Jose Guevara is undocumented. He’s queer. He’s fighting cancer, a pre-existing condition that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, he’s battling with health insurance provided by his mother’s employer.
Guevara is 23, and living at the intersection of everything the Trump administration has rescinded or tried to shut down.
Guevara is a DACA recipient, at least until it expires. His parents, who fled El Salvador after a series of earthquakes in 2001 and sent for him a few years later, are here legally through a program called Temporary Protected Status. If the Trump administration does not renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador on January 8, his parents, along with 262,528 Salvadorans, will have to return to El Salvador. His mother would lose her job, leaving Guevara with no healthcare.
Guevara spoke with Splinter about being a target of the Trump administration from every side. The interview has been edited and condensed.
I’m everything this administration hates, gurl. I’m a queer feminine boy with a soft voice who has sort of benefited from the Affordable Care Act. And I’m undocumented.
I arrived in the United States two months before my 10th birthday. My family settled in Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Los Angeles. When my parents divorced, my mother and I ended up in El Sereno, a historically Mexican American neighborhood with lots of Central American immigrants.
I feel at home here. I feel safe here, even though that’s not what is often projected about my neighborhood. I’m a DACA recipient until my permits expire in 2019. When the administration rescinded DACA, my mother and I cried.
I was 17 when I came out. I told the most chismosa [gossip queen] at my high school, so she did all the hard work for me. I told her in first period and before the final dismissal bell rang. At the end of the day my sexuality was public knowledge.
Trump is not a friend to the queer movement. He clearly doesn’t care about our health. Or our rights as humans to be protected while we shop. These are little things that are taken for granted by everyone else.
I worry about his anti-transgender policies. I have also learned that my liberation is tied to the liberation of trans women. Being someone who is intersectional, you learn that their struggle is my struggle. If they’re suffering, I’m suffering.
This is all adds to my stress. But right now threats to provisions in the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform scare me the most.
I was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2010. I was 15, in 10th grade. When I got my diagnosis, I just remember thinking about graduating on time. When the doctor told me I had leukemia, my response was: ‘I’m applying to go to a camp for young activists and the application is due tomorrow. When do I go home?” I didn’t even understand what leukemia was. The connection to cancer wasn’t there. To this day, I’ve blocked out most of the treatment. The whole experience is a phantom.
I graduated high school in 2012. I graduated with my classmates even though I was in treatment. I was literally puking then writing essays.
I enrolled in a four-year college, despite my mother and the counselor at the very same college advising me to go a two-year institution first. I networked the hell out of that college and I was able to secure a five-year scholarship that took care of my tuition.
I went to the hospital last month with really bad headaches. I found out I relapsed, again. I’m 23, and this is the fourth time I fight cancer. This time, it’s in my brain. This would have been my second to last semester in college. But I relapsed. Y todo se fue a la madre [It all went to shit.] And here we are.
I have a love for life. I’m not ready to go. In order to be able to do that I have to have insurance. I can’t get state-provided health insurance because of my immigration status—but I have benefited from some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
But the provisions that allow me to stay on my mom’s insurance until I’m 26 are at risk. Also at risk are the provisions that protect me from being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition—this is one of the most humane parts of the Affordable Care Act.
These are life-saving policies that keep people alive—Americans and immigrants. And Trump is obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act. He made this promise to his voters and he’s tried to get rid of it. He won’t be happy til he sees it gone.
My mother has Temporary Protected Status, which temporarily allows her to work legally in the United States. TPS for Salvadorans is up for renewal on January 8th. If it’s not renewed, my mother and father lose their jobs. If my mother loses her job, I lose my health insurance.
There is no awareness about TPS or who TPS recipients are or why people even have this status. At this point we have information accessible to everyone, but the American public doesn’t take the time to Google it.
Part of it is that those who benefit from TPS are not a marketable population. TPS recipients are not young; they came at an older age. They came straight to work. They don’t have that sad story that sells. So-called DREAMers are young, and as the narrative goes: “They didn’t know better.” TPS holders are just seen as immigrants who are taking jobs because that’s the story that the president has been selling.
I do feel sad that TPS may be taken away. My parents are hardworking people. And a representation of what immigrants and undocumented people can do when they’re given a chance. My mom was set to buy a house until the down payment money had to go to my medical payments.
Journalists should cover these type of stories with honesty. It shouldn’t be a sob story. It shouldn’t be a story about people sobbing or unable to help themselves. My story and my mother’s story is a story about resilience.
They were given a work permit. TPS beneficiaries have to pay a fee every 18 months to keep their TPS status. And yet they are still able to get their piece of the American dream. They buy homes, cars. They send money back home. They make goals out of nothing.
My dad is a humble man. He went 18 months without a job. And then he found a job and excelled and made enough for the family that he was able to send money back home. He also worked as a bus boy. He’s the reason why I’m here.
My mom started working at McDonald’s. She went from flipping burgers at McDonalds to a job with the county where she has benefits, which has literally afforded me a chance at life.
The first time I ever saw my mom cry was when I was first diagnosed with cancer. She cried again after Donald Trump was elected. She cried again when the Trump administration rescinded DACA. And again when TPS wasn’t renewed for Haitians. For her, it signals the same faith for the rest of TPS holders.
My parents have an impeccable work ethic, and I guess they just passed that shit on to me. I’ve always gone back to school the day the doctor gives me the OK. I don’t wait a day.
I want to become a citizen by merit, not by marriage, but every day that day seem further away. There are a lot well-meaning friends who tell me to marry a citizen and get my papers. Even strangers tell me to get married. Friends send me links to engagement rings.
In my life, I have had so many ends, and I’ve learned that somehow, someway you just wake up every morning and keep going. I’ve learned that when you’re fighting for immigrants, you can’t just fight for immigrants. You have to remember queer people are also immigrants, so you have to fight for queer people too. And queer people also get cancer, so you have to fight for people with cancer. You fight for everyone.