Julián’s Tacos: Part Two
A Queer Migrant’s Story of Hunger
Read Julián’s Tacos: Part One.
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Veracruz wasn’t safe. Julián Garcia fled, unsure of where to go.
His mother had moved north, crossed the border and was now in San Diego. She arranged for Julián to slip into California to join her. This was in 2008.
For seven years, Julián kept things low-key in San Diego. He found a boyfriend and fell in love. They moved in together, a duplex in a neighborhood where they could make rent but felt like they always had to keep an eye open.
The way Julián tells it now, it was the boyfriend who convinced him to see what meth was all about: how to crush up the crystals, convert the dust to vapor in the pipe—how it gave him strength to slap away the thoughts that would gnaw at him, the things he’d seen and felt. “I was thinking it was just something temporary,” Julián says. “Like he’d try it, we’d try it—one, two, three times—and that’s it. Everything would go back to normal.”
The guys who sold it to them lived below in the duplex. The more Julián and his boyfriend smoked, the more tangled they became with the cluster of sketchy people filtering through the apartment downstairs.
“To my boyfriend I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore,” Julián says. “And he was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and then he’d go spend more and more money on the drugs. But I was in love. I was still thinking that everything would be able to change.”
The guys downstairs scared Julián, all the gang-style commerce swirling around that duplex. He told his boyfriend he wanted to go to the police. Somebody down below must have overheard him. They threatened Julián. They said they knew where his mother lived. Paranoia took hold.
A fight with his boyfriend turned physical, and Julián retaliated by biting his boyfriend’s hand so hard it bled. Julián didn’t own a phone, so he ran into the street to flag down the police. When the cops returned with him, the boyfriend said Julián had attacked him. They rifled through the apartment and found drugs in the bed—planted there by the guys downstairs. Julián’s convinced of it.
They arrested Julián, charged him with possession of illegal substances and domestic violence. He spent three months in county jail, and had to do Narcotics Anonymous as part of his sentence. On his release, the guys downstairs made sure he knew their retribution for his running to the cops was only getting started. A terrified Julián took a bus to the border and asked Border Control for voluntary deportation to Mexico. But members of the gang in San Diego trailed him to Tijuana. And in 2017—for the second time in his life, with the trauma of his prior abduction flooding back—Julián was kidnapped and held for ransom.
A kind of luck intervened—the police in Tijuana picked up Julián and one of his kidnappers off the street for loitering. They let the kidnapper go after he paid the officers a bribe, but with no money in his pocket, Julián landed in jail on a charge of hustling. When he got out, he walked to the border and made a formal request for asylum in the United States. His name showed up on an ICE roster, which is how he landed at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, in the windowless pod he shared with 80 or so others, where almost the only thing to do was curl up between anxiety and depression—to hope for an asylum hearing in weeks, rather than months away, and wait for the next meal tray.
And he worked. Until GEO Group, the operator of the Tacoma facility, lost a federal lawsuit last year, they employed detainees to do much of the labor to keep it running, and paid them a dollar a shift, didn’t matter if it was four hours or six. Julián cleaned. He delivered meal trays from the kitchen. He tried to help out new detainees arrived, if they spoke primarily Spanish. The detention officers kept their eye on Julián harder than on other inmates. When Julián asked why they told him. “Because you’re gay,” they said.
“Because you’re dangerous.”
Julián and four or five of his podmates came up with a plan to subvert detention meals. When one of them had earned enough money to buy a pack of small flour tortillas from the commissary—two bucks for six tortillas, the equivalent of two days’ labor—they’d organize a collection: beans from the dinner tray, a slice of cheese or pale, slippery baloney from lunchtime sandwiches. When they salvaged enough they got together to make bean and baloney tacos: no onion, cilantro, or salsa. Each no more than a few bites. One small taco per man, but one was enough.
“Oh, it was so good,” Julián says, in a voice that dips low. “Like a little burrito,” he says. “The best thing we could have in that place.”
Queerness, bell hooks once told an audience at the New School, “[is not] about who you’re having sex with.” Queerness is about being “the self that is at odds with everything around it, and it has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
Julián’s bean and baloney tacos were at odds with the situation he’d been forced into. Something to take off a piece of his hunger, but mostly something to declare his resistance to detention, a marker of what it might mean to thrive and to live in a future beyond walls. An assertion of queerness, a pushing away of the things that told him he didn’t really deserve to be live.
“All these mistakes that I made in my life,” Julián says, “was because I was meant to believe that I was worthless. Not only because of my sexual orientation, but my appearance: the color of my skin, the sound of my voice. The way I looked.”
Julián was granted asylum status and released from detention in November 2019. He lives in San Diego now with his mother and sister. He started a GoFundMe to help pay for his green card application. It raised $5,000, but when Covid hit and Julián and his mom lost their jobs, it went toward rent and groceries.
These days Julián works at a Japanese restaurant as a dishwasher and prep cook. He has dreams of starting his own food business: a couple of food trucks, maybe, or a big brick and mortar, a Mexican food place.
He’s volunteered with La Resistencia, a Seattle-based group working to close the Tacoma detention facility, but now he gives his nonworking time to Proyecto TransLatina, a San Diego nonprofit that helps Latina trans women access resources. Last December, Julián was named coordinator for a drive to collect, clothes, shoes, makeup, and hygiene items for trans women detained at a refugee shelter in Tijuana.
“I have been granted the opportunity to be alive,” he says. “And to be better and grounded, to be able to help other people that are going through my situation. To be a voice to speak out,” he says, “and let people know that they are not alone. That they are strong and they have power.”
He feels he’s been shown his purpose, what his freedom is for, to actively live at odds with the notion that migrants—that queer and trans people—are worthless.
“Perhaps migration is about projecting your spirit to the place you want to go,” says the Nigerian-British writer Yemisi Aribisala. “Planting it there so that your body moves no matter what, in the gravitational pull. You tell yourself you will cook a meal for kings at the other side.”
Doesn’t even matter if the meal is beans and baloney.
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