The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights Rally - February 16, 2017

Today I attended a rally in downtown Atlanta hosted by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) in response to recent raids targeting immigrant communities across the United States. Individuals and families, primarily from Spanish-speaking communities, gathered in front of the Atlanta ICE Field Office this morning. Protesters carried signs displaying messages such as "not one more deportation" and "community power," and asked questions such as who will work our jobs once we've been deported?

Event leaders rallied the demonstrators through chants and personal anecdotes. Participants shared stories of loved ones who faced deportation and families torn apart. This morning's rally acted as a reminder for members of these communities to remain vigilant and remember their rights in case of contact with immigration officers. 

Recent ICE raids in Georgia along with California, Virginia, North Carolina, Kansas, New York and Texas seemed to target immigrant citizens more indiscriminately than in the past. As NPR correspondent John Burnett said, "it appears that under President Trump's executive order ICE is defining criminal alien much more broadly for lower-level offenses than Obama's ICE did. They're not just picking up immigrants convicted of serious crimes anymore as before." 

But even in a time of great fear for immigrants and undocumented citizens living in the United States, speakers at today's GLAHR rally shared messages of hope. "We won't stop until they stop."

José Hernandez, 28, a construction worker, was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States for 25 years. Hernandez attended today's rally because of personal convictions: "I've got to stand up for what I believe. Life's a risk. Everything's a risk." 

My Twenty-First Year

Achievements, firsts, and habits I hope to leave behind as I move on to twenty-two

