Portrait of Kat Stacks courtesy of FVP ART GALLERY
A former prostitute turned loudmouth rap groupie seems like an unlikely poster child for the immigration movement in the US. But not only has Kat Stacks become a symbol for DREAMers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and are fighting to stay—her story is so American, it should be printed on the flag.
For those who don't read rap-gossip blogs, here’s the Kat Stacks story: Born Andrea Herrera, she came to the US from Venezuela when she was eight years old, and, like so many immigrants, ended up overstaying her temporary visa and became an undocumented immigrant. But instead of studying hard and graduating from the top of her class—like most of those who represent the public face of DREAMers— Herrera was sexually abused as a child and was forced into a life of prostitution at the tender age of 14.
She spent the next few years turning tricks and even gave birth to her pimp's child. Eventually, she began hanging out with—and having sex with—rappers, and by the age of 20, with the help of YouTube and WorldStarHipHop.com, she was known by millions on the internet as an annoying, shit-talking rap groupie who put rappers on “blast” and more than once got beat up on camera in retaliation for her antics.
In 2010, she had a falling out with a promoter in Nashville who claims she took her money without going to the event she was hired for. In retaliation, something happened to her plane ticket, and after airport authorities did a background check on Herrera, they arrested her on an immigration charge. “How was I supposed to know she was flying dirty?” the promoter said at the time. “That just goes to show you karma is a bitch.”
The immigration judge who considered her case saw her online persona and decided that there was absolutely no way America could benefit by keeping a foul-mouthed Superhead wannabe who once bragged about having sex with Lil Wayne for $1,200. “The Court finds that the Respondent's behavior as an online persona is a significant negative equity,” the judge said in his decision to deport her.
“Negative equity”? Getting famous for bragging about sex before an anonymous audience of millions is the new American dream. It's capitalism in its purest form. It's the free market doing what it does. And Herrera's online persona was more American than Betsy Ross eating a Big Mac at a gun range without health insurance. Going from a hard-knock life of horror to internet fame and popularity might not be as traditional as starting a business and sending your kids to college, but clearly, Herrera had determination, smarts, and a sense of entrepreneurship—values praised by Democrats and Republicans alike.
As Herrera sat in an immigration holding center waiting for her one-way flight to Caracas, a group of DREAM activists created an online petition that focused on her troubled life as a victim of sex trafficking and turned the infamous Kat Stacks persona into a positive by arguing that hers was a narrative of victimhood and empowerment, which embodied the struggle many undocumented immigrants and sex trafficking victims face.
“Kat Stacks—or Andrea Herrera, her real name—was a victim of her circumstances who overcame those circumstances by empowering herself and other people,” said Prerna Lal, one of the founders of DreamActivist.org, the group behind the petition. “She fought against her situation, and she shouldn't have been penalized for fighting back.”
The idea that Herrera was talking shit about rappers in YouTube videos as a way to fight back against the people who abused and trafficked her sounds strange. And no doubt many of Herrera's online detractors will LOL at such a claim. But others have argued it's no different than what some rappers do when they brag about sexual conquests in their lyrics—Herrera just didn't have a beat behind her when she did it.
The next time in court, Herrera's past was closely considered, including a missing-children's report from when she was kidnapped at age 14 and evidence that she was forced into prostitution. According to Herrera, this is what they didn't do the first time around.
“All of that should have played in court, and they should have made the decision to protect the victim and not persecute them,” she told me. “But instead of doing that, they tried to deport me for entertainment videos.”
This time it worked, and in January, the immigration court reversed the previous decision, and Herrera was allowed to legally stay in the US. She said that media pressure instigated by Lal and others was a big reason the courts changed its mind. “Once immigration started getting that publicity and they started looking like monsters, that's what helped me,” she said.
Now Herrera is living at home with her son and writing an autobiography about her life. She’s working to escape the Kat Stacks persona with the help of counseling, just as she escaped her life of forced prostitution.
“I realized I didn't have to be the person I was forced to be. I could just be myself,” she said. “And just act the way I want to instead of letting others make me do what I didn't want to do.”
America has a lot of problems, but only here can somebody lead a wretched childhood, achieve fame on the internet, get saved from deportation with the help of strangers, and then get a book deal. It's a weird, beautiful thing that proves this country can sometimes work the way it's supposed to.
Herrera's story also represents a typical immigrant story, one that often gets obscured by reform advocates who want to showcase illegal aliens who are paragons of hard work and protestant virtue. But not everyone who comes to the US illegally as a child becomes a model citizen.
Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayDowns
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