The first time my dad ever heard someone talk about aliens and objetos volador no identificados, or UFOs, was when he was 13. One day in high school, an older student described a sighting to my dad. “The first thing I thought was, ‘This man looked like an alien to me!’ He was so out of the ordinary: blonde hair, white skin, blue eyes, in a sea of black bodies like mine,” my dad recalls being told.

The talk with the older student validated a curiosity first sparked by a walk to school about five years prior. On an empty road in Cristo Rey, a lower-middle class, industrial neighborhood in Santo Domingo, a ball of light the size of a car tire appeared about 80 to 100 feet above him. It pulsated, moved steadily, horizontally, away from him, then vanished.

“I was paralyzed for like 30 seconds. I didn’t understand what it was. I was so scared,” he told me. “I didn’t tell anyone because no one would have believed me.” He marks that day as one that changed him forever. “I started looking up all the time, looking at the sky,” he said.

For my dad, a black teen growing up poor in the Dominican Republic, trying to learn everything he could about extraterrestrial life proved nearly impossible. There was no extra money to buy books, and no reliable public transportation to the Biblioteca Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña. Plus, his religious household – Seventh Day Adventists with a belief system that classified alcohol, tattoos, piercings, and rock music as satanic – inhibited him. “If you do something wrong, I would often hear, the devil is going to come for you,” he told me. “It made me fearful of being curious and asking questions.”

But by 19, paychecks from his job at a bank allowed him to buy books on UFOs, aliens, the Bermuda Triangle. He watched local and international news, which is where he first learned about the alien abduction of Freddy Miller, who disappeared in Santo Domingo in 1959 and reappeared in 1973.

It was not until his move to America in 1991, however, that my father’s curiosity – and by extension, my own – truly took root.

Growing up in what I affectionately call the Segura Alien Household meant family trips to Barnes & Noble to buy books on astronomy, physics, Area 51, and government cover-ups. By 11, I could discuss things like the reptilian conspiracy theory – which alleged that governments around the world were controlled by aliens disguised as humans – as easily as I could discuss Steely Dan, my father’s favorite band and the soundtrack to our reading and talking about outer space.

Alien pictures my father drew and painted – aliens with white skin, long arms, black eyes, and a grimace; creatures with pointed ears and fangs – lined the walls of our home. He drew an alien race with long arms and slanted eyebrows titled “the Pamelians” for my younger sister, Pamela, who, by age 13, was convinced she would be abducted by extraterrestrials it was only a matter of when.

My dad would become so rapt watching the History Channel’s UFO Files and Ancient Aliens that my sister and I weren’t allowed to ask him questions until an episode was over. Still, I wondered: how many aliens exist? Where did they live? How did they live? Were they, like me, listening to their fathers talk about life beyond the world that they saw?

It was during an episode of Ancient Aliens that my father first heard about the Mutual UFO Network, an organization of alien enthusiasts who study alleged UFO sightings.

In 2015, he became a member. As a shy man, local chapter meetings never appealed to him, but as a truck driver on the road five to six days a week, whether in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, or Charlotte, North Carolina, he connected to a hub of others who shared his unusual theories. It offered a refuge, company. Mufon allowed my dad to feel like he belonged, no matter where he was originally from.

Then in 2018, Newsweek reported on a wave of resignations within Mufon after John Ventre – the state director for the organization’s Pennsylvania chapter, one of the largest in the country – posted on his personal Facebook that white men in America were being attacked by “illegal affirmative action” and “interracial couples in every show and commerical”. Despite apologizing the day after his post, Ventre resigned as state director. “I don’t hate anybody, I apologized for what I said” he told Newsweek. “I’m feeling like because I’m a 60-year-old white man I’m getting totally unfairly attacked here.”

The fallout continued. Mufon board members and other chapter leaders resigned after learning of Mufon’s ties to JZ Knight, an author and New Age teacher, who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has made derogatory comments about Mexicans, LGBTQ people, Catholics, and Jews.

“It’s very disappointing to me to hear about these people, and the organization should be more careful,” my dad told me. “But I’m not going to move away from a place where I am able to get access to a world that I love.”

My father cherished the digital space this organization allotted him, and with my encouragement, was even considering attending local chapter meetings after he retired. But after learning about Ventre and Knight, I was worried. I wondered if Mufon was actually not safe, not a sanctuary, for a black man like him. So, I went to a meeting myself.

Windsor Locks, Connecticut is two hours north of New York City and home to just under 13,000 people. The town, according to Mufon, has one of the highest numbers of reported UFO sightings in America. On a Saturday in February, I joined about 70 members – almost entirely white – at a pizzeria to discuss sightings that had occurred nearby, and hear a psychic talk about the secret space program called Solar Warden. “Solar Warden is a program based in Dahlgren, Virginia, run by the US navy that is responsible for monitoring all traffic in our solar system,” the psychic told us, as people around the table nodded knowingly. “It was developed in the 1960s and 70s and deployed by earth governments to protect Earth from hostile aliens.”

Once the meeting was over, I wanted to talk to some members, many of whom have been attending for years. There was Pat, a woman in her 60s with bright red hair and married to another member, Mike. I met Mickey, an intense man who ranted about my iPhone giving me cancer and how aliens were, at that very moment, all around us. “Their technology is so advanced, we wouldn’t even be able to see them,” he said.

And there was Geoffrey P Whittum, who calls himself “the Woods Walker” and believes that there is evidence of alien habitation in the forests of Connecticut. Although many were fervent in their attempts to convince me that the government was poisoning Americans through spacecraft – a common belief shared by all the members I talked with – not one of them seemed racist. They all seemed to enjoy gathering and creating a space where they could express their obscure thoughts about life beyond our world.

After those initial greetings with members, I eventually worked up the nerve to ask everyone I talked with if they were familiar with Ventre and other allegations of racism within Mufon. They all said no. “Everyone is welcome here, no matter what you look like or believe,” Pat said.

I left pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie I found. It felt almost spiritual. I wanted to return with my father to introduce him to a space that he has only known digitally but that proved more welcoming than I expected.

On the ride back home to the Bronx, my thoughts about my father had become clear. I guess I’ve always known that he’s brilliant – he can play instruments, write songs, knows a lot about history, excels in math. Aliens are just one of the many facets of who he is. But what if he had arrived in America sooner – before marriage, before kids – and had the resources my sister and I enjoyed? Would he have been an astronomer? Written sci-fi? Worked for Nasa?

That night, I told him about the Mufon meeting and the people I’d met. He seemed relieved and happy because there I was, over 50 years after he fell in love with space, enthusiastically rambling about government cover-ups, UFOs, and extraterrestrial life. “They’ve got a skywatch in the spring, and I’m invited,” I told him. “Let’s go and look up at the sky together.”

This content was originally published here.