Maya Moreno: Reclaiming the “W” Word

I took ownership of ‘alien’ before I took ownership of the word ‘whore’. For all my life I fought for control over myself and I thought the only way to do that was to fit a perfect mold of what society wanted.

By Maya Moreno & Mariah Castañeda

I took ownership of ‘alien’ before I took ownership of the word ‘whore’.

For all my life I fought for control over myself and I thought the only way to do that was to fit a perfect mold of what society wanted. Many people of color will grow striving to be a model minority, to be the exception to the disrespectable. Everyone wants to be “good”, to be “respectable”. The crushing double standards that citizens had of immigrants, men had of women, white people had of people of color, and many others controlled me exactly the way I was fighting to not be. Respectability politics created a caste system I could never win against. By adhering to respectability politics and holding others to those standards, I was perpetuating the ‘blame the victim’ mentality.


The standards that are set by society lead most people to live in a state of constant pretense. We have to live by the standards the privileged are not expected to hold. That’s why we live in lies. People are surprised to hear that I was a SWERF [Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminist], or that there was a time when I believed that I would be spared from the persecution against immigrants despite being one. I was the “good” one. I would remain a virgin for life and pursue a career. Men, I told myself, would only respect me if I didn’t give them the option to ‘have me.’ Despite being a feminist and believing women should own their bodies, including the right to abortion and promiscuity, I monitored my sexuality and life based on men’s and society’s judgement. This extended to my culture. I fought to eat, talk, and act American. If I could be like them, I’d be accepted. But fighting by the codes of someone who fails to see your group’s humanity is a losing game.

— Maya Moreno

Maya Moreno is an undocumented writer, podcast creator, pornography actress and most recently, a YouTuber. She stands at roughly five and a half feet tall with a soft expression. Her dark curls bounce around her high cheekbones. Each syllable she enunciates sharply and with purpose. She is petite, curvy and admires women with a soft and malleable figure, specifically because having a soft figure makes it easier to waist train, a hobby of Moreno’s.

Her room is splattered with art. A painting celebrating a woman’s body adorns one closet door and her books sit on her dresser. Despite being unable to attain a higher education, Moreno pushes herself to stay informed on issues that directly affect her, immigrant rights being one. Moreno’s own written art is encapsulated within notebooks neatly on her bed. She resides in “Porn Valley” or San Fernando Valley, a suburban enclave in the greater Los Angeles area that is known to produce pornography.

As a vocal supporter for both sex worker rights and the rights of undocumented immigrants, Moreno arrived from Honduras at age five to escape violence. She made her journey largely on foot, led through a network of safe houses by a “coyote,” or someone who helps people cross borders usually for large sums of money.

She joined her parents who had previously immigrated without her in New York where she attended public school, leaving behind her grandparents in Honduras.

Moreno lived as an undocumented immigrant during her childhood, unable to work or obtain a driver’s license. This all changed during former president Obama’s DACA program. As a recipient of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Moreno effectively came out of the shadows and gave the American government proof of her residence. The idea of alerting a government entity of one’s whereabouts for an entire duration of one’s stay in the United States can be terrifying — especially with ongoing threats towards immigrant communities of color.

While DACA allows a child arrival to stay in the United States with less fear of deportation, it does not offer a pathway to citizenship. The application process is long, and requires finger-printings. Every DACA recipient must reapply every two years, with each application costing between $450 and $500. DACA recipients must make sure they renew before their two-year deferral expires, otherwise they lose the right to work in the United States. Moreno had to fly to New York from California in order to renew her DACA every two years, adding to the already extensive costs.

“I fought to eat, talk, and act American. If I could be like them, I’d be accepted. But fighting by the codes of someone who fails to see your group’s humanity is a losing game.”
Before DACA, Moreno held mixed feelings about living off the grid; sometimes she would feel empowered to live a life free of government knowledge, other times she felt effectively like a nobody. While she no longer lives off the grid, she also realizes doing so carries risks — especially during the Trump presidency.

“I grew to love this country so much because of the indoctrination and going to school with these people (Americans), and eating with these people.”

Moreno finds ways to mediate her lived knowledge through podcasts and writing. A microphone sits on a drawer in her room. Her new YouTube channel “BabeColate” centers around her experience as an adult actress and an immigrant. Recently one of her videos was taken by a far-right YouTube channel and re-edited it with revolting commentary centering around her status as an undocumented immigrant and the size of her chest. The comments section was more revolting, with male commenters hurling insults and violent sexual threats.

