The last 10 years have been quite a journey for Constantino Diaz-Duran. In 2001, he left his home country of Guatemala, coming to the U.S. to escape persecution for his work as a journalist. In the process, he found new freedom to live his life as a gay man.
Being gay in Guatemala “meant a choice between living a lie or being pushed to the margins of society,” said Diaz-Duran, 31. “If I had entered into a relationship with another man, the best I could have hoped for would have been to live together as roommates while people whispered about our known secret behind our backs.”
Today, he lives on the Upper East Side with his partner of nine years — and he has the option to marry him, since Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signed a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York.
“It is a reminder of why I chose this place to be my home,” Diaz-Duran said of the gay marriage win. “To me, being an American has always meant the freedom to be who I am.”
On July 4, another journey will begin for Diaz-Duran, a freelance journalist. He plans to walk more than 3,000 miles, from New York to Los Angeles, asking people across the nation what being an American means to them. He’ll kick off his 18-state venture from First Avenue Coffee Shop between 74th and 75th streets.
“I eat breakfast there every day,” Diaz-Duran said.
He estimates the trip will take him eight months, and he plans to write a book about his experience.
It’s a particularly poignant time for him to make the trip: He is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, and he said he’ll do so upon his return.
“The question of what being an American means today has always intrigued me,” Diaz-Duran said.
He’s aware that not everyone will take his view on America.
“I’ll be visiting some very poor parts of the country,” he said. “I would not expect to hear much optimism there.”
But he’s most interested in discovering the commonalities that link Americans across the country together.
“I do think in the end, I’ll find that New Yorkers and, say, Texans have more in common than either would care to admit," he said.