In San Francisco, An Oasis from Aggression

By Mitzi Hernández Cruz, HIPGive contributor

San Francisco’s Mission is a historically-Latino neighborhood next to The Castro, the famous area where civil rights for LGBT people first took root in the U.S. It’s also where El/La Para TransLatinas was born.

El/La Para TransLatinas is an 11-year-old nonprofit that provides comprehensive services to transgender Latinas in the Bay Area. The organization started providing information related to HIV prevention, and through the years its services have grown to encompass case management, accompaniment and direct advocacy (at other service-providing organizations), community organizing, stipend leadership development programs, educational workshops, HIV testing, food, family-style celebrations, and spiritual practices.

El/La Para TransLatinas in the 2016 trans march

El/La has become an oasis where translatinas find help that’s denied elsewhere; it’s also a community resembling a family that provides unconditional support. To learn more about the organization and its incredible work, I spoke with two of El/La’s staffers: Case Manager Julia Cepeda Martínez and Health Coordinator Lluvia Alejandra Chavez.

El/La’s clients arrive from all over; not just other states in the U.S., but from countries throughout Latin America where the hostility does not allow them to fit.

“What they tell us is, I came because this is a sanctuary city. I came because San Francisco has services no other cities offer. I came because at El/La Para TransLatinas they don’t look at you strangely,” commented Julia.

El/La is an incredibly unique organization—Lluvia commented that it’s the “only program that’s dedicated entirely to supporting Latina transgender women.”

In fact, it was the needs of the clients that led the organization to develop such a wide array of services. The difficulty of living a dignified and uncomplicated life just because you’re trans is amplified when you’re Latina and, in some cases, undocumented.

Lluvia herself was one of the many people that El/La has helped:

“I felt very isolated, very lonely, like most of us… suffering a lot of discrimination. I was also going through many mood changes because of the hormones… so I was looking for groups that provided services or support… that’s what brought me to El/La around two years ago.”

According to Lluvia, many translatinas are targets of aggression, and are sexually, emotionally, and physically abused by the people they are close to. It’s not unusual for people to be rejected by their own families and friends, or to be mistreated by their partners or the police.

Given the actions of the new presidential administration, Lluvia and Julia are worried about the withdrawal of federal funds that support social programs for vulnerable communities, including transgender ones. In an impassioned voice, Julia told me that they’re living with fear but preparing:

“We want to create a network of support. We’re working with a lawyer, and if there were an emergency with one of the girls we have a group of volunteers who will guard the door. We think this is a decisive moment to work on security and migration cases. The girls need to feel protected, and we need the support of the community to create plans and be able to move with firm footing.”

That’s why El/La is running a crowdfunding campaign on HIPGive: they need support to provide services to the transwomen who rely on them.

Julia and Lluvia invite anyone to participate—it’s just a matter of reaching out and giving hope to those who are the most marginalized amongst us and need it most.

Acceptance, understanding, a sincere hug, someone who listens, linkages to resources, workshops, protection, and security—this is what El/La offers to those who have been denied basic rights because of taboos and ignorance.

Interested in supporting El/La’s mission? Consider donating to their campaign today!