Bamby Salcedo is truly a miracle — and she knows it. “I always say… ‘Yo soy milagro,’” says the founder of the Los Angeles-based TransLatina Coalition, “which means that ‘I am a miracle.’ In some ways, I definitely [am].”
As a trans woman — who survived childhood sexual abuse, the rough streets of Guadalajara, Mexico, drug addiction, immigration to America, and a stint in a U.S. prison — Salcedo sees her very survival as a miracle. She knows firsthand the hardships trans women of color face because she has walked in their shoes. Salcedo has survived, overcome, and persevered, when others didn’t, galvanizing her to use her position as a community leader to provide safety, services, and support for other transgender Latina immigrants.
Salcedo founded the TransLatina Coalition in 2009, and initially conceived of it as “a national advocacy organization with this idea of changing the structures that continue to marginalize our community, specifically focused on addressing the needs and issues of trans Latina immigrant[s].”
By 2015, the organization had representation in 10 states and was soon expanding beyond advocacy to provide social services, with the help of a federal grant. Today, TransLatina has a staff of five and a drop-in center (established “for violence prevention”) that provides daily lunches and more. “We are an organization now that has two arms,” Salcedo says. “The advocacy and organizing piece of it, but also direct service provision.”
TransLatina has developed programs to address the specific issues that trans Latina immigrant women face, such as escaping violence or abuse, dealing with the legal system and immigration (often without documentation), and finding permanent housing and steady employment.
Towards the latter goal, TransLatina has received funding from the California Workforce Development Board to support their partnership with TransCanWork, a trans hiring program developed by the CEO of one of the largest El Pollo Loco franchise chains — who also happens to be transgender.
Michaela Mendelsohn says she started TransCanWork five years ago to create “positive workplaces for transgender people.” Walker,* a young trans employee, adds, “Working somewhere like El Pollo Loco — where I’m employed by a trans woman, [and] my coworkers are trans — is really empowering.”
TransLatina can also provide clients their own caseworker and accompany women to court appearances or doctor’s appointments. “We can walk with you through whatever processes that you may be going through,” Salcedo says. But perhaps the most important thing they offer “for those individuals who are undocumented and who are HIV-positive, and if you are trans, [is] to really acknowledge that you are a valuable person, that your life really matters, and that your health matters. Because we do acknowledge you, and we love you, and we value your existence in this world.”
A long-term survivor of HIV, Salcedo found out she was poz in the early ‘90s. “The very first medication that I started taking was AZT,” Salcedo recalls. “I was involved in the street economy and using drugs. Because of that, I was obviously not able to take care of my health as I should have… I had to constantly switch medications.”
Salcedo says that because of the abuse and trauma she has endured throughout her life, “My emotional being obviously was all screwed up. Luckily… I was able to reform my life. I have had people who have been there for me, who have affirmed my existence here in the world. That obviously has helped me, for my emotional being, to continue to be at a place that I should be.”
And with that support and emotional work, Salcedo continues, “I have learned that taking care of myself, it’s important. Not only my physical health but also my emotional health, my spiritual health. All of those things that make me whole and make me a healthy person.”
Salcedo says that because she has “survived and experienced many different challenges, I have been able to turn those challenges into opportunities. For me, I would say it’s not that the past has led me to really think of [myself] as a victim, but rather for me to think as a warrior — and that’s what I am doing now.” *Last name withheld for privacy