Colombian immigrant came to U.S. to be himself

By Pavlina Cerna

Pablo Martinez [not his real name] puts in his van the last of many crates containing vegetables he harvested the evening before .

Yawning, he passes the car keys to his partner, Alex Delaney [not his real name], and sits in the passenger seat next to him.

“Ready to go!” Martinez declares.

It is 5 a.m. in the morning and the couple is on the way to a farmers’ market in New York, where Martinez has been selling his crops for the past 14 years.

“I hope there won’t be any traffic this time,” says Delaney who works as a psychiatrist at a clinic in New York City. Dressed in a lab coat, he is in a rush to get to the clinic in time because of an important meeting. Martinez gently touches Delaney’s arm and smiles at him.

“Thank you for driving me!” he says.

Martinez is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States 15 years ago on a tourist visa and overstayed its validity. Banished from his family and Christian community for his sexual orientation, he left his native Colombia to “find a place where he would feel accepted.”

Martinez says he feels very happy living in the United States although he does not have a health insurance, a driver’s license or Social Security. Delaney and Martinez are familiar with the President Trump’s immigration plan to remove undocumented immigrants from the United States, and are worried about the future of their relationship.

Martinez stands under a tent at his usual spot at the market, awaiting his regular customers.

“Good morning, farmer Pablo!” shouts a child, coming to the stand with his mother. “Will you tell me the story about the big carrot again?”

“Only if you eat all your vegetables every day,” says Martinez to the child with a smile.

“I did! Right, mommy?” the child answers. “I ate a lot of broccoli and peppers!”

While Martinez fills a paper bag with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers for the family, he tells a story about a carrot too big to be pulled out of the ground while the child listens very carefully.

The mother grasps Martinez’s arm before leaving, thanking him for encouraging her child to eat healthy.

Martinez says he has been a farmer as long as he can remember. After he got married at a young age, he and his wife inherited a little farm from her parents. Although he loved working in the fields and in the barn, he did not feel happy.

Martinez has always been attracted to men but living in a strict Christian community, he says he “never allowed himself to think about anything else than marrying a Christian Colombian woman as expected by his parents.”

Feeling trapped and scared, Martinez revealed the truth to his wife after two years of marriage. The same day he bought a one way ticket to the United States.

“Everyone was always saying great things about the United States,” Martinez says. “People there are open minded and helpful and that anyone can be anything there. I went to say goodbye to my parents before leaving and my dad did not even look at me.”

Shortly after his arrival to the United States, Martinez was illegally employed in a Colombian restaurant in New York City where he met his current partner, Delaney. Without a valid visa allowing him to reenter the United States, Martinez has not been able to visit Colombia for the last 15 years.

Martinez and Delaney moved to a small house outside of New York together after a year of dating. The property includes fields where Martinez started to grow vegetables and fruit again.

The couple spoke about marriage and the option of naturalizing Martinez, but Martinez refuses to live in a gay marriage for his religious belief. He says he hopes his parents might accept him being gay in the future, but they would not accept him being in a same-sex marriage.

As the sky turns darker, Martinez shakes hands with the last customer of the day, giving him tips how to cook the cauliflower he just bought.

Delaney pulls in the market when Martinez finishes packing his stand. The couple hugs, smiling.

“What a crazy day!” Delaney says. “You cannot imagine how many crazy people I had to deal with today!” They both laugh while stacking empty crates inside the van.

Before leaving, Martinez puts the vegetables he did not sell today on the corner of the market for homeless people.

Martinez says he is not only afraid of him being expelled from the country but also of reactions of people if Trump’s immigration plan will get endorsed.

“Sometimes people think that I am Mexican because I am Hispanic,” Martinez says. “Not everyone likes immigrants and I am not even a legal one. And I also have a strong accent. And I am gay.”

Martinez explains he wishes to continue living his life as it is, despite all the difficulties the life of an illegal immigrant contains.

“This country is my home,” he said. “Alex is here, my farm is here and my life. I have nothing in Colombia. In the United States, I can be myself and no one judges me. If they take all of that away from me, I have nothing to live for.”

Contact Pavlina Cerna at communitarian@mail.dccc. edu