For Moreno, others questioning her right to exist is nothing new. Moreno explains that she believes that working-class conservatives feel threatened by immigration, fearing that their jobs are at risk. Moreno says that anti-immigration sentiment “functions on the rudimentary understanding of capitalism, the idea that jobs are limited and resources are limited.” Moreno believes that they don’t view immigrants as reasonable contribution to the economy.

“My body is wholesome and pure, but others defile it with their idea of it.”

Ever since she was younger, Moreno felt the anti-immigrant climate around her. Sometimes it was subtle, the hidden pressure to assimilate into American culture. This was confusing to her; America seemed to lack it’s own culture, it was just a combination of other cultures. Other times it was more explicit, like when fellow high school students would claim that Moreno — as an immigrant — had no constitutional rights. Instead of correcting her classmates, teachers would nod their heads in agreement.

Moreno would try to refute these arguments by reciting the fourteenth amendment that grants her constitutional rights. The fourteenth amendment states, “Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”

Moreno recalls that as a child, she was told by adults that she had no right to freedom of speech or education. They would insinuate that she should pay the country back for the education she received.

“I am a taxpayer. Even if I wasn’t, don’t I deserve an education? Five-year-olds, nine-year-olds don’t come here for financial reasons, they come here because their situation is dire.”

The anti-immigration rhetoric frightens Moreno. Some of the online posts she sees express desires to see immigrants rounded up and deported. The words “rounded up” particularly frighten her because it echoes early Nazi sentiments she studied during her Holocaust class. Moreno, recognizes that her experience is nowhere near the scope of the Holocaust; however, early tactics such as publishing books of crimes committed by Jews are similar to the Trump administration’s VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement), which publishes the crimes of undocumented people. “It feels very familiar,” Moreno says.

A Twitter user tried to silence Moreno, and her name has been added to lists such as “bad hombres to report to ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement].” The Twitter users put her name “Maya Moreno” on the online list and included her location and proof of her “crimes,” which was one of her tweets. Moreno feels that “reporting” undocumented folks is a game for some social media users. Reporters see undocumented folks online and “feed into this fantasy” that all undocumented people are criminals and must be punished and
deported. Moreno claims that reporting a user to ICE’s Twitter account will more than likely not result in anyone’s deportation. She is appalled that someone would try to completely destroy another person’s life by reporting them to ICE for being vocal about their immigration status.

She was not provided with the necessary information to become a naturalized citizen, either. Some believe that undocumented immigrants only have to be married to gain residency. Moreno believed this too before she talked to a lawyer who then told her that was a myth. There is no argument she hasn’t heard. Moreno believes that the YouTube channel that created a response to her video is trying to capitalize off of her video for views.

Maya is new to the Californian porn scene. While the general attitude towards sex work on the west coast is similar to that of New York, Maya claims that the atmosphere around the porn scene is far more professional in California, with regulations and agents being the norm. Like any mainstream actress, an agent represents the porn actor or actress. STI tests are a requirement before filming any scenes. The industry is tight-knit and requires a shutdown of all activities if any actor or actress becomes HIV positive.

The porn industry relies heavily on consent, each star must agree to everything that occurs on scene. Moreno says that, behind the scenes, there are agreements to each and every action captured, even the ones that depict the exploitation of women such as model and photographer porn fantasies.

However, Moreno is careful to not over-glorify the industry. Sleazy videographers sometimes try to scam actresses into creating scenes for compilation DVD’s which are reproduced and sold without giving the actresses any pay. Moreno claims that this can be avoided by finding an agent.

Even in a professional setting, Moreno explains that sex work is difficult and exhausting. She claims that many young women expect to be making a ton of cash when they start working in the porn industry. Unfortunately, these dreams are often dashed once they learn the demands of the job. As a result, according to Moreno, the turnover rate for female actresses is high, while the turnover rate for men remains more steady.

To have a strong presence, Moreno must work through social media and create business cards. She maintains a sexy Snapchat and a Patreon. She distributes her business cards at a STI testing center where it is the norm for others residing in “Porn Valley” to exchange marketing material.

Between all the intersections of her identity — undocumented, a person of color, a woman, she says, “My body is wholesome and pure, but others defile it with their idea of it.”

Mariah Castañeda is a contributing writer at InSight Magazine. 


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