An Interview with Bamby Salcedo
By Karla Padrón
PART 1 of 2
When I was a 12-year old child, I came to the U.S. to live with my mom. Growing up in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, I knew a lot about the U.S., growing in a border town allows for ample (albeit unbalanced) cultural exchanges. Still, moving to the U.S. at that age I remember being overwhelmed by fear and culture shock.
Not long after I arrived and had registered in school I was asked to visit a local community clinic to receive tuberculosis medication. It was at that clinic’s waiting room where I first encountered several transgender Latina immigrants. At 12, I didn’t know what it meant to be cisgender or that the word was used to describe those of us who conform to society’s definition of “proper” gender identification. Until that point, I had not thought about the implications of living in a society that imposes gender identification upon us based on genitalia. Until that point I did not know the struggles of transgender Latina immigrants who were and continue to be systematically and institutionally punished for being their authentic selves. But it was there, at that clinic that I began to listen to the conversations about their everyday lives.
At 12, I was not supposed to listen to adults talk so openly about their migrant, gendered, and sexed lives, but I found myself listening so intently. In retrospect as a young immigrant who had recently arrived to the U.S. and as a young person questioning my gender and sexuality, those conversations offered a vision of what my life could be now that I lived in the U.S.
With time, I came to understand that as a female-bodied person that embraces femininity, I am considered cisgender. I also came to understand that being cisgendered comes with many unearned privileges. We move about our lives with more ease than many people, especially trans women of color. From something as simple as using the bathroom, to notions of “belonging” in social circles and dominant society, cisgenderness provides a person with privileges most of us are unaware of. Add to that: ability, race, class, sexuality and migration status and the questions of who belongs in society and who doesn’t become even more complex.
As a cisgendered person, I identity as queer, am romantically involved with a cisgender woman and am attracted to people of various genders. Being able-bodied, cisgender, queer, and immigrant is complex. I can’t exactly say my identity puts me at the top of the social latter. I continuously endure racism, classism, misogyny, and homophobia on a regular basis. Yet as a cisgender person my identity does grant me enough room to move around social and academic circles with a level of ease that is not permitted to most transgender women of color in the U.S.
I have worked as an HIV prevention counselor, a case manager for people with severe mental disabilities, and I am currently a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. As an academic, I joined forces with Bamby Salcedo and the TransLatin@ Coalition, to conduct research on the quality of life of transgender Latina immigrants in the U.S. through a two-year study completed in 2013. We published a report titled TransVisible: Transgender Latina Immigrants in U.S. Society.
The study is based on the data we collected from over 100 interviews with transgender Latina immigrants living in the U.S. Some of the key findings were shocking because they provided concrete evidence of the social and economic hardships that many members of this community experience daily. Among our findings we learned that sixty-one percent of participants had experienced sexual abuse. Eighty percent of participants, who had suffered sexual violence, did not file a police report and forty-five of participants reported feeling no support from local authorities.
When it came to medical services, we found that ninety-one of participants did not have a job that provided medical insurance. Because of this sixty-one percent of participants said they go to an emergency room when they need to see a doctor. In addition we found that although the vast majority of respondents in the study greatly desire having legal authorization to live and work in the U.S., seventy percent of participants indicated that they did not have a U.S. driver”s license. Still out of all those who participated, thirty-nine percent reported it was “very difficult” to obtain legal documents that reflect their name and gender identity.
For more on the finding of TransVisible: Transgender Latina Immigrants in U.S. Society visit: http://www.translatinacoalition.org/