  • Graduated from the University of Georgia – Before even graduating from high school, I knew didn't want to go to UGA. I was convinced that going to Georgia would mean experiencing the same type of socialization I found in Cobb County, the whitewashed area where I grew up. Instead, I found love for a town full of contradictions and problems and people who work every day to remedy them. Even though I found more of a home in Athens than with the UGA community, it really was great to be a Georgia Bulldog. 
  • Got my third tattoo – Soon after I turned 21, I put on my big girl panties and went to see artist Kim Deakins, formerly of Pain & Wonder Tattoo in Athens. She made this beautiful tattoo on my shoulder – a snow globe scene of Oxford, England, where I studied the previous summer. Traveling alone in the UK and studying at Oxford were some of the most defining experiences of my time in college. I learned that I can be alone, even in an entirely new place, and feel happy. As a close friend reminded me this year, "all you need is you."
  • Shot a gun – A sign of my southern roots, I shot a gun for the first time during our family Christmas celebration at my grandparents' house in north Georgia. It looks like I'm closing my eyes here but I'm really winking with my right eye so I can line up my shot. Oddly, I am right handed but use my left eye to shoot guns and photos. The more you know.
  • Modeled nude – I like my body and I love photography but I am not a model. When I was a pre-teen, I "worked" briefly with a youth modeling agency in Atlanta. They were called Atlanta's Young Faces or Young Talent or something and claimed to have discovered Raven Symoné. I think I took two jobs (at the most). But when Athens-based photographer Grant Beecher asked me to help him by posing nude under a plastic painter's sheet with a fog machine at midnight, I had to say hell yes. I knew I would regret not doing this.
  • Traveled solo – For spring break, I rented a tiny house on James Island in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is one of my favorite towns in the south. All I did was go to brew pubs and bars by myself and made friends with the service staff. Working in the service industry makes nearly any place feel like a small town and good people can make you feel at home just about anywhere. To see more photos from my trip to the Holy City, click here.
  • Moved to Costa Rica – I've been here for three months of my planned six-month stay. I'm not sure what's next, whether it's to continue traveling or to move back to Georgia, but it's been a really good period of slow living (pura vida, you might even say) after graduating from university.
  • Published my first Broadly article – I traveled to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, not long after moving to Monteverde to photograph the country's pride parade. It was an incredible experience to take part in a queer community event somewhere other than where I grew up. I'll admit that I felt like an outsider attending the parade, especially since I don't speak much Spanish, but I'm really grateful that the performers and participants were open to me and that Broadly, Vice Media's feminist site, wanted to share the story.
  • Watched my first Atlanta drag show – I love the drag community in my college town of Athens. It's filled with drama and budding with new queens and our town is small enough that I can usually keep up with it all. Atlanta, just an hour away, feels like a very different scene. The bars are packed, even on Sunday nights for events like Tossed Salad at Burkhart's. I'm excited to go back to Georgia this year and become better acquainted with the south's queer community
  • Entered my first piece in a gallery show – KA Artist Shop, a local art store and gallery space, hosts a Valentine's Day show every year featuring works from local photographers, painters and other visual artists. I showed this piece because, as a friend who went to the show said, I am shameless. I leave very little to privacy or the imagination and I don't give a damn. It felt really good to develop my identity an artist by showing my work in public.
  • Had my first panic attack – I had just taken my roommate to the hospital, where I slept in a chair overnight and waited for her parents to drive down from South Carolina. We realized that her stomach pain was a bigger problem than we'd hoped (and a bigger problem than the doctors originally believed) and she needed to have surgery. Then I had to leave my friend in the hospital for a weekend photojournalism workshop. I had a panic attack in the editing room while we were shooting ten-hour days at the Georgia National Fair. I sat on the front stoop and called my sister crying, barely able to breathe. Here is a photograph I made in the bathroom after I ate a cold piece of pizza and started to feel okay again.
  • Learned to shoot and develop film – After finishing my photojournalism program, I wanted to keep shooting and experience photography from an art perspective rather than a journalistic one. I really loved the slow-going, hands-on aspect of shooting and developing black and white film and I'm so glad I have that skill now. 
athens, georgia
  • Published in print – This year I did a lil Instagram takeover for Southern Glossary, a photography zine focused on the complex identity of the American South. I'm really grateful that Ryan Sparks, the guy behind the publication, trusted my work and allowed me to contribute to the second edition of the print magazine. It felt incredible to flip through a magazine and see my images. You can click here if you want to get your hands on a copy of the zine. It's gorgeous, y'all.
  • Learned to ride a motorcycle – Okay so this is still a work in progress. I know how to shift gears and eat a bit of dirt (most of the roads in Monteverde are made of dirt and gravel) but I still have plenty of practicing to do. Keep your eyes open for another post on why I want to learn how to ride. Hint: it's fun as hell.
  • Hitchhiked – Another item on the list that will make my mother worry. Sorry mom. During a week-long trip to Nicaragua, my friend Molly and I hitched a handful of rides. People were really nice – we even got the same fella to give us a ride to the beach and back. It's an addicting experience to trust people and learn to receive their kindness. Check out the Central America section of my portfolio to see more images from that trip.
  • Put my heart in harms way – This sounds real cheesy, I know, but I put myself in shitty situations this year. I dated lots of boys, tried to stay "friends" with an ex, and devoted my time and emotions to a fuckboy that my friends warned me about (I should've listened). Between my anxiety/depression issues and simply picking the wrong people, it wasn't a great year for my emotional stability. I'm figuring it out.
  • Loved – In my 21st year, I've made friends I wish I'd made sooner, spoken Spanglish with Ticos over coffee and empanadas and opened up to a guy who is actually really good to me (it's real!). I've learned that I deserve to be treated with respect and love and understanding. My friends still care for me even though I am countries away. I still have a really hard time and cry pretty often and let my mind get carried away by fear of abandonment and rejection. But I am learning to love myself better, to be okay alone and to treat my friends and family with my own form of messy love.

Thank you all for the moments we've experienced together this year. Cheers!

You Don't Have to Like It

This piece started as part of a 7-day Facebook "challenge" about living as a single person – a cheeky series of posts my sister tagged me in and suggested I share. Friends, thank you for your positive feedback about my writing on relationships, anxiety and depression, and why being single holds just as much value as being married. Here is the post I made from the fifth day of my "Living Single Challenge," edited and expanded.

I am grateful to be single because my body is my own.

Because I'm not married, my body is a reflection only of myself. Even though lawmakers, especially in the south, say otherwise, I own my body. I have sovereignty.

Even though a middle-aged white man has found himself worthy of Tweeting about my body modifications in the past, it's still mine.

Why do I need to remind you that my body is not a topic for comment?

My body is mine because I stopped seeing a boy who suggested I shave my pussy. He said it would be easier to please me if I did.

I do not have to be "clean" shaven to be attractive. I do not have to change my body to suit your preferences. And I do not need to be easy to please.

Even though I've gotten in a screaming match with my father on our front stoop on Thanksgiving morning for refusing to shave my legs, I know that my body is still mine.

"I think I'm beautiful."
"You would be more beautiful if you changed."

If I get married, I will choose a person who loves my body. But I'm grateful that, for now, no one really has stake in my appearance but me. I am an individual and I am enough.

And you don't have to like it anyway.