TransLatinx Women in Chicago

Franky Piña and Rocío Santos Publicado 2017-07-14 09:06:39

Left to Right: Ariann Manzanares, Emmanuel García, Tanya Cordova, Reyna Ortiz and Drae James. Photo: Rocío Santos


Being a Trans Latinx woman in Chicago means living in constant disadvantage. As Ariann Manzanares argues, it also means, “breaking the establishment.” “It means to break the imposed obstacles by the State, the church, medicine, and society.” Living as a Trans Latinx also requires to “visibilize transsexualism in the political, social and cultural spheres. Additionally, it means to fight for equality rights”, states Manzanares.

Within the spectrum of the LGBTQ consonants, it’s the T — the transgender community — who has suffered marginalization since the insurrectionary outbreak known as Stonewall Riots in New York on July 29, 1969. It’s perhaps, the combative spirit of the activist Sylvia Rivera that still prevails in the fight for the rights of transgender people. Nevertheless, this fight for the rights of the transgender community did not start in the 1960s; as Reyna Ortiz points out: “Trans people are here, have been here and will always be here.” 

In what ways does the Trans Latinx community continue to fight for their rights? In what social, cultural and political level are these communities situated when there is a lack of statistics? In what ways does this community face racism, classism and the absence of equity? Some of these questions where the motive behind a conversation among several of the members of the Trans Latinx Women in Chicago. The panel was part of On the Table conversation series in Chicago supported by the Chicago Community Trust in collaboration with Repensar Films and El BeiSMan. 

A few active Trans Latinx Women participated on the panel Race Equity On The Table, including Tania Cordova, member of the LGTBQ Immigrant Rights Coalition and Translatin@ Coalition; Reyna Ortiz, Chicago-born and involved in navigating the available resources for trans women; Ariann Manzanares, a sociology graduate from the Metropolitan Autonomous University in México, who serves as collaborator for El BeiSMan on topics related to the trans community. Emmanuel García, journalist, founder of Vives Q and activist, moderated the panel movingly before a well-known LGBTQ Latinx activists audience in Chicago.

The methodology used to identify the problematic faced by the transgender community focused on the labor experience of the panelists, as Cordova, Ortiz and Manzanares have been living as transgender women for more than two decades, and for long, Cordova and Ortiz have been two recognized activists in the Windy City.

Reyna Ortiz has been working for four and a half years at Taskforce Prevention & Community Services; however, she got involved with the transgender community since 2000, when she came out publicly in her senior year of high school. Besides, when she began to frequent other transgender women who were sex workers, Reyna then started to share her knowledge of the problematic and helped find resources available for the community. Tania Cordova began her awakening as activist under the mentorship of Miss Kitty — legendary transgender woman in La Villita, Chicago. The need to share information on health, specifically, about hormone replacement therapy drove her to go deep into the needs of transgender women. But it wasn’t until she was detained and sent to an immigration detention that Cordova realized the need to advocate for the rights of transgender women. On Manzanares’ side, she studied sociology. As a student, she realized that not all transgender women wanted to work in a beauty salon as stylists. Her awakening as a university student from 1995 - 2000 was not to feed more stigmas against transgender women; instead, she wanted to amplify the diversity of areas in which this trans women could grow professionally — if there existed the same opportunity for all people independent of their gender identity. Back in Mexico, she couldn’t practice as sociologist since the State did not recognize her new physical appearance with the gender identified on the university degree. In Chicago, Manzanares works in the construction industry as a painter, and she fundamentally believes in raising awareness on the themes and needs of the transgender community in each social space.

Now, in order to understand the Latinx Transgender community and its current social context, perhaps, it’s necessary to approach the general Latino community in the United States. According to The Economist and the Nielsen Report, the Latino community has $1.3 trillion in buying power and it continues to rise. If U.S. Latinos were a country, they would be the 16th great power in the world. The Latino population in the U.S. is young and it represents the job market of the future. The average age of Anglo-Americans in the United States is 42 years old; for African-Americans is 32 years old; and for Latinos is 28-years old. Nevertheless, the average age of a U.S. born Latino is 18 years old. In face of the statistics, the Latino community — documented or undocumented — finds itself in social and economic disadvantage in the United States.

In spite of this situation, this community supplies the labor force for the country. The undocumented immigrant pays taxes and does not receive equal benefits for what is being paid. According to The Nation: “undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion to the economy annually, including nearly $7 billion in sales and excise taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes.” It should be noted that the Latino community is not a hegemonic block, and within the racial matrix that makes it up it faces racial and class discrimination. Within the mosaic that shapes the Latino community, there still exists another more vulnerable group: the Latino transgender community.

Unfortunately, this community lacks reliable statistics that determine the needs of said community. Of the few studies and surveys that have been done, including The National Center for Transgender Equality 2015, they coincide in the following conditions faced by the transgender community:

  1. Transgender people live in extreme poverty conditions.
  2. They face discrimination on health plans offers.
  3. They lack education opportunities.
  4. They face housing discrimination.
  5. They face harassment and violence. The average age of a transgender Latina woman is 35 years old.

The On the Table panel on race equity opened up the dialogue giving a face to the inexistent statistics and to listen to the new narratives generated inside the Trans Latinx community in Chicago. The activists Reyna Ortiz, Tania Cordova, Ariann Manzanares and other trans women will be part of an upcoming series in a joint collaboration between Repensar Films and El BeiSMan.

TransLatinex Women On The Table.
Photo: Rocío Santos

Translation from Spanish by Rocío Santos.

Fran Piña has been the cofounder of several literary magazines in Chicago: Fe de erratas, zorros y erizos, Tropel Contratiempo. He is the coauthor of the bookRudy Lozano: His Life, His People (1991). One of Piña was published in the anthology Se habla español: Voces latinas en USA (2000) y Voces en el viento: Nuevas ficciones desde Chicago (1999). He is the editor of art catalogs: Marcos Raya: Fetishizing the Imaginary (2004), The Art of Gabriel Villa (2007), René Arceo: Between the Instinctive and the Rational (2010), Alfonso Piloto Nieves Ruiz: Sculpture (2014) and Barberena: Master Prints (2016). Piña is the editorial director of El BeiSMan.

Rocío Santos. Radio producer and host for Domingos en Vocalo, Sunday’s Spanish-language cultural programming with a curated block of Latin-alternative music on Vocalo 91.1FM (Chicago Public Media). On Wednesday nights she co-hosts Rock Sin Anestesia on WLUW 88.7FM, the longest Latin-alternative show in Chicago.


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