opening their hearts and minds for immigrants.
Christian Baeff is an LGBTQ immigrant from Argentina. He has been involved with Basic Rights Oregon and Causa for more than 10 years. He lives in Portland with his husband, Robbie.