Pacing and enthralling themselves into the bustling streets of the city, a green-haired Francisco Serrano makes space in a system not designed for people of color. Serrano goes through the city, through the prejudice, past the graffiti juxtaposed against the gentrified neighborhoods, and into spaces that they have dreamt about for years.
“I often forget I’m living somewhere that so many people dream of going to. I’ve lived here for about 3 years and that was long enough for me to forget that moving here was a goal for [myself],” Serrano said. “I’m such an introvert that I mostly stay inside, but I’ve been forcing myself to just go out, explore different parts of the city. The people, the street art, the culture changes with every turn I take.”
Within different communities in New York, there live a plethora of subcultures that each have a specific way of navigating their own lives. When Serrano first arrived in the city, they stood in the midst of indifference, steadily trying to find their place in New York’s environment. Their fear of stepping into their own allowed them to create their own status quo and learn how to navigate conventional standards.
“I was exposed to people who were very happy being themselves, chasing their dreams even if it was a creative dream. That gave me the courage to change my major, stop ignoring what my intuition told me. It was so scary and uncomfortable at first,” Serrano said. “In my family, my old friend group, and in immigrant culture, the worst thing you can do is choose to not go to school or drop out. But I think that was one of the first times I chose to do what I wanted.”
As Serrano matured, they found themselves becoming more grounded in their art- finding solace within the stories they tell through their poetries, finding reassurity through the warm words that spew onto captions, and beneath their photography on Instagram. Their art stands as an erotic facet of nostalgia- allowing their personal experiences to stand as testimony to the power of every component within childhood.
“My childhood in Oaxaca, Mexico was warm- [it was] going to my grandfather’s ranch in the mountains, and milking cows. Fishing with him, sleeping out in the mountains, seeing a sky full of stars. Picking mangoes from the floor that fell because they were so juicy and ready to eat,” Serrano said. “My childhood in Hightstown, New Jersey was playing soccer in our neighborhood complex, ESL classes, pool parties at my friend’s house. Picking up my mom from work with my sister. Riding my bike to ShopRite to buy groceries. Looking out the window and not being impressed by snow.”
Before the mammoth skyscrapers and the buildings that dangle in the New York sky, Serrano lived in Oaxaca, Mexico with family. At the age of 8, their mother came up with a plan to cross the border, and enter into the U.S. for a new beginning.
“My mother and I took a bus from our rural town in Oaxaca, Mexico up to a border state called Sonora. We hired a “coyote”, which is the person who guides the immigrants through the desert. We only waited a day in the hotel, and then two men came and called out my mom’s name and several other names. So we started our journey during sunrise,” Serrano said. “I remember everything as beige, sand color. Shrubs with no leaves and cactuses of different shapes. I saw snake holes, pieces of clothing scattered, IDs peeking through the dirt. At one point, I saw bones, but you have to keep moving. No time to look and mourn. When the sun [was at] the highest, I remember it being the hottest heat I’ve felt.”
Rows and rows of brown, of dirt, ran up and around Serrano’s surroundings. The sky stood blue- still and hot. With their legs branching out along the fruitful decay, it wouldn’t be long until they reached their long-awaited destination.
“When we walked close to the road, waited for a van to pick us up, we had to run to it and we were all squished inside this van. They told us when it stopped again we had to run into the desert and meet the man waiting for us. We didn’t think much of it, but minutes [later], Immigration found us, and took us to a detention center, got our fingerprints and sent us on a bus back to Mexico,” Serrano said. “The way human life and drugs are the same is very unfortunate and sad. It makes me sad to think that’s how much power money has. We as a species have reached a point where we’ve put a price tag on animals, plants, and even humans.”
Eventually, their mother found another way to make it to the U.S. But this time, their journey became more vivid and rough than their last endeavor.
“This time, we walked during the night. Colder, more sounds, more life than just plants. We were warned about animals. They could get to us before Immigration. We had to hide underground,” Serrano said. “We were supposed to wait there until our ride came to pick us up in the morning. I wanted to pee so badly. [My mom] told me it was okay to pee myself. So I did. That was my process of coming to this country.”
Memories like that continue to pace the walls of their mind, and show themselves visible through the spaces they try to create with their work. In places like New York, queer spaces are often overcrowded with gay white men who preach about activism but overshadow their speeches and presence with racism and xenophobia. As someone who has experienced this, Francisco continues to create new standards for themselves and create exclusive platforms and hubs for immigrant culture.
“I’m trying to get dialogues going- first, with people around me. My friends know I’m an immigrant, but they forget. The daily reminders that you’re an immigrant are different now than when I was 13-17. I just want to talk to other immigrants and have it be a sad fest or an anger fest because both emotions intertwine,” Serrano said. “I want white gay men in power to realize that immigration is a queer issue too. There are so many trans women murdered during their journey out of transphobia. I want to make queer spaces that aren’t so Americanized. I want to give spaces for artists who have made any type of art that roots from their diaspora experience.”