People of Chelsea: Branden Reyes Garcia -2022

By Darlene DeVita

The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Chelsea Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) Spring of 2022 a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)

I love Chelsea very much, but I’m a realistic person. I will say I had a pretty bad experience growing up in Chelsea. I was a little darker than most kids here, especially when I was little. My mom’s side is Afro-Puerto Rican. My dad’s side is an indigenous Spaniard type of mix. I would get bullied for being a darker shade. I would get called ugly. I was also part of the Special Education Department. I grew up with some motor skill issues and talking issues, which is why sometimes I go really fast and stutter when I talk. And on top of that, I’m gay.

Growing up as a queer person in Chelsea is very difficult. When middle school came, it was so bad that they would bully me and molest me. I came out when I was 15. I was lucky that my parents were accepting of me. I grew up knowing about kids who got kicked out of their houses because they admitted being queer or [got] found out. Essentially, we have the issue with invisible homelessness, with queer people jumping couch to couch, resorting to dangerous survival methods. I’ve met a good chunk of queer immigrants who have been in my grade and talked about how they had to leave their home. They wanted to stay with their family because they migrated over the border with them, that’s their pod. They’ve all gone through so much they want to stay [together], but the whole aspect of being queer throws it off, and [their family] suddenly don’t want them. It’s a sad thing to see.

Chelsea is my home, which is why I’ve been such an active member of the community. I have participated in community events and the political aspect as the Secretary of the Youth Commission. Chelsea has a big problem with their queer representation or how they go about [treating] queer people. We have so many initiatives that help our residents, but there’s not one specifically targeted to the education of queer people or the LGBTQ people as a community. Church and religion are such a big aspect of latinx families. Could we team up with churches that are more progressive thinking? If that’s not the case, how do we go about it? The queer kids in this community go through hell. Our youth are getting misplaced and harassed. Women already feel scared to walk the streets, especially on Broadway. Imagine if it’s a trans woman, a trans woman of color. Someone catcalls them, and they get closer and hear their voice. The aggression that can come out of that situation is so severe.

I’ve been catcalled. Beside being gay I’m also non-binary. My pronouns are they/them and he/him. I don’t really identify with one gender. I’m in this weird in-between. Throughout my life, I would get mistaken for a girl. Even before walking into this building, the crossing guard was like, “be safe young lady,” and I just kept going. It doesn’t bother me. I have the mustache and the goatee, of course. 

I did choir growing up [the Boston Children’s Chorus], and theatre when I got to high school, which helped with my enunciation.And I did community organizing where I had to speak in public.I had to slow my speech down.I joined the Drama Club because I like music.I thought the theatre part of it was really cool.I took a chance and participated in the plays and musicals.

Currently [at Brandeis] I’m in an interesting genre musically.I just joined a folk music ensemble.I’ve never listened to folk music in my life!I’m a vocalist.Experimentation is key.

I was part of a college preparation program in Boston called Bottom Line, a college preparation program in Chelsea schools. They accepted very few Chelsea kids. Me and my best friends, who are girls, all applied, and they got rejected and I got accepted. I asked why I got accepted. They said we need more men of color. There’s so few men of color applying to college. Thank God I identified as a man at that time, not anymore, but thank you!

Fun Fact about my coming to Brandeis. I had a 7th grade science teacher from the Wright Middle School. He said, ‘If you like musical theatre and science (at the time I was a STEM kid), you should do Brandeis.” So I applied. I didn’t know about the scholarship. There’s a MLK fellowship [a full scholarship], which started back when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Black students began rallying for financial aid for black students and people of color. I opened my acceptance letter; ‘Congrats you’ve been accepted to Brandeis as a MLK fellow!’

My story is not an inspiration story. I don’t want anyone to look at my life and be like “I can do that.”  Because being realistic, the systemic inequalities in our society in the US allow such slim amounts of people these opportunities to thrive. Opportunities like I had growing up, low-income, queer, everyone should be given those opportunities. I just got very lucky, and I’m grateful. I almost didn’t go to college even though my parents wanted me to. Long story short, I don’t want people to be inspired by me. I had such privileges that were given to me. Not like a rich person in an affluent neighborhood, but in a city like Chelsea I’m one of the most lucky that were handed all these opportunities.

Although I can come off as resilient, I also had therapy since I was 7. I had so many friends that couldn’t go to therapy because they were undocumented. That resilience is a result of my having [the] privilege [of] being documented. Even though the US treats us Puerto Ricans like dirt, we have instant documentation, which is something I don’t take for granted. I like to say every time a person is born, the cards are shuffled and the dice is rolled, and you get what you get. Let’s deconstruct it. That’s what I try to do with my privilege. It’s why I’ve done so much in the city government and the community.

I had the chance to interact with so many people with different backgrounds. Especially with being in the Boston Children’s Chorus, it was such a transformative experience. For most Chelsea kids you don’t get to leave Chelsea. I met people from Belmont and Acton and the greater Boston area. My plan as I get older is to make sure those opportunities are present for people like Chelsea residents. Hopefully, if the cards are shuffled right and the deck is bopping, I can come back to Chelsea and set something up. Hopefully in the future, if I’m able, I can come back to Chelsea (If it’s not overly gentrified [by then]) to start a music initiative to give children better music education. I’ll go where the people go.

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