The Los Angeles-based mexicana started the TransLatin@ Coalition in 2009 to advocate for the specific needs of trans Latina immigrants across the U.S. The group creates visibility and community for its members while pushing for progressive trans-specific legislation, protection, health care and social and cultural inclusion.
Salcedo, who also started Angels of Change, a health program for trans and gender non-conforming youth, and starred in the documentary “Transvisible: Bamby Salcedo's Story,” takes to the street, the White House, social networks and traditional news media to crush the transphobic, xenophobic patriarchy. Here’s how:
So you wear many hats. Tell our readers a little more about who you are and your work as an organizer.
I am just a pawn in the game. I address situations to try to change the landscape of our community, both larger society and the trans community. I’m just a piece of the puzzle in the fight for trans rights, especially for trans Latina immigrants.
You weren't always involved in trans justice activism. What compelled you to be an active part of this movement?
A few different reasons, including my own personal lived experience as well as seeing people I love continuing to face those things I lived. In my case, being homeless, having to participate in the street economy to survive, being imprisoned, being a drug addict, all of those things I faced. Then, once I had the privilege and opportunity to change my life, it was me seeing my friends and those close to me that I love continue to experience these things. A combination of both has driven me to stand up and do something about it.
You started the TransLatin@ Coalition in 2009. Why was it important for you to create a space specifically for trans Latina immigrants?
Because, at that time, there were a couple of national, trans-led organizations, but they weren’t focusing and addressing the issues of trans Latina immigrants, and I can understand that. So I said, we need to talk about this, about where we are and what we are going to do. It started with a meeting, a few of us came together and talked about it, and then the organizing followed. That’s how it came to life.
Why was it essential for you to have different coalition chapters across the U.S.?
The needs of the local communities may vary. For instance, the needs from LA are different from the ones in Georgia. The trans population is much bigger in California, and we do have more trans-specific legislation than in places like Georgia, Texas or North Carolina. In those states, trans people are criminalized and so they face greater discrimination and lack the opportunities that some of us on the West Coast have. That’s why it's important that people in the local regions, who know the issues, can lead.
What are some of the biggest issues impacting trans Latina immigrants, as a whole, right now?
Immigration is one that impacts our community. We know that our community continues to leave their countries because of the violence and lack of opportunities they have there and come here with hopes to reach the American dream. But things are bad here, too, and we have to resort to the street economy, whether drugs or prostitution, to survive. Then we risk being arrested and turned into ICE, where we are detained and possibly deported. Immigration is one of the main issues impacting us, but it’s also not the only one, and I don’t want to forget that. There’s also economic development, academic development, leadership development, many members of our community don’t speak the language fluently, and that’s an issue.
How is the TransLatin@ Coalition working to combat some of these issues, whether through community work or policy advocacy?
In 2015, our group came together and we developed a plan for the next five years. We decided for us to empower the community, we needed to do both advocacy and direct service provision, so we have two arms. We work to change legislation and to help our people. One of the programs we have is providing emergency supportive services to trans people getting released from detention centers and prisons. We also recently received a grant to help us work with the California Restaurant Association to train restaurant managers in San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Los Angeles and the OC on trans issues, HR issues, discrimination and the need for hiring trans people. We are also placing 100 trans people to work at these restaurants. We are going to empower our community in different ways.
You are particularly interested in the visibility of trans Latina immigrants and your stories being told in your own voices, whether through surveys/studies that your coalition administers or through documentaries. Why is this essential?
It is essential because we all have a story. I’m not the only person, so I should not be the only one representing trans Latina immigrants. Opportunities should be available to anyone able and willing to share. I am very privileged and lucky to be one of the people who gets highlighted often, but more and more trans women immigrants, Latinas, are doing so, too, and I hope seeing me out there is encouraging for them. Sharing one’s story is a truth, and it’s impactful because it helps people understand our issues.
Totally! Still, there remains a real, and valid, fear among trans Latinas to live visibly and share their stories, whether because of risk of violence and deportation or unemployment, homelessness and more. How do you balance encouraging these women to live their truth with understanding their real concerns?
As leaders, it’s important that we protect and secure the lives of our people. We don’t want to put anyone at risk. If someone’s case is pending, we don’t want them to say something that will incriminate their case. The same applies when we are doing civil disobedience. We want to be responsible, so they don’t get arrested. We have to be strategic and respect the lives of our people. We can’t claim liberation of our people if we are putting our people at risk, and we can't claim liberation if we are not empowering them.
This work can be debilitating, from the overwhelming problems that most organizers deal with to the constant resisting, educating and correcting about who you are and why your humanity matters. That's, well, A LOT! How do you practice self-care?
There are different ways I take care of myself and stay sane. I normally get massages every two weeks, and twice a year I disconnect. In fact, right now I’m in Oregon for a retreat, so this is my last and only call for today. I’m taking this week to meditate, write and disconnect, because afterwards I’m starting school again and am back to the madness. I’ll recharge with another week like this again in December. I also have a great support system, with mentors and people I confide in and take guidance from. I also make time for people who are my friends and family. My connection with my nephew and niece, they’re 8 years old, is also helpful.
How do you see your work as helping to crush the patriarchy and other oppressive systems?
When we empower our community to live their authentic selves, despite what others think of us, we will crush patriarchy and other oppressive systems. Owning and understanding our power is what will get us to the other side. We, as individuals and a community, have power, and the hashtag #translatinapower is on the increase, it’s on the rise, and once we understand the power we have, we’re going to make a difference for us to live in a society that will embrace us for who we are.