In 1990, Paloma Cortez immigrated to the United States to seek a better life for herself. Like many others before her, she traveled across Mexico on board of “La Bestia,” a cargo train that brought her to the border with the United States. But in San Antonio, Cortez was kidnapped by a gang that preys on migrants.
She was held and raped for two months. When she managed to escape, she found herself in Texas without money or papers. She was sexually assaulted again there, but reported nothing out of fear of being deported. It was only when she arrived in New York that she was able to begin a new life.
The pursuit of the American dream is especially difficult for transgender Latinos. Subject to discrimination in employment and housing, they are often victims of police abuse and poverty in the United States. A study by the Queens-based organization Make The Road found that 46 percent of Latino trans women reported they had been physically abused by the police, compared to 28 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents. Nonetheless, 99 percent of the participants in this study reported having better opportunities here than in their country of origin.
To give a face to these statistics, I spent time with a community of transgender immigrants in Jackson Heights, Queens. These are their stories.
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