Ronnie's Kids

Today, 'amnesty' is a dirty word. So what happened to the immigrants given a fresh start by Reagan in 1986?

As his teenage years went on, he hoped his feelings toward men might just be a “passing crush,” but they wouldn’t go away. He went to confession nearly every day. “There was one priest who was almost always there,” he recalls. “And I’d go in daily and start to confess, and he’d say, ‘You again?’” Nothing cured his homosexuality, of course, and Bordador recalls a key event near the end of high school: a youth retreat led by the Marist Brothers, who were very open in talking about sexuality. He particularly appreciated a book they gave him that told him being gay wasn’t a sin, but he still wasn’t sure if that’s what he was.

Before the days of well-organized and commonly used resources at LGBT centers or even the Internet, there was a gay telephone switchboard Bordador could consult. He recalls an hour-long conversation on the hot line as “kind of wonderful. He asked me all of these questions that helped me to come out to myself, without his having to tell me, ‘You’re gay.’”

Always religious, Bordador got involved with Dignity, the gay Roman Catholic group, and joined in Act-Up’s demonstrations. He soon had his first boyfriend. But though he had somewhat settled the question of his sexuality, he had a tough decision to make: Should he stay in New York illegally to go to college, or go back to the Philippines?

Reagan relit the torch and signed the amnesty bill in '86.
Reagan relit the torch and signed the amnesty bill in '86.

“I knew my parents would never hurt me,” he says, if he returned home gay—though he wouldn’t come out to them for more than a decade. However, he wasn’t so sure about everyone else. A small-town boy, Bordador says, “I would be the laughingstock of the village. I would bring great shame upon my family.”

There were gay members of his large extended family, but their experiences didn’t bode well for him. He had a male transgender cousin who started to live as a woman. The last time she had seen her father, he recalls, “he beat her, stripped her naked of all her clothes and banished her from the house. Somehow, she got back in and got some clothes and escaped out a window—but they never saw each other again.” (She eventually fled to San Francisco.)

In the end, Bordador decided to stay in the United States. “I was gay in New York City, which was great in the ’80s. And I had a boyfriend. I didn’t want to give all of that up. I didn’t want to go home to be completely stifled.” He didn’t have the option, of course, of legalizing his status by marrying a citizen in good conscience.

Bordador got a job as a stock clerk for a music publisher, worked as a church organist on the weekends and enrolled at Hunter. As he began to spread his gay wings a bit, he had a falling-out with his aunt and moved out to be with his boyfriend.

But as much as the boyfriend factored in to his decision to stay in the States, the relationship didn’t prove healthy. “One time, he even got me pinned down on the floor and beat me up really bad,” Bordador says. “I was afraid to go to the emergency room because they’d call the police and there would be an investigation.” He’d already gotten a letter in 1981 from Immigration telling him he couldn’t stay in the country, and though they hadn’t contacted him since, he was always worried.

To make matters worse, he says, his boyfriend would threaten to have him deported. During those years, Bordador recalls, “I never knew who I could trust.” It’s something that still affects him, he says. “To this day, people say, ‘I can’t read you. What are you thinking?’” He is, by nature, quiet and kind, and it hurt, he says, “feeling like I had to lie to people.”

Bordador finally got away from his boyfriend, and when he graduated from Hunter, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary, planning to become, if not a priest (or a nun), then at least a church historian. The guilt he says he felt at the time—of being in an abusive relationship, of being in the country illegally, of being gay—fit in with his studies. “It all goes with being Catholic,” he says, with a laugh. He knew by this point that he couldn’t be openly gay and be a priest, but he hoped to somehow answer what he felt was his calling.

It was when he started seminary that the Simpson-Mazzoli Act passed. Bordador heard about it through the Catholic Church, which was very involved in lobbying for the legislation—some parishes were sanctuaries for illegal immigrants facing deportation. But though the Church was helping people to process their applications, Bordador was too ashamed to let them know his own status. So he went to an immigration center in Long Island City to sign up.

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