The Web Series ‘Undocumented Tales’ Explores the Complex Lives of Undocumented Queer People
The Web Series ‘Undocumented Tales’ Explores the Complex Lives of
Politics and the media have largely driven the narrative of undocumented people in the United States. Donald Trump and the Republican Party have used racist and hateful language to describe undocumented folks, and the media has often struggled to portray undocumented people as complex individuals beyond the basic talking points. When queer undocumented people have the opportunity to tell their own stories, it can transform our politics and culture. That is why the web series Undocumented Tales is needed now more than ever.
Undocumented Tales was created by Armando Ibañez, an award-winning queer filmmaker and activist from Guerrero, Mexico. The story revolves around Fernando, an undocumented queer immigrant working at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and it navigates relationships, secrets, community and friendship.
I had the opportunity to talk with Armando about storytelling, resiliency and finding your voice in a world that continues to criminalize and dehumanize queer and undocumented people.
HORNET: What can people expect in the Undocumented Tales third season? Is there anything people should know before watching, or can they jump right in?
ARMANDO IBAÑEZ: We are going to see the same of what we have seen in the first two seasons — undocumented characters being humanized. I continue showing people laughing, dancing and falling in love. When it comes to undocumented characters, this is something the general audience is not used to seeing on the screen. Through the main character Fernando, I keep addressing the intersectionality of being an undocumented immigrant and being queer, living in the closet.
During the first two seasons, we saw Fernando trying to find himself. In this new season, we get to see someone who’s growing and who’s more open to embracing his identity. Fernando is not the typical “good immigrant” character; he is someone who makes mistakes like everyone else. I think this is very important to show, because I get to show human beings and not the characters Hollywood has shown all the time.
One common theme in the series is the negative impact of being hidden, not being seen. What are the challenges of telling the story of a community when being out means being immediately vulnerable, personally and legally?
It’s a very difficult challenge. To be a writer you have to be vulnerable, to be an undocumented writer you have to be unapologetic, and to create change, in general, you have to write from the bottom of your heart. I often think what my intention is with my work, and then I come to the conclusion that my main goal is to make my beautiful people feel better, and that’s my fuel to continue writing and filming.
I appreciate the humor and frank talk about sex in this series. Why are those elements important when telling these stories?
This brings me back to the first question. I don’t intentionally write about humor and sex, I just write about our lives in general. General audiences are so used to seeing us crying on the screen that they find it so strange that in this show they get to see undocumented people portrayed as human beings. It is important because I want to show authenticity, and if I show the community only struggling all the time (like Hollywood does) then I would not be honoring my people. Despite the obstacles we have every day we manage to keep going because we have no other choice. The humor, the sex, the messiness is the resilience in us, the power in us, the beauty in us!
How do you manage telling an honest story about queer immigrants without falling into the trap of respectability politics or the “good” immigrant vs the “bad” immigrant?
When I write, I ask myself, Who is included in this episode? If my answer is Just me, then I go back and write again. Why do I do that? Because during these times, we do have the mainstream narrative which is the “good“ immigrant narrative, and unfortunately a big percentage of our people don’t fit into that narrative, there are many of us who don’t speak English, who are not going to colleges, some are struggling to learn how to drive or even how to read or write in their first language.
With these series I want to contribute to breaking that narrative. I want to do better at including the most people I can, and this is why it’s important to write about people who work in the kitchen, people who speak Spanish (Spanish at least for now in Season 3), people who are OK with just having a job where they get minimum wage because that represents a lot of us.
There has been a lot of national discussion about immigration but very little of it is about actual people, particularly queer undocumented folks. How can we expand the narrative of queer undocumented people?
By creating more content. By reporting more facts about the intersections of the undocumented immigrant and LGBTQ communities and other communities. Even in our movement many people fight for undocumented immigrants’ rights, but we don’t include the LGBTQ community or the Black community, and I think this is one of the main problems we have within ourselves. If we fight for immigrants’ rights but we don’t talk about intersectionality, then we have a problem. Houston, we have a problem. We won’t be able to create change. But that problem exists because homophobia, transphobia and anti-blackness are issues that are present in our people. We could expand the narrative by getting rid of transphobia, homophobia and anti-blackness.
Can the audience expect a Season 4? Do you plan to expand to longer episodes or even a film?
OMG, I feel pressured! [Laughs] Longer episodes or a film sound great. I hope that Season 3 brings the funds we need for Season 4 or a film. I do have a storyline for two more seasons, but there are so many issues that we need to put on the screen that five seasons total won’t be enough.
The ideal would be 10 episodes per season, 30 minutes each, and as many seasons as we can, but for now I’m gonna focus on releasing Season 3. I am curious for the audience’s response.
For now, I just want to release this love letter (Season 3) to my people. After that we can start reaching out to Oprah or Salma Hayek and see if they want to donate money for our next season maybe. [Laughs]