A Lost Friend: A Transgender Latina Tells Her Story of Survival

Victoria Ruiz is a transgender advocate and a writer for the LGBT-themed, Spanish-language magazine, Adelante Magazine. She also works with Latino non-profit service organization Bienestar to conduct support groups and educational intervention for Latina transgender women. For Transgender day of Remembrance, Victoria recounts her and her friend Yina’s experiences as immigrant Latina transgender women in Los Angeles.

Greetings everyone. My name is Victoria Ruiz, and I am a Mexican transgender woman from California.

Every November we observe Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day in which we remember and honor those who lives have been lost to anti-transgender violence.  On this day, we also reflect on all of our experiences as transgender people.  I remember how my family reacted when I decided to open up about my feelings to those closest to me.  I remember what it feels like to challenge a society that only accepts blue and pink and doesn’t give diversity a chance.  I remember committing my  body and soul to changing the appearance I was given at birth.

Today I reflect on my life and I think about how fast time has passed and how much has happened. It feels like yesterday when my friend  since high school Yina Jiménez and I—she was 19, and I was 16--decided to come to the United States. At the time, we were living with our respective families. Because they were determined to make us believe that what we felt was wrong and not accepted by society, we were forced to flee our native Mexico.

When we reached the California border, we arrived sad and disillusioned with life because we didn’t have our families’ love and acceptance. But what we did have was ambition and desire to succeed and prove that we are able to accomplish any dream that we set out to achieve. However, we were also very aware that because of the discrimination and rejection that exists in society (from employment to housing to government) against transgender people, we had to put in triple the time and effort. And that’s how we got to Hollywood: with many hopes and dreams, and mutual love and support because all we had was each other.

As soon as I arrived in this country, I set out to get ahead in life, and as tough as it was having to break my back working various kinds of jobs, I ultimately succeeded. I started out working at McDonald’s and at an elementary school in MacArthur Park, a heavily immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to ultimately make it. Unfortunately, the reality for many transgender women is that they have to resort to some jobs like sex work and drug dealing simply for survival because they have no options to help them get by. And it truly saddens me to think of how my friend Yina’s great sense of desperation to get ahead ultimately took control of her. She met a man who tricked her and took her abroad, where, as I eventually learned through letters, he forced her into sex work and encouraged an addiction to drugs; and where she died at the hands of this man who took advantage of a woman in need of love, protection and opportunities.

It is no mystery, nor is it news to anyone that although the transgender community has made some progress, we still have many miles to go for full equality. To change our laws and to stop the tragedies that engulf the transgender community, we need to change hearts and minds. We need to change how we are seen and how we are treated, because the reality is that as a society people are not taught to be aware or sensitive enough to accept transgender people or even treat us with respect and dignity.

Today my prayers go out to all those girls, who like my friend Yina, have fallen victims to people who have failed to respect their right to live fully.